Microsoft’s cynical response to laptop scandal

December 31, 2006

Response to my post about the Microsoft-AMD Acer laptop scandal has underscored the disconnect between how bloggers are perceived and what they actually are. Microsoft’s recent comments about the scandal also demonstrate just how cynical the company is when dealing with bloggers.

No-strings gift or bribe?

The scandal first arose when Microsoft sent some laptops loaded with Vista to 90 top bloggers as part of a public relations campaign. I was one of the first commentators to point out that the company had crossed the line with this initiative, and that these gifts were actually more like bribes. For my troubles I’ve been called jealous, a fool, and a racist.

Microsoft has since said that the program was meant to be an evaluation program, not a bribe, according to a report on

A Microsoft spokesperson was quoted as saying that generally speaking the blogging community ”is highly intelligent and quite cynical. Anyone who thinks they can be easily swayed is fooling themselves” and that “no editorial commentary was expected or required.”

In which case, my question is, why is the company bothering to send out the laptops if it expects nothing in return. Last time I checked Microsoft was in the business of making money. If what the Microsoft spokesperson is saying is true, than the company is spending its PR budget very unwisely. I would be quite upset by this if I was a shareholder, and would be calling for the head of Microsoft PR to be sacked.

But of course that’s not the case. This is a cynical exercise where the aim is to improve the coverage of Vista in the blogosphere. Everyone knows that, and Microsoft’s “no editorial commentary is expected or required” further demonstrates just how cynical the company is.

As I pointed out in the my original post, Microsoft’s approach raises some problematic issues:

First, it’s unheard of for a software company to give away. In the ten years I’ve been writing about computers this is the first time I’ve heard of this kind of PR give away on this level.

Second, how many bloggers that have received a notebook but have not declared it on their blog? Quite a few I suggest, which highlights up the fundamental problem with blogging, which is that bloggers are not trained journalists and not necessarily in tune with the ethical problems that gifts entail.

Third, obviously not every blogger will receive a notebook, which means that some bloggers will feel that they’ve been overlooked. From a PR perspective, rather than creating positive “buzz”, this initiative will actually generate a lot of negative publicity – it’s very easy to criticize something you’re not part of. Microsoft has further put is foot in its corporate mouth by saying that these bloggers are “fooling themselves”.

Finally, sending bribes to bloggers is not a good look for Microsoft, and this is exactly how this initiative will be perceived. Even as they try to defend themselves, Microsoft’s PR Gurus, show that they do not understand the blogosphere.

The fundamental problem is that is generally speaking blogs are perceived as being the authentic and trustworthy voice of the people who write them. The reason why this is so is because until recently blogs existed outside of the whole marketing/PR machine. Now however, they’re very much part of the machine, as Microsoft’s laptop give away demonstrates.

Microsoft’s recent comments, and criticisms by some sections of the blogosphere, have done nothing to allay my concerns – they’ve just underscored how real the problem is. Some bloggers don’t (or don’t want to) understand the ethical issues, and companies (ie Microsoft) are very happy to cynically exploit this lack of understanding.

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62 Responses to “Microsoft’s cynical response to laptop scandal”

  1. Keep the Laptop!!!:


  2. Chady:

    I agree… KEEP THE LAPTOP. It’s your laptop so KEEP IT. People who don’t understand shouldn’t read your blog anyway… so many people…so many opinions… all the people complaining our jealous..reglardless what they say…and if they aren’t jealous..then I am glad they are a minority because there is something wrong with their brain. What kind of person makes someone give up something cool like a new ACER laptop… grow up…

  3. anonnnnimous:

    Wipe the laptop. Put a flavor of Linux on it. M$ is obviously as stupid and greedy as it is narrow-minded. IF you want someone to review your software, send it to a magazine that is BASED on reviews. Bloggers are not thorough and MS is just attention-whoring. Keep the gift. Sell it on ebay. Video it as you destroy it and put it on you tube.

  4. john abell:

    What a load of sanctimonious claptrap! All you had to do was give an opinion on Vista, good/bad or otherwise! You could slag off as much as you like, the laptop is still yours. No doubt they have such confidence in Vista that you would comment favourably, and 90 laptops is a drop in the ocean to Microsoft, so favourable comments are a wise financial investment from their perspective, so drop the holier-than-thou mantle and make a comment.

  5. R G:

    keep it think what these laptop will be worth on ebay in a few months :)

  6. None:

    “All you had to do was give an opinion on Vista…” Is that what he HAD to do? Because, according to MS he doesn’t have to do anything. It’s just a random free gift, because that’s just the kind of company they are. Just because you missed the author’s point, doesn’t invalidate it.

  7. also anonymous:

    Wonder if anyone at slashdot or sourceforge got one?

  8. toe fungus:

    your opinions are very important – please continue to write in a blog because the world needs you and is listening attentively to your moderate, balanced and yet witty self expression in the service of elucidating matters which are important – how gratifying it must be for you to write

  9. Odin:

    I fail to see how this is a bribe.

  10. penemue:

    Look. The cynicism of the bloggers is what makes this whole idea worthwile. BECAUSE they are most likely to be the most critical of the laptops, and people KNOW these top bloggers to be knowledgeable about the laptops, any praise will be well taken. It’s not a bribe–everbody does it. Video games are given to testers, restaurants give free meals to reviewers, sports teams give free tickets to reporters–it’s a form of marketing, and a smart one at that. Presumably, Microsoft felt that these bloggers would find Vista to be an improvement–and therefore write favorably about it. If they’re as objective and critical as people expect them to be, then they’ll speak out if they feel Microsoft’s making a crappy product. In that act, Microsoft would be getting valuable feedback from experts off the payroll. If the bloggers like the laptops, however, it is a perfectly legitimate, and intelligent, form of marketing. Grow a pair and stop complaining.

  11. bMan:

    Trade the laptop in for a MacBook Pro, then write about how awesome OSX is!

  12. Jay:

    ALL know that Microsoft is well known for their marketing srategies… they have sold products which are not worth it and raised the money by selling it and over the period they have improved some…. bottom line is.. I would not expect MS to be stupid enough and not considering the result of sending only 90 laptops to 90 bloggers and not sending to all bloggers… How will you make your brand famous ?? people should discuss about it… now that some people will give good review and others(who didn’t get laptop :)) will give bad review… which means they confused the consumers …. whether they should by it or not… and at the end they will because MS brad is well known…. Another Marketing strategy to learn from MS…. HAPPY NEW YEAR

  13. Pat:

    Keep it, you didn’t ask for it so you are totally not unethical for keeping it. Maybe install OSx86?

  14. Me:

    I really don’t get it. Companies give away stuff all the time for promotional purposes. I can’t tell you how many of them I received over the years. Now that MS does it, suddenly it’s a “Scandal”.

  15. JA:

    Suck it up. If you can’t handle the heat, don’t blog.

  16. DR:

    Receiving an expensive item for free is clearly an attempt to create a positive impression of the product. If you value how your opinions are respected, return it unopened.

  17. neomonkey:

    These comments are missing the point. MS is a software company, not a computer company. If they wanted to promote Vista, they should have sent the damn OS, not a computer. But the experiences would have been highly varied and mostly negative, so they loaded the dice in a lame attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Of course it’s a clumsy attempt at bribery, but what do you expect from Microsoft’s marketing department? You have to feel sorry for what their job is, trying to sell a bloated, half-assed copy of OS X that won’t work worth a damn on most PCs already out there.

  18. Sam:

    penemue makes a good point. I have received expensive (albeit closer to $500) gifts before which did not cloud my eyes at all upon evaluating the product. If something stinks, it stinks. If it was an impersonal company like microsoft, instead of my girlfriend, I’d let the gift giver know.

    If vista is genuinely an excellent operating system, then giving it away for free to bloggers is a fine idea because they will write positive blogs about it. If vista is genuinely a poor operating system, then as this particular blogger suggests, it is very poorly spent marketing money as I would expect to here quite some griping about bloggers.

    Now, if microsoft has singled out ONLY pro-microsoft bloggers (for which I have seen absolutely no evidence), then it is reaching closer to a bribe. Until then, seems to me people are getting a little too bent out of shape.

  19. Brutonian:

    What is a trained Journalist? The second problem refers to many bloggers not being part of this as yet un heard of class of people, do you have to be in a Union? Work for a particular paper? Take some god-awful course in media studies? What are the dillemas associated with gifts? That they might colour your opinion on an issue? Surely every aspect of a persons life and all exchanges and interactions with other people will affect a Bloggers standpoint or views on a wide range of issues. A blog is essentially an opinion piece, not a scintific report, all opinions are subject to influence, it is a shame the author of this blog feels that those who write blogs should be trained as to how to re-act to a given event, bloggers own their opinions and their blogs, let them keep there gifts, let them write their opinions, let them do what they please. It would be an awful shame to call on a homogonised response on behalf of a bloggers. Kind of defeats the whole idea really. I know it’s off the point, that most will focus on what microsoft wants, but to suggest that some people need to be trained so that they can be proper blog authors is narrow minded and a step backwards. So in sumation, there is no problem 2…….

  20. None:

    Neomonkey gets it. It’s like a tire company giving you a Porsche with their tires on it. Here you go, check out our tires. Oh and by the way, go ahead and keep the car when you’re done.

    HW companies give away HW to reviewers, because that’s their product. Sports teams give away tickets, because sports entertainment is their product. Restaurants give away meals to food critics, because that’s their product. If a food critic writes a review of a restaurant, he is, in my opinion, ethically obligated to reveal if he left the restaurant with a free laptop.

    If MS wants to giveaway laptops, that’s fine, but when I read a review of Vista, I want to know if the reviewer got a free laptop from MS, because that affects the relative weight of the review.

  21. Harry Topping:

    On your blog you state “bloggers are not trained journalists and not necessarily in tune with the ethical problems that gifts entail”. Since when has a formal education in journalism ever guaranteed proper ethics, especially in today’s media world.

  22. Mark Shaw:

    Does the Vista lisence permit the laptops to be given away or sold with Vista still installed?

    Will the next owner of the laptops be able to use and update the existing OS?

  23. Winston:

    Geeze, give it a rest! A free laptop is a free laptop. I wouldn’t care if it had Vista or OSXX on it. If you don’t like it – pitch the thing and get on with life. Bloggers are not people anyone they should base their life on – they are simply ordinary people that write some crap on the internet. If I want a review on HD or an OS – I am sure not going to listen to what some ‘full of yourself’ blogger says – I will read a review on a ‘REAL’ website. Just get on with your life!

  24. Jandler:

    Ah…this reminds of a Simpsons quote that is quite applicable.

    “Instead of one big-shot controlling all the media,” Homer says, “now there’s a thousand freaks Xeroxing their worthless opinions.”

  25. John:

    What a ridiculous thing to be outraged over. These are bloggers, not professional journalists (though some may in fact be professional journalists). Where’s the outrage when companies comp training for their software products to encourage usage of them (I’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of this 3 times now). I even have a blog where I frequently post code and fixes for one of those software packages… does that mean I was unethically bought since I received free training and then “blogged” about aspects of that software.

    This is a typical example of the anti-Microsoft band wagon clinging to anything they can. I didn’t hear outrage when Google wanted to give free laptops away to school children in developing countries (an argument can be made that you are endoctrinating them to use their software). I don’t see how this is different other than the audience (and of course one group clearly benefits more, those being the individuals in developing countries).

    I took this outrage as a select set of bloggers full of themselves.

  26. news:

    Well, I was all set to say something and Jandler beat me to it. And said it

  27. JoPa:

    Is this blogger for real? Companies give away tons of stuff all the time…no big deal…I wonder what his reaction would have been if Apple had sent him an ebook?

  28. R. G. Berglund:

    I love the sanctimonius babble. While asserting “blogs are perceived as being the authentic and trustworthy voice of the people who write them. The reason why this is so is because until recently blogs existed outside of the whole marketing/PR machine.” your blog is surrounded by ads for Dell, Helium, Fujitsu, KLR, Toshiba, Google…… Hello!!!???!!!

  29. LivingLegend:

    Man, you sure have a lot of ugly ads on this site… I don’t think you realize what kind of ETHICAL ISSUES ads create in the blogosphere! Why, you are just a sell-out trying to make money! Your thoughts and opinions are TAINTED!

    …Or you are just another douchebag (and hypocrite) who mashes out horrible (barely existent) arguments for their retarded opinions. Congrats on sticking to your moronic hypocritical guns, faghat.

    Also, Google should be fucking ashamed that this 3rd rate page was listed on Google News. A typical Geocities page has less ads and a better layout.

  30. jinwem:

    a bribe? No! its just a smarter form of giving product to somebody … for marketing problem….if u one to critic MS although u receive the only feel sorry to MS..if you want to keep yourself clean of effect….then you should decline all kind of gift. If you want to give good comment to the new OS but don’t want people be suspicious of your stand…reveal the fact that you have receive the gift. Anyway we should assume that the readers are wise enough..wise enough to be not affected by a few review..

  31. Jim:

    “bloggers are not trained journalists”.
    Yeah, take Dan Rather and Reuter’s photo fudging for example… fine examples of journalistic ethics. I find a blogger’s opinions just as believable as any “trained journalist”.

  32. APDesai:

    Are you serious?!? It is one of the largest companies in teh world, giving away 100 laptops that amount to about $100,000. Call that a bribe. Wake up, all of corporate America works this way. Just because you’re a blogger you think you’re above and beyond everything. You need to get off that high horse of yours. It’s a free laptop, if you don’t want it, donate it to a school or someplace it will be put to use. There are significantly bigger issues at hand that n eed to be addressed, I find it amusing you’re getting your panties in a bunch over this…

    Also, do you truly believe your opinion will make or break Vista?!? Microsoft is a machine, and their OS runs 90+% of the world’s computers. They put out crappy products all the time, and consumers buy them just the same. It is corporate america at it’s finest. You’d be silly to think the most followed blog in the world would have the slightest affect on Vista…

  33. MikeJ:

    Sounds like sour grapes to me. A free laptop is a free laptop – I’ve been a buyer for 15 years now and get random product, gifts, items, perks all the time and it’s just part of my world – doesn’t mean that I’m influenced by them and anyone else in my industry complaining is probably complaining that they aren’t getting the same.

  34. somefool:

    Are you retarded? Do you understand what evaluation means and what a bribe means? They wanted to get Vista in the hands of bloggers for them to evaluate and possibly blog about it as they saw fit. That could have been anything from “vista is great” to “vista is aweful”. Furthermore, if bloggers chose not to say anything about the laptop at all Microsoft is fine with that too! Nothing was expected or required – which is different than hoping something positive would be said. Now, a bribe is when you’re given something conditionally.. like here’s a nice shiny new laptop if you do xyz for me.

  35. GJ:

    Oh please! Get your head out of the clouds!

  36. Paul Mavini:

    A pre-configured laptop lets you review Vista, theoretically at its BEST, without complications due to your inability to install and configure it optimally, or the inadequacy of your existing computer. New cars are reviewed this way by most of the media, where the car was specially prepared for the reviewer.

    Try it out. If you hate it, blog it. Only if you LIKE it do you have an ethical dilemma. You could always give the laptop away when you are done, write a positive blog, and mention your regifting.

  37. jakel:

    What if MS had given out Vista on disc plus $1000 cash instead of on a laptop?

  38. Lamont Cranston:

    somefool, if they wanted to get vista into the hands of bloggers, they would have sent them copies of the software.

    How can they evaluate the software on a totally different piece of hardware? Differences in stability, or speed may be due to improvements, or defects, in the software – or it might be due to the different hardware.

    Doing a review of the laptop hardware is also compromised – differences in the performance may be due to the different OS.

    Sorry, but this is not “Microsoft bashing”, it is a legitimate concern. No honest comparison of the OS was possible under the conditions, it is reasonable to suggest that an honest comparison was not welcome.

    to suggest that “Nothing was expected or required” is a charming bit of nonsense.

    As for retardation, using the term as an insult in a discussion undermines your credibility. Please stop.

  39. Hal:

    the fundamental problem with blogging, which is that bloggers are not trained journalists and not necessarily in tune with the ethical problems that gifts entail.
    let’s try that again
    the fundamental problem with journalism, which is that journalists are not educated and not necessarily in tune with the ethical problems that gifts entail.
    Anyone who has been near a major newspaper, radio or television station has seen the numbers of free gifts that are never disclosed.

  40. Ken:

    I find it absurd that people are wasting their time complaining about what is clearly a marketing manuever by Microsoft. There’s nothing unethical about it, it’s simply an opportunity to ‘potentially’ generate postive buzz about Vista in the Blogosphere.

    As someone mentioned earlier, once the Bloggers receive the laptops, they are free to speak honestly about their views regarding the new OS.

    As far as the arguments about MS being a software and not a hardware company, by sending the OS out pre-loaded they increase the liklihood that it will actually get installed by the recipients. I know I personally would be unwilling to potentially overwrite my existing data to test MS’s latest and greatest OS.

    As a software vendor, Microsoft may have also been hesitant about sending out the OS as a CD or DVD for fear that it would be all over the Internet by the end of the day. I know I would…

  41. Bob Lee:

    My guess is Microsoft is testing the ethical journalist standards of bloggers:
    They have to turn in the list of the keepers to the IRS – and bloggers
    who keep the laptops will have to declare them on income tax returns as gifts subject to the gift tax. Failure to do so will automatically result in the prosecution of unethical bloggers. Any organization so tied to government spending as Microsoft should have its motives questioned, especially since government acceptance of Vista is critical to the product line’s success. One hand washes the other … again.

  42. Steve Goguen:

    Giving someone a free laptop isn’t going to change most people’s mind about Vista if Vista is a crappy OS. However, if Vista is actually a good OS it will probably influence the bloggers to write a good review or two. Anybody in PR knows this.

    I hope the bloggers will find it in their best interest to disclose they received a laptop from Microsoft, as those who are discovered not disclosing their gift will probably find themselves campaigning for their credibility later.

  43. Maurice:

    Foaming at the mouth anti-Microsoft fanatics. It’s all envy. Jealousy of $ill Gates’ huge wealth. For decades now I was watched anti-MSFT fanaticism and seen very little reasoning in the diatribes and anti-trust/anti-monopoly attacks. Putting a browser with an operating system for example was supposed to be bad. How ridiculous. Microsoft has been of enormous benefit to my life and for a low price. My consumer surplus was vast. So it was for umpty million people. No wonder the world’s economy has been going great for 20 years [bumps and thumps notwithstanding].

  44. Brian Hill:

    Judging from the commentary, your points went over your most of your readers’ heads. Taking a principled, minority position isn’t easy. Keep up the thoughtful writing.

    You could donate the laptop to some non-profit that has nothing to do with PC hardware and software.

    Just disclosing receipt of the laptop is already a huge step in clarifying any conflict of interest. And yes, John, who posts code and fixes to Microsoft software packages on his blog would be doing the right thing by also disclosing that he gets comp’d training classes for his efforts.

  45. Mick:

    People are just Idiots, keep the laptop, screw what everyone else thinks or say’s. they are all upset becuase they didnt get one.

  46. KT:

    So what? From what I can discern, they didn’t require a review, favorable or otherwise. Write what you want. Don’t write anything. Write about not writing anything. Keep the laptop. Burn it in effigy. Whatever.

    Only one thing is certain, if you keep writing about such trivial topics, I likely won’t waste my time browsing your site. Congratulations on making it to google news, though.

  47. Apple Head:

    “Trade the laptop in for a MacBook Pro, then write about how awesome OSX is! ”

    Awesome. XD

    Anyways, I’d say keep it. A free laptop lands in your lap, and we all want to look the gift horse in the mouth. Of course there’s marketing agendas. There’s marketing agendas in every single marketing item in existence. So what? I’m tired of all of the “dirty politics and dirty economics” discussion.

    Oh by the way, great blog. I’m not complaining about the head honcho here.

  48. frelkins:

    >First, it’s unheard of for a software company to give away

    While I actually agree with you on your basic point, I have to ask you where you’ve been all these years. I’ve never been to a tech industry event that didn’t give away mucho, mucho schwag. During the bubble, Macromedia used to give away tons and tons of software at every seminar.

    I guess you just weren’t going to the plum events? Anyway, you should acknowledge this, because this well-known fact really undercuts your argument.

  49. Olden Atwoody:

    To tell you the truth, I’ve posted some heady comments on other BLOGS where the owners were LESS than honest. However, in this case – I believe you and it reinforces my belief that you’re doing the right thing. With that being said, I say “Keep it”. If your personal ethics still make you question this, then donate to a real charity – a women’s shelter, etc. You’ve done the right thing already, so please follow your heart.

    This reminds me of the tremendous controversy at the SF Bay users groups, back in the day, when one man outraged the other members by SELLING software, which up until then was a collaborative effort, freely distributed.

    That man?

    Why, Bill Gates, of course!

  50. Maurice:

    There is something not quite right in using “trained journalist” and ethics in the same sentance. That is why I look to blogs as the only source of objective news. The only thing new about these free “evaluation copies” is that now ordinary people are getting them.

  51. dw:

    I cannot stand Microsoft, but have no problem with what they’ve done. Your comments are ludicrous.

  52. M G:

    I would have to say your writing here sides more on anti-microsoft than dealing with what actually happened. Your comment: “First, it’s unheard of for a software company to give away.” is very far from being accurate. Software companies frequently give away free software as part of PR as well as long term plans for marketing. Students at universities are a primary target of this. If you get a student interested and hooked on a product, they will not only use it after college when they must pay for it, but can and sometimes do push their place of employment to use it if they do not already.

    If Microsoft asked for nothing in return, other than the possibility of a review, then it can hardly be taken as a bribe. Your review could be very negative, and if they do not ask for the product back, it was simiply a means for you to get a good feel of the product, and compensation for your time.

    I will agree with KT that I will not continue to browse if the general trend stays on trivial parts of a topic.

  53. John Doe:

    I doubt you would care if you were deemed important enough by Microsoft to receive the sample, a common practice in the camera world. It’s not a terribly original idea to give critics a chance to review products for free…

  54. Buddha'sBelly:

    I say send it back. Even if it’s not technically inappropriate, the appearance of it being inappropraite will be just as damaging. While the www/blogosphere is all fun and parties now, credibility will eventually be just as important here as elsewhere.

    Plus, it’s a crappy lappy if these specs still hold true:

    Processor Name: Mobile AMD Turion 64 ML-34
    Processor Speed: 1.8 GHz
    RAM: 1024 MB
    Weight: 6.6 lb
    Screen Size: 15.4 inches
    Screen Size Type: widescreen
    Graphics Card: ATI Radeon x700
    Storage Capacity: 100 GB

  55. John Kelly:

    “….which highlights up the fundamental problem with blogging, which is that bloggers are not trained journalists and not necessarily in tune with the ethical problems that gifts entail.”

    Using the terms “journalists” and “ethical” in the same scentence is oxymoronic! An old saying comes to mind: “Believe half of what you see and NONE of what you read or hear.” And now with digital photo editing, I would extend the belief part “what you see.”

  56. Lonnie Mask:

    At the company I work for, part of our ethics training covers what can be received as a gift, and what should be done with a gift, in order to prevent even the perception that bias has occurred. Even if John were to give a negative review this time, if he, or any other blogger, were to keep the laptop, there would be no positive review that he could give to Microsoft, or a negative review of a competing product, that would not be somewhat tainted by accepting this gift. At my company, we are required to report receiving any type of gift, including meals paid for by customers. Most gifts have to be turned over to the company.

  57. ._.._...:

    Microsoft’s “no editorial commentary is expected or required” further demonstrates just how cynical the company is.

    How so? Do you know what cynical means or am i missing something?

  58. ijalade olalekan:

    pls i am i need of a laptopcomputer for easy carry out of my work on the internet.Every effort you made to ensure the success of this will be highly appreciated.thanks

  59. Doodee:

    Thanks for sharing

  60. Omotadowa Gbenga:

    pls i need a laptop to carry up my daily assignment.on the internet.all your effort will not go in vain God will reward.Thanks

  61. Tsais:

    I think you’re putting too fine a point on it.

    Companies send out products for free to people who might or might not review them. That’s been going on forever and 3 days.

    PR departments saying whatever seems to best reduce the fallout from anything potentially negative involving their company are just doing their job.

    Bloggers are classed as opinion leaders, the same as reviewers at other publications, so they get targeted for whatever PR actions some stuffed shirt decides on.

    Unless you wanna rewrite business law, you might as well just take the laptop, put Ubuntu on it, give it to your nephew and call it a day.

    Otherwise, this whole thing sounds like whining about a moral issue everybody already knows is due course in capitalism.

    And it’ll sound like you have have some “I’m a serious blogger, and they are trifling with me” chip on your shoulder

  62. Sally Norales:

    Its very difficult to find any good site on this particular topic. And you really looks you know what you are writing about. I have bookmarked your blog, will be coming back again and again. Just don’t let the quality of your site fell down.

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