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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Trust (and opinions)

DohFull story with links is here. (caution: it's a long post, but worth the read).

Is getting (paying?) people to mention your catch-phrases in a catchy, sneaky way in their blog posts the same as advertising?

Yes.

Wait...No.

Advertising is obvious. Sneaky is just sneaky. (Until it gets outed. And then it's just silly.)

Is sneaky wrong?

Yes.

Would I ever do it?

No. (Heck I won't even accept advertising on this blog. Speak at PostieCon. Or accept freebies for loaned periods.)

Is advertising on blogs wrong?

No. Bloggers put a lot of time, thought and trouble into maintaining their sites. I can understand receiving monetary value from that time, thought and trouble. But for me, I just never want anyone to worry or wonder if my opinions are influenced by anything other than my opinions--however right or wrong you find my opinions to be. I get paid through the value of learning from and meeting you fine folks. (Plus my blog is prettier without ads.)

Why is this stuff so darn important to me?

Because I take trust so seriously.

Which begs the question...can one take trust too seriously?

I certainly don't think so.

Why?

Because trust is the single most valuable asset one can have (be it a person or a brand). It's equivalent to respect and you have to earn, and be worthy, of trust. Unfortunately, many companies--and many people--don't realize how important trust is.

Until they lose it.

But hey, that's just my opinion.

Comments

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Now here I agree with you 1000%

People don't read blogs for the beauty and brilliance of the writer's words (other than my blog, that is ;)) but for the unbiased and heartfelt opinions they expect to read about topics that interest them.

Any intrusion by a brand is akin to an intrusion by a stranger into a conversation you're having with a friend: unwelcome and annoying. Not to mention more than a little creepy.

I've done the first two of a series of posts about this, called "Your Brand Is Not My Friend"
http://tangerinetoad.blogspot.com/2007/06/your-brand-is-not-my-friend-web-20.html

But suffice it to say that such intrusions play out horribly for the brands involved.

And that one of the reasons I choose to write anonymously is to protect my independence from friends who'd want to call in favors or become angered over my dislike of something they'd done.

So more power to you, CK.

@Toad: I've actually no problem with people writing anonymously....so long as they're being anonymous in order to protect the authenticity of their writing/opinions/passions. And for some, being anon finally lets them be authentic--as some employers would otherwise pressure them this way or that.

Hmmm...now that I think about it, by choosing to be so vocal about certain issues/brands/etc. I likely cut-off some (biz) opps for myself. Oh well. Net/net: people don't have to agree with me; but I surely don't ever want them to question their trust for me.

The takeaway for brands? Just make your product/service/experience/whatnot stellar enough that people are authentically moved to chat you up. And that need not be all people (mass), it can just be a strong niche.

Wow, thanks for the pointer, CK. I totally missed that one. As we've discussed, I think I'm a little more free and easy with advertising in blogs (or most blogs, anyway). I don't see most bloggers as journalists, and that allows for a little more freedom. But, as soon as it becomes stealthy and unclear where the editorializing stops and the advertising begins, huge issues come up. At the end of the day, it's just about honesty...

Credibility is all you really have online. Take ads, take freebies if you want, I feel, as long as it honestly doesn't impact the integrity of what you're writing. If you cross the line, readers will eventually realize it and you'll lose them. Simple as that.

What'd you say ? I was too busy placing more links, ads and sponsorships on my blog to hear you over the roar of the dollars ! (kiddin')

Yeah I missed this one too! Nice find, CK!

What I find amazing is that so many smart and respected bloggers signed up for this. Just goes to show that anyone can fall for a good line and a wad of cash -- remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

@Paul: Agreed that bloggers aren't journalists (but, 'opinionistas' as you say). Because bloggers aren't assigned to a certain 'beat', I trust that they're writing for the passion they have for their topics (unless it's obviously a business blog). I also like how candid they can be (journalists can't always). But this sneaky stuff just pollutes the cred of this medium. Makes a lot of noise. We don't need noise.

@David: Yup, cred is all we have. And you can't buy that...you can flush it away, tho.

@Mike: :-).

@Gav: I'm not sure if people fell for it or are just showing what their priorities are. If money is their priority then at least be OK enough with it to be honest (I think it's fine if money is a priority, but don't pollute the integrity of the medium, just be upfront).

Steve gives the amusing counterpoint:
http://www.adrants.com/2007/06/yawn-blogosphere-up-in-arms-over-microsof.php

Haven't really kept up with this, but I do know that some of the bloggers involved, such as Fred Wilson, are saying that they weren't paid to participate.

I have a problem with this if:

1 - They promoted a product that they otherwise would not have, and....

2 - They didn't disclose their involvement in the promotion


As long as they are upfront with their involvement, and any compensation that did or did not occur, I as a reader have no problem with it.

@Mack: Thanks, I'll check out the counterpoint. I agree with your criteria since it speaks to authenticity (point #1). Can't imagine they all decided to talk about "people-ready", but maybe they authentically did. Sometimes we all address a topic....but that's usually on best practices and giving our views--but that's never regarding a catchphrase or company that's advertising with us, ya know?

@Mack: That's my problem with Jaffe and the whole Nikon thing: he's someone who'd never been particularly aware of cameras and suddenly Nikon slips him a free one and he's rambling on and on about it.
It makes him look ridiculous (especially for the denials that there's anything odd about the situation) but more importantly, it makes Nikon look ridiculous, like they need to bribe people to use the camera.

Or to put it into more jargonlike terms-- they're encroaching upon the conversation, not joining it.

...actually, it all hinges on authenticity (just read AdRants piece, not so much of a counterpoint as he agrees with a lot of what Jarvis and others are saying, he's just saying it's not a really big deal).

See, if one bases their writing decisions on authenticity then they don't have to worry about transparency--in fact they'll have nothing to disclose since they're authentically moved/inspired to write on it in the first place. A lot of people think the buck stops at transparency. I never have and see it as a bit of a crutch. A lot of people use it as "at least I disclosed!" as if that keeps their cred intact. It doesn't, at least in my view. It's either authentic or it ain't. Simple, actually. Make sense?

The saddest (or silliest) part of the Nikon "convo" is that Nikon already has an exemplary product (as I understand from bloggers who purchased their equipment before the 'outreach' program). I contend that companies should listen not lead--or try to lead--convos (and join in when appropriate, or when asked). If they build products/services/experiences that are exemplary they'll never need to encroach. Why? Because people will authentically talk about them. One cannot create fans, one can only create a fan-worthy product (and then take care of those customers). Anything else is just compensating--and yes, looks silly.

I agree that bloggers shouldn't become advertising christmas trees. But we (bloggers) are the first to say to the brands that marketing has changed and they have to adapt to the social media. I also agree that the Nikon/Jaffe example is a little over the top but it's the same in tradtional journalism.

Major blog platforms do not include bannering space. I think that marketing 2.0 is often sneaky and even if I don't like it, I wonder if they really have the choice.

CK,

Thank you for sharing the piece. It focuses on rules that those of us in the newspaper world (I guess some one call that old school) grew up with. If a blogger's goal is to ensure readers that everything that is written is truth as the writer knows or sees it, readers are assured that the writer is not "spamming" them.

Our voice is all we have, and if we want to be trusted we must not accept freebies nor write about any advertisers on our sites. We also should not accept money from advertisers or marketers to write a piece on our sites or slip certain words into other's sites.

The only place where you and I disagree, that writers who are hired to write for others deserve to be paid. At the same time, that pay should have no influence on what is written.

Have a fabulous week!

"

@Mack: That's my problem with Jaffe and the whole Nikon thing: he's someone who'd never been particularly aware of cameras and suddenly Nikon slips him a free one and he's rambling on and on about it.
It makes him look ridiculous (especially for the denials that there's anything odd about the situation) but more importantly, it makes Nikon look ridiculous, like they need to bribe people to use the camera.

Or to put it into more jargonlike terms-- they're encroaching upon the conversation, not joining it."

I get that, but so what? Jaffe's a big boy, if that's what he wants to do, more power to him. And it could be that his D80 has made a huge impact on him, it's obvious that he's enjoying taking pictures of his family, so he's obviously enjoying the product.

I would have a problem if he had suddenly started gushing about the product and had NOT disclosed that he was gushing about it, because Nikon was letting him use a loaner D80 for 6 months. But Jaffe disclosed that upfront, and continues to. So I don't see the big deal.

@CK:"...actually, it all hinges on authenticity (just read AdRants piece, not so much of a counterpoint as he agrees with a lot of what Jarvis and others are saying, he's just saying it's not a really big deal)."

And I think that was the point, if this isn't really that big of a deal, why is everyone talking about it?

Again, if everything is disclosed, I have no problem with it(and I don't know if everything WAS disclosed in this case, honestly haven't kept up). But if a blogger wants to 'risk their cred' on something like this, and trusts their readers enough to understand why they are participating, then I don't see what the big deal is.


Thanks for sharing this, CK. I've sent this on to a number of colleagues.

@Lew: Thanks for your comment. I agree that our voice is all we have (well, the trust people place in our voice is what we have, in my opinion). I'm not sure I follow this one part (do pardon me, it's a monday morning ;-). "The only place where you and I disagree, that writers who are hired to write for others deserve to be paid. At the same time, that pay should have no influence on what is written." Not sure I follow where you're saying I said this. Sorry to be confused.

@Philippe: Welcome back from Cannes, glad you got sun (sorry you got sunburnt) but we missed you. I hear you on the "choice" companies have since most blogs don't have banner space. So I'm gonna go back to this--if brands want to be "talked about in the 'sphere" then I think it's pretty darn simple: create and maintain a product/service/experience that is worthy of
people talking about it. They can also create promotions that give value and encourage bloggers to talk/write about them and those don't need to be sneaky...they need only provide enough value for others to be moved to cover them.

@David: You're welcome ;-). It's a good one to learn from.

@Mack: Because it's a slippery slope. And because, well, because it's so incredibly cheesy.

As soon as Jaffe acknowledges that he's being paid to plug this camera on his allegedly unbiased blog, all his credibility goes out the window. Because if I wanted to read not-very-well-written marketing news from someone I suspect is beholden to advertisers, I can go to Brandweek.com

Joe plugging the camera has become a bad joke. And Nikon is the butt of it. They look like knuckleheaded amateurs. I mean you can't honestly believe that anyone is going to buy the camera because of it? If anything, they're going to cross it off their list for fear of humiliation.

@CK: I am in complete agreement with your statement: "if brands want to be "talked about in the 'sphere" then I think it's pretty darn simple: create and maintain a product/service/experience that is worthy of
people talking about it. They can also create promotions that give value and encourage bloggers to talk/write about them and those don't need to be sneaky...they need only provide enough value for others to be moved to cover them."

It seems like such an obvious no-brainer. Yet clearly not everyone gets it.

"@Mack: Because it's a slippery slope. And because, well, because it's so incredibly cheesy."

Jaffe obviously disagrees. And that's my point, it's his blog, it's his decision to decide what content to put up.

I put up the The Viral Garden's Top 25 Marketing Blogs every week. I am constantly having readers contact me to tell me that it's a wonderful service that they greatly benefit from. I also occasionally get feedback from readers saying it's nothing more than a lame-ass linkbaiting tactic. It's up to me to decide if it makes sense for me to keep putting up the Top 25 list. As long as I feel my readers are benefiting from it, I will. Jaffe has to make the same decision about whether he wants to gush about his D80 or not.

"As soon as Jaffe acknowledges that he's being paid to plug this camera on his allegedly unbiased blog, all his credibility goes out the window. Because if I wanted to read not-very-well-written marketing news from someone I suspect is beholden to advertisers, I can go to Brandweek.com"

So Jaffe's credibility is out the window because he ADMITS to participating in the Nikon D80 program? How so? I would think his credibility would be out the window if he blogged about the D80 and did NOT disclose his involvement, then it later came out.

"Joe plugging the camera has become a bad joke. And Nikon is the butt of it. They look like knuckleheaded amateurs. I mean you can't honestly believe that anyone is going to buy the camera because of it? If anything, they're going to cross it off their list for fear of humiliation."

Have you actually seen the pictures Joe has posted of his family, which he freely admits were taken with the D80? I think that's a pretty powerful selling tool for the camera. Which is exactly what Nikon was hoping for.

BTW I probably should have mentioned this as well, but I'm in the same program. And I'm been critical on my blog of Nikon in some areas of this program, and complementary in others. I also have yet to post the first picture on my blog taken with the camera, and have not discussed the camera at all. If I decide to buy the camera, I will.

But again, I don't see how Jaffe disclosing his involvement in this program, damages his credibility. In fact I think it enhances it, as he is quite willing to disclose if he is involved in such a program.

If you think it's cheesy for him to promote the camera to the degree he does, that's fine. And as I said above, he's gone to lengths that I chose not to. Doesn't mean either of us is right, but that we each have to decide for ourselves what is best for us, and our readers.

>>BTW I probably should have mentioned this as well, but I'm in the same program.>

Ya think?

It's totally his perogative to do whatever he'd like to with his blog. I'm just telling you what the reaction's going to be.

Have I actually seen the pictures? Yes Mack, a few of them. They're your run-of-the-mill cute kid pictures. I've got thousands of them myself. But I'm not sure how you go from my looking at some pictures that look like any other amateur pictures to thinking "ooh, I have to buy that particular Nikon camera."

And it's not just me. Jaffe's readers aren't simpletons. They are going to research digital cameras on unbiased review sites like CNET and buy one based on a review vs. price calculus that works for them.

But I'd say a goodly number of them will purposely avoid the Nikon so as not to seem like they were taken by Jaffe's shilling. And if they do buy it, they'll constantly have to explain why there were valid reasons to buy it other than that Mack Collier and Joe Jaffe were plugging the camera on their blogs.

Making the entire program a complete waste of time and money.

"Making the entire program a complete waste of time and money."

And trust.

I just always go to the customer--or in this case the community's angle. Yes, our jobs are to bolster brands. But we can only do that by bolstering markets.

Why can't we just keep encourging companies to create products/services/experiences that are noteworthy on their own merits? And to create programs that give value to readers and communities?

Both would result in WOM (and would decrease marketing spends).

I'll never understand and yet it seems to me that value is what marketing is all about (valuable products/valuable promotions). (sigh)

CK,

I'm sorry. That's twice I have confused you today.

First, on my post, I think you misread the statement about hired guns. I am saying you (and I) don't believe bloggers should be hired guns (by advertisers or marketers).

Second, here all I'm saying is that if Ann, for example, decided to pay me for my posts at the Fix, that payment would not influence what I write about or what I said. In fact, I believe that writers at publications and blogs other than their own have every expectation to be paid. I write for Ann and at the BrandingWire because I respect the blogs and the contributors. If someone else asked me to write at their blog for free, it would depend on who they are. I made the same comment in your piece about PayPerPost, that paying people to write articles does not automatically discredit them. There and here, I am not specifically talking about PayPerPost, as I have no idea what it is.

For you or Mack or Drew or Gavin or David and on and on, I would be honored. You get it. I will help our community anyway I can. (If you are on my blogroll, I have read your blog many times and I respect you and consider everyone on there the community of which I am a part.) Does that help?

"Because trust is the single most valuable asset one can have (be it a person or a brand). It's equivalent to respect and you have to earn, and be worthy, of trust. Unfortunately, many companies--and many people--don't realize how important trust is.

Until they lose it.

This is the bottom line. Companies, brands, and even bloggers all have their own constituencies. Those communities trust the company/brand/blogger to behave the way they have behaved in the past. I trust you to do what you say you will do. When you do something different, it begins to make me doubt. If it continues, you could lose me.

A focus on meeting the needs of the customer/reader is critical to the success of the company/blogger. Without it, customers/readers just move on to somewhere else where they can start to build their trust.

Thanks for the thought-provoker, CK!

@Becky: Thanks so much for your chime-in. Agreed on all (and you always say it better ;-).

">>BTW I probably should have mentioned this as well, but I'm in the same program.>

Ya think?"

I meant to you specifically here in this comment thread. I've blogged about my involvement in the program so much at The Viral Garden that I've had requests to please shut up about it ;)

"It's totally his perogative to do whatever he'd like to with his blog. I'm just telling you what the reaction's going to be."

No you're telling me what YOUR reaction is. The jury's still out on whether or not everyone agrees with you.

"Have I actually seen the pictures? Yes Mack, a few of them. They're your run-of-the-mill cute kid pictures. I've got thousands of them myself. But I'm not sure how you go from my looking at some pictures that look like any other amateur pictures to thinking "ooh, I have to buy that particular Nikon camera.""

Why not? If you like the pictures that he's posting, and want to buy a camera, wouldn't that make you more likely to seriously consider the D80? Come on now...

"And it's not just me. Jaffe's readers aren't simpletons. They are going to research digital cameras on unbiased review sites like CNET and buy one based on a review vs. price calculus that works for them."

Of course they are going to do research. But if they can see that the reviews for the D80 and say....a Cannon model are about the same, it could come down to whether or not they liked the pictures that Joe has posted. If they like Joe and his blog and those pictures, that could be all it takes to convince them to buy the D80.

"But I'd say a goodly number of them will purposely avoid the Nikon so as not to seem like they were taken by Jaffe's shilling. And if they do buy it, they'll constantly have to explain why there were valid reasons to buy it other than that Mack Collier and Joe Jaffe were plugging the camera on their blogs."

Are you serious? I know almost nothing about cameras, and even I know that the D80s are among the best-reviewed digital cameras on the market. If you own one, the last thing you would have to do is 'explain' why you bought it.

And again, I have done zero 'plugging' of the D80 on my blog, and will not unless I decide to buy it.

Come on Mack. You're just backpedalling and being disingenuous now.

And it's unbecoming.

You know that the marekting professionals who read blogs like yours and Jaffe's take pride in not being taken by their own hype. And will purposely go out of their way to avoid anything that suggests that.

Especially anything that even remotely sounds like hero worship.

Your professed ignorance of this makes you even more, well, un-authentic.

@Toad: I've been a reader of Mack's blog for over a year. He runs a darn good blog and he has done a heck of a lot to promote fellow bloggers. I may not agree with the Nikon program but I do trust Mack, and have learned much from him. His Nikon coverage has been different than what you've seen at Jaffe's (and he has listened and responded to me on the program the whole way through).

Actually, that's why when you corrected me over at Jaffe's blog about assuming community you had a great point...but at Mack's blog it very much is community-oriented. Just not sure if you know of his blog yet, that's all.

What I most worry about is that these types of promos will turn-off new readers to good, solid blogs. That would be such a shame.

@CK: My beef isn't with Mack. I'm sure his blog has lots of loyal fans and makes lots of cogent points.

I even think there are bloggers who would be good choices for Nikon. But guys who write blogs about marketing and new media seem wrong for all the reasons we've discussed: authenticity, wrong audience, lack of credibility/validity as spokesperson. Even with a community, it's still a bit odd- reminds me of those people who work for buzz marketers who plug all the stuff for free. It's the difference between reportage and shilling, basically.

But you already knew that ;)

@Toad: Thanks. I never want to control the conversation (that's not advancing, it's silly). I just get a little protective of the fine folks in this 'sphere (and Mack and you are two of 'em).

And yes, this program is all sorts of wrong. I'm quickly becoming of the mindset that ANY type of "influencer" program is just controlling and compensatory (and, as you say, kinda creepy). Offer products/services/experiences worth chatting about and promotions of value. In other words, marketers need do their jobs and not ask us to do them for them.

@Toad: You seem to be speaking out of both sides of your mouth. CNET doesn't buy the cameras they review. And, unless you're Bill Gates, and want to start a second career as a camera reviewer, in all likelihood you don't have the means to go out and buy every camera to give it a test ride.

If Jaffe repeatedly talks about the camera in a non-review context when he wouldn't have mentioned it otherwise, that strikes me as crossing the line to shilling, even with disclosure, but using something for a short time for the express purpose of creating an unbiased review, and disclosing that the manufacturer gave you the item for that purpose, but without obligation to write anything if you have nothing to say, seems to me to be the only way we will get product reviews, which I find valuable.

I never trust a single review (for one thing, even the most objective reviewer approaches the subject with pre-existing brand preferences and biases about the way things should work), and I only use them to narrow the list. I always do a thorough assessment of my needs, and chose based on my criteria -- not the reviewer's. That's the way any rational person should treat a review. And, for that, it doesn't matter whether the blogger had to buy the camera or got a loaner, except for the fact that we'd mostly never see reviews of better cameras if we depended only on people that bought them.

Now, if someone handed me the keys to a Porsche and said I could keep it, no strings attached, as part of a promotional program to bloggers -- then you might have a bone to pick, but context is everything, and that isn't going to happen.

I saw on Jaffe's site that the cameras are provided on an extended loaner period with an option to purchase with a heavy discount at the end. A heavy discount (beyond depreciated value for a used camera) doesn't sit well with me as this is borderline bribery, disclosure or not. Since we don't know how 'heavy' the discount is, it's hard to know what, if any, influence that has. However, it would have been much smarter of Nikon to collect the cameras at the end and give them to charity, or to camera salesmen or photography stores as demonstrator models.

The only thing that bothers me is that Jaffe identifies each picture he took with the camera. How I got a picture I use in my blog is irrelevant, outside of the context of reviewing the camera, and that definitely strikes me as a paid endorsement.

But, in general, you guys are way too uptight about someone else's blog. I wouldn't have gotten involved in this kind of program, because I wouldn't want to feel any obligation to publish even a mention of the camera, and I don't accept ads, because I want my blog to be commercial free and remain able to say whatever I want about any product or company. But it's Jaffe's blog. It's his decision. It's his credibility on the line, and he has fully disclosed his involvement. There is no problem here with authenticity or lack of credibility as a reviewer. That's just absurd -- are you saying that because my job isn't a reviewer that I can't have legitimate opinions about a camera that I would chose to share with others?

Full disclosure: I own a D80 which I paid for with my own money. It is a great camera which can be used with point-and-shoot utilitarianism, or under full control of all artistic features to create the most amazing digital pics I've seen in a camera under $3000-$4000. Am I a shill? Am I different from Jaffe?

Nikon and their agency have gone out of their way not to act in a manipulative way to influence anyone from what I can see, and my suspicion is that, if anything, the guys who received this camera under the program are bending over backwards to find "objective" or bad things to say so that their review is "fair". If you want to see people who really are paid to shill, go buy a glossy photography magazine and read what they have to say. Then, wake up and smell the coffee.

"Come on Mack. You're just backpedalling and being disingenuous now.

And it's unbecoming."

LMAO! And you think that implying that I'm lying is attractive?

I can see that trying to actually debate this with you just officially became a lost cause.

BTW, do you even have a blog? Seriously.

"But guys who write blogs about marketing and new media seem wrong for all the reasons we've discussed: authenticity, wrong audience, lack of credibility/validity as spokesperson."

Which is exactly why I'm not blogging about the D80, but rather Nikon's Picture This campaign itself. Which makes it a perfect match, IMO.

"But, in general, you guys are way too uptight about someone else's blog. I wouldn't have gotten involved in this kind of program, because I wouldn't want to feel any obligation to publish even a mention of the camera, and I don't accept ads, because I want my blog to be commercial free and remain able to say whatever I want about any product or company. But it's Jaffe's blog. It's his decision. It's his credibility on the line, and he has fully disclosed his involvement. There is no problem here with authenticity or lack of credibility as a reviewer. That's just absurd -- are you saying that because my job isn't a reviewer that I can't have legitimate opinions about a camera that I would chose to share with others?"

Great point Paul, and this is exactly what was throwing me. As you said, it's Jaffe's blog, and he can do what he wants with it. His readers will have to decide at the end of the day, how they feel about his involvement in the Picture This.

So far, I can't tell where he's had any mass influx of new readers, or a mass exodus, as a result of his blogging about his D80. There's been some pro comments, and some negative ones. Why would anyone expect anything different?

"Nikon and their agency have gone out of their way not to act in a manipulative way to influence anyone from what I can see, and my suspicion is that, if anything, the guys who received this camera under the program are bending over backwards to find "objective" or bad things to say so that their review is "fair"."

Yep. I've already pointed out several flaws I found with the program, and will point out any others I find as well. I can't see Jaffe or BL or anyone else biting their keyboards about the 'bad stuff', just because Nikon let them use a D80 for 6 months. I assume most bloggers know how hard it is to grow and maintain their readership, and would never want to betray that trust.

But again, I think most readers aren't going to buy a D80 because myself or BL or Jaffe are blogging about it, or the program. That alone won't do it, IMO. Now if someone was already seriously considering the D80, and then saw pictures we had posted taken with the D80s we have on loan, that might be the final nudge they needed to pull the trigger on buying one.

But I cannot fathom anyone reading Jaffe's blog and then saying 'Wow you know I never really thought about getting a thousand dollar digital camera, but now that I read my hero Jaffe blogging about his, I HAVE to have one!'

I just don't see that happening.


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