Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Writing articles for a change...and oh what a change

Strange as it may seem, I've also been known to write for Wikipedia.  This last day has been more interesting than usual in that regard.  You're going to love how this post ends.

Found the topic from a short mention at an administrative noticeboard.
It appears that this article on a California company may be part of that company's pre-IPO publicity blitz. The company's website, linked from the article, shows a countdown clock for tomorrow at 9:00 am local time. Given that just a few contributors wrote most of the article over the past few days, is this cause for concern? User:LeadSongDog come howl 21:37, 23 February 2010 (UTC) 
The good thing about blogging is it gives the chance to be more candid.  So not to mince words, this looked like astroturfing.  Here's how it appeared shortly before my first edit.  Red flags for promotional writing include awards in the lead and a single sentence of criticism backloaded at the tail end of the article.  The section entitled "Competition" used one source that basically stated the major players had recently pulled out of the field.  If you check the references the quotes turn out to be cherry picked.

Actual press coverage is mixed: plenty of positives, also skepticism over feasibility and hype.  The company was profiled by 60 Minutes a few days ago and has been doing a media blitz since then.  It's a tech firm that wants to sell green energy and is very cagey about its company secrets.  They held a press conference this morning with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell, and Michael Bloomberg.  Is this pre-IPO hype?

Astroturfing jobs at Wikipedia these days are getting contracted at one or two levels of separation from the client company.  So the geolocation of this major contributor is less significant than its singlemindedness.  Read the edits for yourself.

Following are a few highlights from the IP's attempts to reinsert promotional content into company history such as a tangential NASA connection that the CEO had prior to founding the startup:
*(the idea came from somewhere....look at the Microsoft Page....)
*(one fine day in 2001, Mr Sridhar became an expert in fuel cells!)
*(the fucking Google page says where the name Google came from!!!!! ok, bitch?)

The last of those comments looks to have been intended toward me; the IP user appears not to have noticed that by this time the IP was actually edit warring with a male administrator.  This IP editor doesn't seem to understand much about the underlying engineering or science.  At one point I stopped to explain that hydrolysis consumes energy rather than produces it; shortly afterward the IP shuffled sentences so it looked like a venture capitalist was using a cost per kilowatt hour argument to rebut a criticism about fuel cell manufacturing costs.

The firm has $400 million in venture capital and a burn rate of $85 million a year.  Everyone loves green energy--or would if it were cost effective--but this looks like a very high stakes gamble.  Bloom Energy's business plan is based upon a bet that a notoriously unstable technology can be mass produced by a startup firm headed by a Ph.D. who never got any closer to NASA than managing a university department that built prototypes.  Instead of Schwarzenegger and Powell, I wish that company had introduced its VP of production at the press conference today.

It turns out that Sprint Nextel owns 15 patents on similar fuel cell technology and has been using their own models in the field for five years.  The Department of Energy gave Sprint a $7 million grant last year to expand their program.  Quite a few other firms are active in the area.  It isn't clear what Bloom Energy has that they don't--other than a star studded board and a hype generator.  It could be the start of a new era or it could be the next

Among the interesting tidbits I found was a piece from Wired that had located a 2009 patent award to Bloom Energy for a device that seems very similar to its Bloom Energy Server.  Perhaps the vaunted "secret ingredient".  Did you know...
... that Bloom Energy was awarded a patent in 2009 for a power device that utilizes yttria-stabilized zirconia?
That lovely bit of information is on Wikipedia's main page right now.

Time to go back onsite and politely congratulate that IP coauthor.  Entries at Wikipedia's "Did you know?" feature remain live about six hours.  Wikipedia's main page typically receives 1 million page views during that time.

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