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Corruption in the chair world
July 22, 2010 5:29 AM   Subscribe

Benchmark Reviews review a very, very expensive chair in the most effusive terms. Something rings false in a cosy internet backwater. Further investigation suggests that large sections of the review are lifted from press releases. Shenanigans ensue. The response of Benchmark Reviews to being caught in the act? They permanently ban and then publish the real name and address of the journalist investigating.
posted by jonnyseveral (66 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
If I had to review chairs I would never get farther than "I sat on it for a while. It kept my ass off the floor. Well done!", and this, among other things, is why I don't review chairs for a living.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:41 AM on July 22, 2010 [10 favorites]


The seedy underbelly of the chair review journalism world exposed at long last.
posted by wrok at 5:44 AM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's not a very, very expensive chair. It's not even an expensive chair. This, however...
posted by jimmythefish at 5:46 AM on July 22, 2010


I love the fact that, somewhere in the world, people on a forum are using the word "damnable."
posted by Ouisch at 5:48 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like the editor's public profile on his site:

Interests:
Competing in Submission Grappling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kickboxing.


Ooh! Scary! Nobody mess with him.
posted by waitingtoderail at 5:48 AM on July 22, 2010


Lately, I have had a couple of work meetings in restaurants, and, let me tell you, a badly designed chair can be horrible for extended sitting. So, yeah, lots to review in chairs.

More on topic, we have a company doing reviews which eventually decides to more or less rephrase press releases out of laziness or to keep the goodies coming, gets caught, and then responds with a fairly useless set of measures based on a faulty understanding of how the internet works.

It is nice of reality to provide case studies for ethics and technology classes....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:49 AM on July 22, 2010


Stuart Campbell doesn't seem to be the most popular person on the internet
posted by dng at 5:49 AM on July 22, 2010


Ooh, I love internet investigations.

"I want to know if I'm going barmy", wrote the clearly-distressed reader, whose cause for doubting his very sanity was – of all things – a review of an incredibly expensive office chair.


Only on the internet could something like a review of an office chair drive someone to this.
posted by Danila at 5:50 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


A feature I would really love in a chair is electronic configuration. It would save my settings (or maybe I'd have them on an SD card) and if anyone screwed it up, I could just punch a button and it would reset to the right height, tiltedness, etc. Right now, I have to punch the person and then spend 3 days intermittently and unsuccessfully fiddling with the random levers to find something that's close to what I remember.
posted by DU at 5:50 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


something, something, mountain, molehill, something...
posted by HuronBob at 5:52 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, DU is feisty this week.
posted by spicynuts at 5:52 AM on July 22, 2010


More importantly what has the Man With A Long Chin to say about this? Or the rapping snakes? No doubt Mr T will tell the offending journo to stay AWAY from his BINS.
posted by Electric Dragon at 5:53 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


A feature I would really love in a chair is electronic configuration.

Why not? I'm sure I've read about it being a feature already available in some high-end car or other.

Herman Miller do make wonderful chairs though - I was lucky enough to be given one of the cheaper ones, and even as someone who thinks nothing of working eight hours a day in an upright wooden dining chair, I can honestly say that you feel like you're sitting on something designed to be sat upon.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:59 AM on July 22, 2010


I want more outrage, people. Chairs have been the seat of Western thinking on the nature of being since Plato.

If we can't describe chairs properly, how will we ever send a man to the moon?
posted by honest knave at 6:02 AM on July 22, 2010


I can certainly appreciate a decent chair and what it offers over a park bench or a crappy $10 chair, but it does seem like office chairs go a bit too far. Maybe it's because I'm constantly moving around, never sitting in the same position for more than 10 minutes at a time. Maybe because I've never been able to sit in the "ergonomically recommended" positions and have it feel natural. Or maybe because $700 for a fucking chair is just too damned much. What, do we have some sort of "precision seating"?

But then, what the fuck do I know? Some people would say that $700 for a pile of cardboard is too much, and I've had Magic decks that cost that much. Maybe some people just really like sitting and I can't appreciate the hobby. The hobby of sitting.
posted by explosion at 6:02 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's worth clarifying that Benchmark Reviews is in the business of reviewing computer stuff. Office chairs isn't in its prospectus, so a lavish and slavering review of one is awfully strange, in terms of editorial mission or business strategy, unless there's some kind of kickback involved.

It makes about as much sense, and on the surface seems as ethically sound, as a science blog website announcing a new feature section on the site about nutrition, to be corporately edited by a snack food company.
posted by ardgedee at 6:03 AM on July 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Mock chair reviews all you like, but lots of people seem to need to know about what kinds of chairs would work best for them. Benchmark also reviews computers and audio equipment. It's a good thing no one at metafilter cares about any of that.
posted by rtha at 6:03 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can imagine that chair reviews would be pretty important for people who have to purchase chairs for workplaces. Some workplaces have thousands of chairs. Some have chairs for extremely fussy and important people. If you were responsible for spending $40,000 on a bunch of chairs that everyone hates, that hurt people and fall apart, you would get in trouble. You'd want to be able to research the chair options you're being recommended by salespeople, and check which ones are actually worth the money.
posted by stammer at 6:06 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I want more outrage, people

You want more outrage? How about this asshole who calls us nerds!!

The response by the site in question in publishing your address and contact details in order to cow you would be of great interest to some of the more nerdish sites I frequent. Slashdot, Boing Boing and Metafilter for a start.

I sawy we get medieval.
posted by spicynuts at 6:12 AM on July 22, 2010


Once you did that, extremely fussy people would still complain about the chairs you picked.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:13 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hold on. Buying a $1200 chair gets you LEED credits? Do we need any more proof that the program is a scam?

Not that I disagree with the goals of the program. The implementation could just use some tweaking/meaningfulness.
posted by schmod at 6:31 AM on July 22, 2010


aaaaaaand now we all know about that chair. Which, according to the Harmon Miller website will help you generate ideas. Ideas with the power to affect millions, which is something you can't really even calculate the value of in dollars. So go ahead and pay that $800.

(although the recursive back frame does look kind of badass)

Also, this antique chair apparently sold for $24 million at auction or something. this ugly office chair sells for $600k. And this aluminum turd was supposed to have sold for $2.4 million.
posted by delmoi at 6:32 AM on July 22, 2010


This is the problem with chair critics nowadays, and why the profession is crumbling. It's not just your job to tell us the physical qualities of a chair! We're not just looking for advice on how to spend our chair budget! We need context -- that's what a good critic does! Where does this sit in the current chair manufacturing scene? What is the subtext? What does this chair have to say about larger society ...

Oh, wait. I was thinking of theater criticism.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:33 AM on July 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


A feature I would really love in a chair is electronic configuration. It would save my settings (or maybe I'd have them on an SD card) and if anyone screwed it up, I could just punch a button and it would reset to the right height, tiltedness, etc. Right now, I have to punch the person and then spend 3 days intermittently and unsuccessfully fiddling with the random levers to find something that's close to what I remember.
That's good, but SD card? Pushing a button? Clearly you're thinking big enough. Clearly chair configurations need to be stored in the cloud, every chair in the world can reconfigure itself to your presets based on the patented Universal AssID™ system.
posted by delmoi at 6:37 AM on July 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


Really, this is just another sad example of people not heeding the dictum to "chair and chair alike."
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:39 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not even an expensive chair. This, however...

I love that it has a "select quantity" dropdown..and it goes up to TWELVE (that's even more than eleven!). "Over fifteen grand you say? I'll take a dozen!"
posted by biscotti at 6:45 AM on July 22, 2010


I want more outrage, people

Damn right. I'm not going to take this sitting down!
posted by MuffinMan at 6:47 AM on July 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


I sawy we get medieval.

Aww boo-boo. I sawy too :(
posted by Ouisch at 6:50 AM on July 22, 2010


DU - I'd settle for a desk chair at work that didn't have arms that were falling apart
posted by antifuse at 6:56 AM on July 22, 2010


Bluetooth the settings from your phone to the chair - then you can make any chair match your contours with a little buzz instead of being dependent on SD cards (and losing them) or even the wifi signals to the cloud
posted by infini at 6:57 AM on July 22, 2010


The world of toast is an oft-underappreciated one in the strenous higgeldy piggeldy world of premier gaming rig benchmarking sites, but I thought I ought set aside and take a time to tell you of a remarkable product that has crossed our desks: The Hermann Miller Aeron Toaster. Herman Miller's website states that "You'll find Herman Miller anywhere people work, live, learn, and heal." and this has never been more true than with the sleekit and moderne design of this fabulous appliance (and it feels so much more than just ``Appliance''!)

Many companies, were they to charge $820 for a toaster, would feel a nervous compulsion to load up their offering with features: perhaps a bagel slot or the egg-poacher fashionable with the bourgeois, scuttling to their littlle jobs in little places. One might argue that for such a price, a full toaster oven would be the correct decision.

Herman Miller eschews these nervous concerns for a device that remains true to its core principle. The Herman Miller Aeron Toaster Toasts Toast, nothing more, and certainly nothing less. Oh, one might consider waffles, toaster pastries, those tiny hot pocket sandwiches; but to suggest their insertion is to slight the Herman Miller Aeron Toaster's purity and design. Carbon Fiber cladding houses two toasting insertion slots, each featuring double-sided alluminar reflective coating and ten (five to a side) Kyocera Ceramic Thermal Heating Maneuver elements, chosen by Herman Miller specifically for this product due to rapid, consistent heating even at wattages of 650 or above.

Technical
Using a calibrated, certified infrared thermometer, we ran a series of heating tests, measuring average temperature gain over time (see chart 1), peak operating temperature (chart 2) and the all-important time-to-toast (TTT) rating (chart series 3).

Our testing lab is aware that people employ many varieties of bread when creating toast. Therefore we have a selection of white, white (Texas Toast style), wheat, whole wheat, Roman Meal Wheat (and a hat tip to OvACL0ckazzzxxx1982 who pointed out that the gluten composition of Roman Meal Wheat was different than other whole wheats), light rye, marble rye, dark rye, dark russian rye with dill, and potato breads. Sorry, raisin bread fans, we still haven't found a brand that gives a consistent test reading from a single loaf for our purposes!

Using our Fluke FLU87-5 Digital Multimeter, we verified that the nominal output of our test lab's power sockets was 110v @ 60hz, +/- 5%. The draw of the Herman Millar Aeron Toaster was quite consistenly 0v while not primed, and its power consumption was consistent, with no spiking during the heating cycle.

(and so on)
posted by boo_radley at 7:05 AM on July 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


I feel like I'm seeing a lot of comments along the lines of "this is a tempest in a teapot", and it many ways it is, but I think that any time someone is doing something shady it's important to bring it to light. Yes, it's about office chairs and yes, that's kind of ridiculous, but a review company whose job it is to advise customers in an objective way misled people who were putting their faith in those reviews. Even though office chairs might be a kind of silly topic, I think any time a company violates trust like that it's important, and they should be called out for it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:09 AM on July 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


Okay, interesting story, but I love the title of the fourth link. As soon as I read it, a certain song got stuck in my head. And thus:

Forever banned, i want to be forever banned
Do you really want to post forever, forever forever
Forever banned, i want to be forever banned
Do you really want to post forever
Forever banned

Enjoy the earworm!
posted by Deathalicious at 7:15 AM on July 22, 2010


I know that Boing Boing is one of the things that Metafilter Doesn't Do Well, but remember when Xeni Jardin did this after xenisucks.com was started? She said that it was "a hoot" just before posting the creator's name, picture, and employer on the front page of Boing Boing. It used to be here, but it's since joined Violet Blue on the Island Of Misfit Boing Boing Posts. The creator of Xeni Sucks talked about it, as did we.
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:28 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm very surprised that they were sufficiently nasty to publish the journalists name and address. All this did was focus a ton of attention on their lack of integrity as reviewers, and possibly associate themselves with this on the internet forever.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 7:32 AM on July 22, 2010


" Some people would say that $700 for a pile of cardboard is too much, and I've had Magic decks that cost that much."

I guess tssk can take this back now: "I meant nerdish with the greatest of affection as well as a dash of self deprecation."
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:14 AM on July 22, 2010


infini - unless there's some way to input a bluetooth pairing code to the chair, you *know* that some geeks somewhere will write software to mess with your chair settings without your approval... personally I'd probably start with lowering it from your preferred height to the lowest it'll go, but nice and slow... say, over the course of 6 hours...
posted by russm at 8:17 AM on July 22, 2010


That's not a very, very expensive chair. It's not even an expensive chair. This, however...

Man, for $15k you'd think they'd know it's a chaise longue. Ugh.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 8:24 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


What? no call for a raid?
posted by bugmuncher at 8:24 AM on July 22, 2010


Is being a nerd still an insult? Are people ashamed of being nerds?
posted by Brocktoon at 8:25 AM on July 22, 2010


Even though office chairs might be a kind of silly topic, I think any time a company violates trust like that it's important, and they should be called out for it.

This is true, but at the same time one should take *all* online review sites with a grain of salt, unless they can be shown to not be in the pockets of one business or another.
posted by antifuse at 8:29 AM on July 22, 2010


What's really funny is that this person blowing the whistle is also a great big hypocrite when it comes to telling the truth about money making:
(from flat top scotch)
You know those awful CDs you see advertised occasionally, the ones “packed full of classic Spectrum games!!!!”? The ones that are basically downloaded disk images of old games packaged with a few shoddy emulators? They’re illegal, immoral, and prey on novice computer users unaware that the discs are both unnecessary (all the files are online) and illegal. Well a company named Rocketship Services was selling these CDs and advertised them on some Spectrum newsgroup. Not the most sensible move because a Spectrum newsgroup is where you will find people who are very knowledgeable about emulation and its various legal aspects.

Somebody on the newsgroup tracks the domain down to – yes – Stuart Campbell. Stu then bascially admits he owns the domain but somehow claims he’s got nothing to do with the seller of the CDs. Maybe he’s telling the truth? Well, no, because the excellent newsgroup people do some research and notice that the address you send the money to is Stu’s address, only under the name of Norman McIntosh. Stu deflects this by claiming that it’s a “huge block of rented office units” and it must be someone else. So, Stu lives in an office block? He rents an office? No, we all know this isn’t true. Sadly, in the days when this all happened, Google Streetview didn’t exist. But it does now!

HUGE BLOCK OF RENTED OFFICE UNITS
posted by ShawnStruck at 8:30 AM on July 22, 2010


I like how, when not distracted by cat declawing or male deforeskinning, Metafilter turns into a chair design team.
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:31 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would buy a chair designed by MetaFilter.
posted by spicynuts at 8:37 AM on July 22, 2010


good god, antifuse! what kind of pet do you have that's been chewing on that chair?
posted by msconduct at 8:46 AM on July 22, 2010


I say we treat these expensive chairs the same way we treat expensive cars.

And that means, of course, handing the chair over to our tame racing driver.

Some say.....
posted by DreamerFi at 9:20 AM on July 22, 2010


I would buy a chair designed by MetaFilter.

$50 says it would turn out like Homer's car.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:20 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well first it would have to have a professional white background.
posted by spicynuts at 9:22 AM on July 22, 2010


Fart neutralizer is high on my list.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:24 AM on July 22, 2010


Lately, I have had a couple of work meetings in restaurants, and, let me tell you, a badly designed chair can be horrible for extended sitting.

That was actually a well-designed chair.

Once the waiter puts the last plate of food in front of you, the restaurant wants your ass out of there as fast as possible.
posted by jamjam at 9:40 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think this is a great post.

It is better than Cats.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:57 AM on July 22, 2010


Sorry to be a bit GYOB, but I wanted to give some explanation of my reasons for posting this.

First, and more trivially, I thought the hilarious over-reaction of the editor might bring some chuckles. There were two responses to give here - the first, requiring a little more moral fibre, would be to hold up his hands, admit to lazily lifting the PR fluff and edit the review to reflect this. The second would be just to delete the critical comments and ignore the whole thing. To defend the piece with such affronted vigour seems a touch psychotic.

The second reason was that this presents a neat little example of the sort of poisoning of the internet information well that seems to becoming SOP now. Perfect markets require a symmetry of information. The customer needs to be able to make an informed purchase in order that fair prices are charged, and the rise of the internet has helped such information be shared. Corporations obviously would prefer this not to be the case - the only information they want the customer in possession of is that which they themselves have furnished.

There are two predominant ways in which corporations appear to be subverting the greater availability of information on the internet. The first is by model spamming, whereby huge ranges of products with marginally different model numbers are released making obtaining information about any particular one much more difficult. As an example, go into a camera shop and you will find that many of the models (particularly budget ones) have absolutely no information available about them online.
The second strategy pursued is the one of which this incident would appear to be an example: get a tame website to pass off PR as a review. This one looks to be a particularly lazy attempt - the repeated mentions of the manufacturer and model seem designed for SEO, but there was almost no attempt to disguise this piece's origin, or even make it read like anything other than PR fluff.

This is particularly dangerous in the age of the User Review, when so many of these tend to skew positive as people seek to justify their purchases and have so little with which to compare, in contrast to the professional reviewer who, expertise aside, has at least experienced competing products. This leads to greater value being placed on the professional reviews, but if website such as these are happy to write up press releases under the guise of reviews, then who can be trusted? Is it naive to expect some level of professional ethics even from websites of which empath has not heard?
posted by jonnyseveral at 10:09 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah we got all that it's fine. Don't bother to address criticism on here yo, it'll just drive you crazy, especially once all the hater comments have been deleted by the mods.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:14 AM on July 22, 2010


I wasn't trying to address criticism. I just didn't want put the comments in the original post for fear of editorialising.

I mean. If you can't trust the chair reviews what hope is left? Does the chair buyer now have to go out and sit in each one him or herself? What about the wear and tear on buttocks? Who will speak up for the buttocks?
posted by jonnyseveral at 10:20 AM on July 22, 2010


Who will speak up for the buttocks?

Not really, however I will speak upout for the buttocks!

Actually that's not true either. I will speak upout forof the buttocks!

lolfarts
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:29 AM on July 22, 2010


Once the waiter puts the last plate of food in front of you, the restaurant wants your ass out of there as fast as possible.
Well, clearly the restaurant just needs to buy the enterprise-ready version of DU's auto-adjusting chair. When you sit down, the chair looks up your unique buttockmetrics on gluteoogle.com and downloads your preferred configuration from the AssCloud. You wait for your order and even eat your entree in perfect comfort. Then, when the waiter determines you're not likely to order anything more, they send a signal to the chair (perhaps this is done automatically when they close your check), and it subtly converts to GetYourAssOuttaHere mode. In a full restaurant, the chairs perform a distributed computation based on occupancy, past ordering records, and time of day to decide whom to evict early to improve turnover.
posted by hattifattener at 10:35 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


DU, I believe some of the more expensive cars (BMW, Mercedes, etc.) actually have "profile" storage of seating adjustments. Fun for the whole family!
posted by pyrex at 10:44 AM on July 22, 2010


I'm laughing, hattifattener, but it wouldn't take that much to do as you suggest.

I'd start with a sound transducer mounted to the underside of the seat of the chair which would be turned on to generate subsonics that messed with sphincter control, as infrasounds are reputed to be able to do.
posted by jamjam at 10:48 AM on July 22, 2010


Once the waiter puts the last plate of food in front of you, the restaurant wants your ass out of there as fast as possible.

I might have bought this explanation if they had not taken 30 minutes to bring the check. 30 minutes in that... that... chair! I may never walk correctly again.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:16 AM on July 22, 2010


I'd start with a sound transducer mounted to the underside of the seat of the chair which would be turned on to generate subsonics that messed with sphincter control, as infrasounds are reputed to be able to do.

Just make sure that it's not too effective or it won't be popular with the cleaning staff.
posted by atrazine at 12:44 PM on July 22, 2010


Oh, by the way, here's my review of the Aeron chair and the Levity workstations:

They both suck.

The former fall apart in mere years with normal use. Mostly, the fancy back just collapsed back, leaving them dangerously tipsy if you dropped down into it. We had a graveyard of busted HM chairs (all broken. in the same manner) that we finally paid to go back to to the landfill. And those supposedly wonderful controls and adjustments? Terrible. Most of them appear to do nothing as you crank them pointlessly in one direction or another.

The latter I still use as it is better than my other choices (given my back problems, I need to stand part of the day) but it still sucks; wobbly and clunky and hard to make work. The workstation surfaces looks cool in the brochure, but pretty much guarantees 60% of your work surface is unusable. It's pretty much a counter-weight balanced dust collector. That wobbles and creaks as you type and move your arms around.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:01 PM on July 22, 2010


Wow, this viral marketing is getting cleverer and cleverer. Who would have thought they could utilize MetaFilter for it?
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:45 PM on July 22, 2010


Is being a nerd still an insult? Are people ashamed of being nerds?

A word can be insulting because of its history of use as an insult, rather than because the people it insults are ashamed at their membership of the insulted group. For example, ethnic slurs.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:01 PM on July 22, 2010


i just love the fact that four people have marked this as a favourite.

&lt homer&gt Chair nerds&lt/homer&gt
posted by marienbad at 3:09 PM on July 22, 2010


The Benchmark review people have used the DMCA to get Stuart Campbell's weblog taken down, bizarrely.

This message is to inform you that the website podgamer.com located at
xx.xxx.xx.xxx has infringed upon the copyright of Performance Computers,
Inc, a registered corporation located in Nevada, USA. Several images and
copyrighted text has been taken from our original story located at:
http://benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content
&task=view&id=562&Itemid=58.


Although a few posts up from that someone accuses ShawnStruck of joining up here just to be rude to Stuart, so maybe they deserve it. First they call us nerds, and then that. Where will it all end?
posted by dng at 8:12 AM on July 23, 2010


DU, I believe some of the more expensive cars (BMW, Mercedes, etc.) actually have "profile" storage of seating adjustments. Fun for the whole family!

The feature you are talking about is called "memory seats" - where the car recognizes your key, and adjusts the seat accordingly. It's becoming a much more common feature these days.
posted by antifuse at 8:23 AM on July 23, 2010


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