Packet Rat: So whose blog post is that, anyhow?

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

There are few things the Rat loves more than a good whodunit. He's been reading a really good one lately, but it isn't a book'it's on the Internet.

Late last month, a band of bloggers who happen to be Lotus Notes and Domino users, partners and developers responded to a call to arms from Ed Brill, an IBM Corp. executive who formerly was Domino and Notes product manager.

Brill posted a note on his weblog about a recent white paper from the Radicati Group Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., praising Microsoft Exchange e-mail and collaboration strategy over IBM's plans for Domino and the new Workplace collaboration environment.

The bloggers in short order started deconstructing the white paper. But then a stranger invaded their virtual community and posted negative comments about Lotus financial results to discredit the bloggers. As it turned out, the stranger was a Radicati Group analyst, posting under an assumed name.

'That's called astroturfing'faking grassroots support,' the wirebiter informed his wife over breakfast as he scanned his Really Simple Syndication reader. 'Microsoft did it with PR people a few times. Marc Fleury of JBoss Inc. did it himself on message boards. They got caught, and it wasn't pretty.'

The Radicati interloper was ferreted out by the IP address he used. Rule No. 1 for cybertricksters: Never play cloak-and-dagger from your work PC. But wait, it gets better.

Before long, comments were springing up on other weblogs under a series of mysterious names'and they all seemed to be coming from Radicati IP addresses. Then, when the identities of the trollers were challenged, a new wrinkle emerged: e-mails from freshly created Yahoo and Hotmail accounts to the employers of some of the bloggers, calling for the bloggers to be fired.

Guess what? Bloggers looked at the IP addresses in the message headers and matched them against Radicati addresses.
It was by then no big surprise that people were calling for firings; Sara Radicati, president of the analyst firm, had sent off some e-mails of her own to IBM, saying Ed Brill should be fired. But the e-mails were from accounts seemingly unconnected to the firm.

So, in short order, everybody forgot about the report, which shows Microsoft's profit line going up, IBM Workplace's line going up slowly and Lotus Domino's line going down over the next few years. Instead, attention shifted to the origin of all those nasty e-mails and blog posts. Most of them were tied directly to the computers of Radicati employees.

'We're close to nailing them,' a blogger instant-messaged the Rat. 'All we need is one more mistake.'

Hunting down astroturfing analysts might be lots of fun but isn't helping Lotus' market share much. Still, it says something when people who aren't even on IBM's payroll care enough about its products to defend them against anyone who messes with them.

'Mental note to self,' the Rat muttered as he left for the office. 'Never, never annoy any Domino bloggers.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com

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