Sometimes, when you send out free stuff, you have to pay the piper. Sprint has been, since last January, sending out free cell phones with six months of free service to bloggers, hoping for reviews and/or other publicity in return. (Plus, since the bloggers get to keep the phones, they might even become new customers! Bonus!) By most accounts, the--I'll be generous--marketing push was a decent success, netting almost 400,000 mentions as the result of searches for the "Sprint Ambassador Program." However, an all too unfortunate mention turned up today, on the Joel on Software blog. Joel says he at first refused to write about the free phone just because the PR folks wanted him to--although he did accept the phone, with no intention of ever writing about it. But that was before he used the LG Fusic with Sprint Power Vision service and, per his review, discovered how truly god-awful it really is. The result is a brilliantly vicious skewering that's got to be oh, 3,000 words long or so. Here's my question for Sprint, then: is any publicity really good publicity? Because, dang. Joel hates that free phone.