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A Sprint Ambassador

Yesterday afternoon, I received a rather cryptic e-mail from Sprint’s “Ambassador Team,” stating that I’ve been invited to receive a free phone plus six months of unlimited service:

Hi Eston,

The Sprint Ambassador Team recently visited your site and wants to invite you to participate in our Ambassador Program.

The Sprint Ambassador Program is all about exploring our latest products and services and allows you to give direct feedback to Sprint. We recently launched the Sprint Power Vision (SM) Network and want to provide you with the full experience, at no charge. Sprint Power Vision Network enables customers to download data at faster speeds and experience new data products.

So what’s the deal?

As a qualified participant, we will send you one Sprint Power Vision phone and provide you with six months of all-access service (at no charge). You’ll have access to the Sprint Music Store(SM) live TV broadcasts, gaming and more. Yes, you will also have unlimited free calling and data service. It’s a pretty good deal and all we ask for in return is your candid feedback (you decide how much and how often).

… < registration data removed > …

The Sprint Ambassador Team

I was rather confused. Curious, I clicked the link to Sprint’s Ambassador Program site and, after verifying that this wasn’t some sort of bizarre phishing attempt, handed over my mailing address and telephone number for their program’s registration. Three hours later, I received a confirmation e-mail stating that Sprint was shipping me a brand-new Samsung A920 phone with unlimited access to everything their Power Vision network had to offer for six months, at no cost to me aside from testing feedback. This officially marks the first time my site has made me any revenue in and of itself (i.e., it excludes the design work I’ve received from blogging.)

I mean, I’ve been in on plenty of private betas before: I had somehow found myself invited to Ma.gnolia, Gmail, Newsvine, WordPress.com, and Feed43, just to name a few. The difference between those invites and Sprint’s however, is that I’m getting a $150.00 phone plus service that would generally cost me roughly $600.00.

But why me? When I Googled the issue, I found a lot of A-list bloggers with the same invitation. Somehow, the Sprint Ambassador team has decided that my blogging efforts were worthy enough of the same compensation given to Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine, Steve Rubel of Micropersuasion, Joseph Jaffe on the Gawker Media network, and Chris Pearson, a 9rules network member. If anything, I’m in seriously good company. I’m a student, a long shot from the experts that are on the A-list of the greater blogosphere.

The difference between my reaction to the program (which was pretty much a “Cool, I have to tell my friends”) and the marketing guys’ reactions was that Jarvis and Rubel said that this Ambassador Program is a wonderful way to raise some hype for their Power Vision product. They aren’t saying to us that we should be blogging a thing about this, but it’s instinctive for bloggers to write something about Sprint’s actions toward us. I could be silent about the whole ordeal, but whether it’s my own gadget-lust or an attempt at full disclosure, I’m telling everyone else.

I won’t have the phone for another two weeks, but rest assured that I will be using the hell out of it. I’m actually cutting back my Treo’s data plan to save my own money, so this Sprint phone will be my primary for the next half a year. If the service ends up being absolutely awful, I’m not really out much aside from a rant to their Ambassador Program (and probably one here; after all, Sprint ended up getting a rant out of Jarvis.)

Aside from my own marketing concerns, Sprint’s “donation” (or, to use a buzzword, “micropayment“) seems awfully similar to payola to some. If this is payola, it’s certainly no more payola than beta testing other paid services is. Had Sprint come to me and said that they wanted me to write about it, I’d declare it payola and would rejected their offer. That said, this gift still feels enough like a conflict-of-interest-inducing situation that I’m not going to say anything about Sprint (unless it deals with this program) here. That said, I most certainly won’t say anything about Sprint in anything for the other student publications I’m involved with.

I’m also rather worried that Sprint’s plea to the digerati is a little off-target; they’ve kind of missed their own testers by giving them inferior hardware. Jeff Jarvis, Scott Shaffer, myself, and others already own Treo smartphones, which are more advanced than the Samsung I’m being sent in every way aside from EV-DO (and no, no bias from freebies here: I paid full price for my Treo 650 on its release date.) You’d think that they’d at least be sensible enough to send the design-oriented an A900 Blade phone instead of a rather clunky clamshell. I guess that beggars can’t be choosers, but there is still a very good chance that I’ll grow bored of the A920 within a week when I decide that the Samsung’s lack of a QWERTY thumbboard and smartphone capabilities outweigh its minimal increase in portability and EV-DO access. (And no, I’m not passing my Sprint phone off to anyone else, regardless of my usage frequency, so please don’t leave some comment related to that here.)

At the very least, regardless of how Sprint’s gift ends up, I’m flattered that Sprint has placed me among the company I’m in with this program. Let’s see how it goes.

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