Scobleizer Weblog

Daily Permalink Friday, February 07, 2003

Nikon is teasing us with images of a new small camera named Nikon Coolpix SQ.

My brother warns again to stay away from Turbo Tax.

I find it interesting that most webloggers I read aren't commenting on Colin Powell's remarks before the U.N. the other day. I wonder if webloggers are scared of admitting to the world "well, he sure does have a good point?"

Poynter Institute: Next time big news happens in your back yard create a weblog. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit for the link.

Ahh, more angst about what the "professionals" are saying about weblogs. Hey, I'm not gonna replace any professional (that link goes to Chris Gulker's site, but Dave Winer and Doc Searls are both chiming in on the Washington Post fun). I don't even want to replace professionals. It's not my job to do that (although I like sharing, and ranting, and pointing out cool things). In fact, lately, I've had a lot of trouble writing here. Why? Because for one, all the interesting things in my life have been NDA'd. For two, my coworkers and management read this, so I feel uncomfortable talking about personal things (not to mention my wife hangs out here). For three, anything I say here could instantly turn into a national incident (it only takes a handful or two of links before you show up on DayPop). I realize that while I throw rocks at Microsoft, my employer hasn't shown much more skill on these issues either. I don't know of another NEC employee who weblogs.

To punctuate where "professional" journalists are now getting their news, visit Ziff Davis's Mary Jo Foley, who linked to me on a recent Microsoft Watch note. Am I the only one publicly-advocating splitting Microsoft up? Wild. I wonder if I'll get any cold stares next week for taking that position.

Microsoft is jealous (and scared of) of Slash Dot and Scripting News.

I'm hearing that more and more. Next week Microsoft is going to make a full-court-press on its community leaders (Microsoft calls them MVPs). The top three execs at Microsoft will be presenting to the MVPs and many of the Vice Presidents there will too (on Monday, 10 or so MVPs and me are having dinner with the VP of the Windows Networking division).

I was talking with someone who works closely with Microsoft on a variety of initiaties and he said "Microsoft wants to help webloggers and others build strong communities like Slashdot around their products."

OK, I've started a few communities around Microsoft products (Train Simulator, NetMeeting, and .NET) and I've noticed that Microsoft-centric communities aren't getting strong for a few reasons:

1) Who wants to make Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer richer without getting rich themselves? There is significant evidence that anyone who gets "too powerful" in the Microsoft space makes Microsoft uncomfortable. I know a few folks who started .NET FAQs and started becoming almost celebrities. Within a few months Microsoft had built the "GotDotNet" site and had copied the FAQ format. Certainly within Microsoft's right, but next time there's an opportunity to start a FAQ again, will these three people start it? No.

2) Microsoft ignores the grass roots (er, communities) role in creating PR. Last fall Steve Ballmer announced XDocs on stage at Comdex. All the world's press was there. You'd think that was a good PR strategy, right? Well, one problem. Most of the press likes to have quotes from people who don't work at Microsoft in their articles. Why? For two reasons: a) If they don't, they look like PR press releases and b) Maybe Microsoft didn't do a good job of explaining the technology (not to mention they won't point out real-world pros and cons). The problem was, none of the "Microsoft community" had been given advance warning of XDocs. So, when the press started calling through their rolodexes and visiting the usual Microsoft-centric weblogs (or even the usual "anti-Microsoft" places like Slashdot) they couldn't learn anything "sorry, I don't even know what you're talking about" was the answer I gave to one press flack." The press quickly wrote off XDocs and hasn't talked about them since (me neither, I still haven't been given a copy).

3) Microsoft wants to control its communities. Control? That's a loose word. But, lets visit MSN Groups, shall we? That's where a lot of Microsoft-centric communities are (that's where my Train Simulator and NetMeeting groups hang out). You can't control: a) What URL you'll get -- Google doesn't give high rankings to sites that share a common URL b) Your color scheme. c) Whether or not there are ads on your page (why, again, should we make Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer even richer when creating communities?). Add into that, anytime someone gets "too big" all of a sudden Microsoft starts their own community sites and controls traffic flow by only linking to the communities they want to support.

4) Care and feeding isn't there. Microsoft's employees aren't taught how to care and feed for communities (at least not holistically). Some groups do a great job (the PSS group that's working with the MVPs is getting better -- three years ago Microsoft tried to kill the MVP program because of legal fears). The games group does a decent job (but then, they know that what sells games is enthusiast involvement). How many times has Bill Gates, Ballmer, Allchin, or even someone one or two levels down from them, called up a weblogger and said "I'd like to give you an exclusive interview?" Not many. I just asked someone high-up on the Longhorn team for an interview, and he declined, saying "I can't talk until the NDAs end and the PR folks decide it's appropriate for me to talk to the world."

5) NDAs. NDAs are used like water in Microsoft land. In fact, I won't be weblogging at all next week because I've signed an NDA not to disclose anything that I learn at the summit. My wife, in fact, is going to need to sign an NDA before coming to dinner with me. Oh, and, at the executives presentations, there will be "professional" press in the room. They won't be NDA'd. Think that gives me the warm and willies about supporting Microsoft and starting communities?

6) We're not given a voice in future product planning. OK, this is a blanket statement, and clearly some outside partners (even some MVPs) are given a seat at the table, but generally this is an exception when it happens, and not a rule. If you want strong communities to build up around your products, you gotta give those communities a voice in what happens with the future of the product. For instance, the MVPs weren't warned that Visual Basic.NET would not work with Visual Basic 6.0 code. By the time the MVPs learned about that fact, it was too late to do anything. We weren't included in the design process and our concerns were not heard. If we are going to be "evangelists" well, then, we also need to be able to represent our customers, friends, and readers.

7) Microsoft doesn't get Weblogs. Look at Weblogs. Microsoft doesn't get them. Oh, sure, there are now, what, 30 Weblogs kept by Microsoft folks? But, name one top executive who has a weblog. Name a Microsoft-product weblog where we get to see a real insight into a product. Not to mention there's 55,000 employees at Microsoft and so far only 30 people have gotten brave enough (stupid enough?) to do weblogs. And, in one publicized incident, a Microsoft weblogger was parodied by the Register and quickly took her weblog down. Why did she take it down? Was she really embarrassed by it? Or, was she worried about losing her job? Why didn't her management force her to keep it up? Simple, if you work at a big company, you are very concerned about keeping your job and not getting on anyone's radar screen.

8) Microsoft's product pricing keeps its technology from getting used. For instance, Sharepoint. Sharepoint, if it were developed by someone else, would cost very little to try, and very little to implement. But, Microsoft is charging thousands of dollars for the server. Well, it might be worth that in the long run, but let me ask you how technology gets adopted inside corporations? I can tell you how it works at NEC: if I need to ask the IT department, I ain't gonna try unless there's an act of God already impelling me. Now, how will I get Sharepoint into NEC? Simple: I can't. It's too expensive. But, I'm already evangelizing Weblog technology. Why weblogs and not Sharepoint? Easy: price. I can put Weblogs into NEC for $40 at most and free at best. No need to try to talk my boss into spending thousands of dollars. No need to visit the IT department and ask them for a server and help. Now, what would happen if Microsoft gave away Sharepoint for a few years, then started charging $40 a user for it? Nah, wouldn't happen. Microsoft's employees don't like to work for free for a couple of years (even though Microsoft is sitting on billions of dollars of cash).

9) Microsoft is too big and its PR company is too powerful. You know, Microsoft does some cool things. Mostly at the edges. The new Tablet, for instance, has changed my life and is a great new product (much more innovative than the latest Macintosh Powerbooks, for instance). But, how many of you have had your hands on them? How many of you have read reviews pro/con? How many community sites are there for the Tablet (I only know of six, and none have had much Microsoft involvement)? Do they get any special advantages? (I can tell you, they don't get many). Why is this? Because Microsoft can only keep so many balls in the air at one time. Tablet's time was last November. Now their PR juggernaut has moved onto something else (watches, Office 11, Windows Server, new mice, and on and on). That's why I publicly advocate splitting Microsoft up. You'd unleash a torrent of innovation that already is there (Microsoft has innovative products, it's just that no one is hearing about them).

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how Ballmer, Gates, and Allchin come and try to get us MVPs to compete with the noise over on Slashdot. I hear they won't even have an open wireless network there, because they are scared of what the MVPs will write to the newsgroups and weblogs. Microsoft: get a clue! We'll support you. Just unleash us. Support us. And stop trying to control what the community says about your products.

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Robert Scoble works at Microsoft. Everything here, though, is his personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. No warranties or other guarantees will be offered as to the quality of the opinions or anything else offered here.

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© Copyright 2004 Robert Scoble Last updated: 1/3/2004; 2:05:03 AM.