RealTime IT News

So, Did You Hear the One About the InfoWorld Columnist?

If you're a close follower of the online tech press, you may have noticed the brouhaha that surfaced this weekend, touched off largely by the revelation that a popular InfoWorld columnist, Randall C. Kennedy, has been secretly operating a software company -- and talking to the press -- under the pseudonym of Craig Barth, CTO of Devil Mountain Software.

To bring you up to speed: In the guise of Barth, Kennedy spoke regularly to the press on behalf of his company, which makes system performance monitoring software for large financial firms as well as for consumer PCs. The downloadable, consumer PC version of Devil Mountain's monitoring software generates performance data that he aggregates and uses for research reports, including a number that have caught the eye of the industry press -- InternetNews.com included.

Until this past weekend, the industry at large didn't know that Devil Mountain's mouthpiece, Craig Barth, and Randall Kennedy were one in the same. But that was until InfoWorld's Eric Knorr on Sunday revealed his site's contributor to have been masquerading as Devil Mountain's CTO under an assumed name.

From Knorr's post:

    Integrity and honesty are core to InfoWorld's mission of service to IT professionals, and we view Kennedy's actions as a serious breach of trust. As a result, he will no longer be a contributor to InfoWorld, and we have removed his blog from this site.

There's some debate about how much of an impact a separate, extensive investigation by the staff over at ZDNet had on the unveiling: ZDNet's Larry Dignan says his publication had been on the verge of releasing the findings of its look into Kennedy, Barth and Devil Mountain when InfoWorld decided to beat them to the punch.

In any event, Kennedy -- the author of InfoWorld pieces like "Why I Hate Microsoft Office 2010," "Why Windows 7 May Still Fail" and "Critical Windows 7 Bug Risks Derailing Product Launch" -- has called out Dignan and company's report as a Microsoft-sponsored hit piece. (Dignan responds here.)

And, he's said that InfoWorld's editorial management knew full well of his Barth persona and approved it. For one thing, InfoWorld and Devil Mountain Software had collaborated on the creation of InfoWorld Windows Sentinel, essentially a repackaged version of Devil Mountain's consumer PC performance-analysis and -tracking software.

I spoke with Kennedy earlier today, and gave him a chance to explain himself, and how he thinks the industry should look upon the data generated by the exo.performance.network -- the arm of Devil Mountain that aggregated, analyzed and released stats on users' PC activities.

His take: Since joining as a columnist, InfoWorld had pushed him to be as controversial -- and thus, as successful -- a writer as possible. But he said that taking on the mantle of an Internet "shock jock" (his words) undermined his ability to market the software made by Devil Mountain and to publicize the valuable analytical data offered by the exo.performance.network, or XPnet, as it's known.

"I was a polarizing bad guy," he said. "It would be like Howard Stern publishing economic data ... I realized, 'My God, I have painted myself into one hell of a corner here.'"

"My job was to be the lightning rod for InfoWorld. I didn't like it very much, but I accepted it. But the problem is when I wanted to publish hard research data ... I couldn't do it as me," Kennedy explained.

"How do I take this legitimate framework developed over the years [and] tell the world what I've got here?" he added. "Unfortunately, I shot myself in the foot by being a shock jock for InfoWorld."

For Kennedy, the solution was to take his middle name, Craig, and pair it with another family name, Barth.

It was then as "Craig Barth" that Kennedy began publishing XPnet research and fielding calls from the press, including us, the AP, Gizmodo and others.

"I had to respond somehow to inquiries from reporters ... primarily because if Randall Kennedy responded, they'd say 'What the hell are you doing here?'" Kennedy said. "I regret the decision, but I don't feel like I had much of a choice. I simply had to find a way to get the information out there without people dismissing it out of hand because it was coming from a shock character from a publication like InfoWorld."

Next Page: "All hell broke loose."