Parallels Asking Beta Testers For Positive Reviews On Amazon And The Apple Store…. What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I just got a tip from a beta tester of Parallels who received an e-mail from the company asking him to submit a review of Parallels Desktop 4 on the Apple Store and Amazon.com:


Thank you for your recent comments and suggestions to the Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac Beta Program Survey. Your invaluable feedback helps us better meet the needs of our customers by improving future versions of our products.

Submit a Review
Why not take your feedback experience further by sharing your experiences with the online Apple community? By submitting a product review at Amazon.com or Apple Store (Online), potential users can take advantage of an unbiased online resource to assist them in making a purchasing decision.

While this isn’t the sort of thing that Belkin has been caught doing in the past, one has to wonder if this can be considered distasteful. Consider this: Parallels is trying to get people who have a positive bias towards Parallels desktop to write reviews that help to alter the perception of the software in the minds of end users. If you take into consideration that Parallels Desktop 4 has had some rather negative press on a variety of fronts that likely affects how the product is perceived by end users, this might be seen as an attempt as trying to spin doctor things in their favor.

What do you think? Is Parallels doing something wrong, or are they justified in doing this? Please leave a comment with your thoughts. Oh, if anybody from Parallels wants to comment about this, feel free to do so. I’d love to hear your side of the story.

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15 Responses to “Parallels Asking Beta Testers For Positive Reviews On Amazon And The Apple Store…. What’s Wrong With This Picture?”

  1. Good catch!

    Parallels has a rocky history with user-generated reviews. And while the above smells a little weird, it certainly doesn’t seem like a major transgression…just feels a little icky.

    What was a major transgression, though, was a little under a year ago, we caught a couple of their inside sales reps and PR associates (led by their former head of PR, Ben Rudolph), leaving 5-star reviews for Parallels 3 and 1-star reviews for VMware Fusion.

    We tried to be very nice about it, but firm, and they ended up weaseling out, by never mentioning in their admission that we had brought it to them.

    You can read about the episode here: http://blogs.vmware.com/teamfusion/2008/04/learning-from-y.html

    In my experience, some of the behavior manifested by Parallels is just on the far side of the line. Like the marketing claims that Parallels 4 is 50% faster than 3….but the speed increase claims are based on Intel technologies (“VT-x2”) that aren’t shipping yet in any Mac…

    We think our software is better, for sure (in fact, that’s likely why they’re doing the above: if you look at Fusion’s reviews on the Apple online store or Amazon, we consistently have 4.5 stars to Parallels 4’s 3 stars), but we certainly try to make sure our conduct is better as well.

    Thanks for taking the time to make sure that vendors are behaving well. Knowing that there are folks like you on the lookout will make sneaky people think twice.

    Pete Kazanjy
    VMware Fusion Product Marketing

  2. I think it’s hard to argue that this is quite like the Belkin case. Belkin was *paying* people, insisting on only-positive reviews, and demanded that posters not mention it was a paid endorsement.

    Asking your beta testers to submit reviews is indeed a bit sleazy, but I don’t think it’s as clearly unethical as what Belkin was doing.

  3. How is this any different to using customers comments in a white paper or case study?
    It’s not like they are asking them to lie about their experiences or anything.
    I don’t see anything wrong with this at all.

    //me

  4. Dave Hanley Says:

    While this does introduce a selection bias, this doesn’t smell untoward to me. It sounds like a facebook share link. Interesting marketing tactic.

  5. John Corbin Says:

    There is NOTHING sleazy about asking users to pass along a good word. It is done every day in all kinds of businesses.

    “Did you like shopping experience, the service, the products we sold you?”
    “Yes, it was really great.”
    “Thank you. We’d appreciate it if you would share that with your friends.”

    NO user-reviews site or star-rating is statistically valid. The sample is self-selecting, based on a non-equal range of response.

    NOTE: my comments here are not intended to endorse Parallels products. I have used both pieces of software in dozens of different situations and find they both have their limits.

  6. John Daniel Says:

    “Parallels has a rocky history with user-generated reviews.”

    And VMWare doesn’t? The anti-Parallels trash-talk started well before Fusion was even released.

    “We think our software is better, … we certainly try to make sure our conduct is better as well.”

    Sorry, but you aren’t doing a very good job in either area. I was a sucker for the anti-Parallels slander once and actually bought a copy of Fusion. In my experience, VMWare has proven itself to be an inferior product. However, that isn’t such a big deal. Yes, I think VMWare is inferior, but not my much. In most respects is seems like a fine product.

    My problem is with the outright slander and lies directed towards Parallels by people who post on various Internet forums. They are the ones you should be worried about. Until Parallels was released, I had a positive opinion of VMWare. Since then, the anti-Parallels propaganda reflects poorly on VMWare by association. My own experiences with Parallels have been very positive. I have read many, many negative experiences with Parallels, but they have always turned out to be untrue – every single time.

    When it comes to VMWare vs. Parallels, I don’t believe a word of anything I hear. I own and have used them both. VMWare is a fine product, second only to Parallels. Honest people say good things about Parallels. Dishonest people say bad things about Parallels and good things about VMWare. Which would you buy?

  7. I was really hoping that this wouldn’t turn into a VMWare Vs. Parallels bash-fest. In any case, can we try to turn down the rhetoric a bit here and have a meaningful discussion about the core issue?

    Full disclosure: In my case, I use Parallels Desktop. I happen to like the product as it supports the USB devices that I want to use. I also have used VMWare Fusion and happen to think that it’s fast as hell. The tipping point was the USB support in my case. That doesn’t make VMWare bad, it just means that it doesn’t fit my needs.

    I posted this because quite honestly, I’m not sure which side of the fence I’m on. What Parallels is asking beta testers to do sounds a bit on the shady side to me. But far less bad then the stunt that Belkin pulled. Having said that, I can see how this would work as a means to market the product. Since I am conflicted on this, I posted the story and the request for comments on this issue

    So lets keep the flaming down and the discussion going. Also, seeing as VMWare posted a comment, I would *REALLY* love to hear from Parallels as to their side of the story so that we have equal time for both companies.

    Thank you.

  8. It is *not* the same as “Did you enjoy your shopping experience?”

    What percentage of beta users are already current users of Parallels? That’s not your daddy’s STAT101 sampling, that’s biased sampling, period.

  9. John Daniel Says:

    “I was really hoping that this wouldn’t turn into a VMWare Vs. Parallels bash-fest. In any case, can we try to turn down the rhetoric a bit here and have a meaningful discussion about the core issue?”

    Good point. What is the core issue here? I think the core issue is what is acceptable marketing practices.

    “Parallels Desktop 4 has had some rather negative press on a variety of fronts that likely affects how the product is perceived by end users”

    Exactly. You would have to be living under a virtualization rock not to have noticed the deluge of bad reviews of Parallels. Do those reviews have any basis in fact? If someone is going to buy software, what will they choose? A “safe” and well-known product with virtually 100% good reviews? Or a new product that, apparently, has been a horrible experience for many people? What would I buy? Hell! I bought VMWare!

    But are those one-star and horrible reviews really accurate? I think Parallels has a responsibility to its owners and it customers to fight this unwarranted negative opinion of their product and their company.

    This is fundamentally NOT a VMWare vs. Parallels issue. VMWare is barely part of the issue at all. Parallels was first to the Mac market with a great product that many people just love. By any objective account it is at least as good as, if not better than, its newfound competition that rules the Windows and Linux virtualization markets. Since when did behavior like that merit such bad press?

    I’m glad this issue has come up and you wrote about it. It reminded me that I need to do my part and post some positive reviews on those forums. For the record, I also posted a positive review of VMWare, albeit not as positive as Parallels.

  10. If the system is gamed, the blogger here should start gaming the system the other way, and issue reviews on Amazon, Apple Store, and any other place where the product is reviewed, and give as many one star reviews with the link to their blog.

  11. ITnerd, thanks for the invitation to post openly here.
     
    Parallels is really proud of the technology we put out, and we welcome our users to share their opinions on how we can make it better. In the case of our recent e-mail campaign, we’re asking for unbiased feedback from people we know have used our software, nothing more. Honest and constructive feedback not only helps Parallels improve our products, but in the case of retail stores it can genuinely help potential customers make purchasing decisions.
     
    As a consumer, I personally find it really helpful to get opinions from existing users, not just the vendor’s marketing team, and all we’re trying to do is encourage that.
     
    By the way, as it was mentioned, I’d like to put the record straight on Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac’s speed increase over the previous version. When we developed Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac, we re-engineered the entire codebase on which the software is run. The refinements in that new code let Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac run up to 50% faster than the previous version. An additional cool-factor with that up to date code is the capability to use Intel’s latest virtualization technology.

  12. Thanks for posting Sean! I was hoping that somebody from Parallels would drop by and give their side of the story. The potential problem with what you’re asking beta users to do is that it can be perceived as being “astrotrufing.” I personally don’t think it is, but I do think that perhaps this isn’t the best way to go about getting these sorts of reviews IMHO.

    Thanks again for posting.

  13. This is an interesting question – but maybe I’m missing something from
    VMWare’s point of view. This seems like a smart request from
    Parallels. Isn’t Parallels asking people to post reviews – and those
    reviews will naturally reflect the quality of the product? If it sux,
    that’s what people will write. If it’s good, that’s what they will
    write. Parallels seems to be saying:

    – We want your input and for you to share it with others
    – We have confidence that our product will be reviewed positively much
    of the time

    I used to work for an etailer. Once somebody purchased from us, they
    were asked to review their experience on BizRate.com – which is open
    to public. Reviews weren’t always good – but it sure helped us
    understand what we did well and not so well.

    I think this campaign from Parallels is totally above board. I’d say
    it shows they understand the value of consumer reviews and having
    conversations with customers.

  14. I find people more likely to leave feedback when it is bad then when it is good. People have to be bribed most of the time with free stuff in order to go around posting positive reviews. Someone with a really bad experience will almost always go posting it on every site he can find.

  15. Well,
    they seem to be on the “fuck your customers as hard as you can” side:
    I helped them out on their paralles 5 beta, and hey, presto, their product rocked fine until:

    now it tells me, the activation key has expired, and there is no way back to Version 4 (which gt eradicated during the beta setup process, where Parallels told me ther cannot be 2 Versions on one mac)

    Furthermore, i shall just go and freaking buy a new license.

    So to get it together:

    – user buys Product
    – user helps develop Product
    – Vendor revokes both licenses
    – Vendor thinks user will just merrily shell out more money for new license keys.

    What they call marketing i call blackmail.

    Anybody else switching to VMware?

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