Scobleizer Weblog

Daily Permalink Saturday, February 08, 2003

By the way, I still haven't fixed my comment bug, so you can only get to comments if you visit my weblog here: See ya in a week!

OK, I'm outta here to visit Microsoft and attend the MVP Summit. Since I've signed an NDA (and intend to keep up to my end of the bargain) I won't be posting until at least next Friday. If I have anything to say, though, I'll say it in my comments on this post since I won't have my blogging computer with me. Have a great week everyone!

John Lambert says "It does feel no-win: if I talk about product details, I'll be hearing from someone above me but under less-than-happy circumstances, and if I talk about my personal life, the Register could go after me."

David Bau says ".NET signals an industry shift" and has an interesting whitepaper to explain his point.

One example of how weblogs can be used to extend/improve Microsoft's technology is given to us by Clemens Vasters. Imagine if your customers and employees were sharing information like this? Yes, this DOES give me the warm and willies for Microsoft!

Michael Amundsen is using .NET to track Webloggers who work at Microsoft.

Phil Weber said: "Also, how much does NEC consult the public in its new product designs? I think it's unrealistic for you to expect MS to do that." Um, yeah, Phil has a good point here. Of all the points I tried to make yesterday, this is the weakest one I made.

I was just talking with Doug Fox, who founded/writes the EventWeb newsletter (my favorite newsletter for conference and event planners). He wants to start a weblog and he also is tracking cool uses of technology at events. I would love to go to the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference and write some articles about how O'Reilly is improving their events with technology for Doug's newsletter.

One Microsoft employee asked me some interesting questions:

1) Are we way off, or do we just need a little tweak in our approach to communities?

2) What are some things we're doing right so that we can tell our employees to do more of those?

3) What are some things you'd like to see us try?

Interesting questions. I'm gonna keep thinking about them and get back to you after the MVP summit. Anyone else have any ideas?

Sam Gentile says "It isn't the same Robert. NEC doesn't constantly get Frivolous lawsuits every day and have anti-trust issues. Especially because of the legal issues in the anti-trust situation alone, Microsoft people have had to watch carefully what they say and why there is all this legal control." Scoble: ahh, another argument for my "Gates-please-break-up-Microsoft-voluntarily" stance. Seriously, yeah, I can see both sides here. Being in public isn't easy, is it? I'm sure the Slashdot response is: if you guys always did the right thing, you wouldn't need to worry. But, I don't agree with that stance, either. It's a difficult position to be in, and it underlines why webloggers who work at Microsoft don't want to be called "Microsoft webloggers." There's no good that can come out of it, they tell me.

John Lambert says "Stupid like a fox!"

Some of the most worrisome phone calls I've gotten are from Microsoft webloggers. They are scared. Why? Because the spotlight of traffic has been shined on them (Several of us in the weblog community have started linking to any employee we know of that has a weblog). They feel they are being put into a "no win" spot by being in this spotlight. I think this is a fundamental social problem we must solve for all corporations, not just Microsoft. I know I feel the same fear everytime I post. Thankfully no one has started pointing out that I'm an "NEC Weblogger."

Microsoft's Webloggers are getting the spotlight because Microsoft is a unique company. Why?

1) We use its products all day long. I mean, Tivo is a cool company, but I only use their products one to three hours a day. Toyota seems pretty nice, but my wife only uses hers for 30 to 60 minutes a day, on average.

2) Microsoft has a strongly-identifiable leader. Everyone in the modern world knows Bill Gates is the head of Microsoft. Now, tell me, who runs Tivo? Toyota? NEC? (I work here, and I still need to look his name up)

3) Microsoft has a very strong marketing focus. Most business school students are taught Microsoft's marketing methods since they have worked unbelieveably well over the past 25 years. Name another company that has grown so much, done so much to alter (even improve) our lives, and who dominates its industry as much as Microsoft. I can't name one.

4) Many of us dream about being Microsoft and/or Bill Gates. Come on. I know Silicon Valley types say "I've never done that" but I know you all dream about being successful. Name any other business or business leader that has gotten so many people so envious.

5) Microsoft generally hires smart people. Now, I know some people who say they don't anymore, but that's ignoring the evidence (Microsoft has, in the past 18 months, hired many of the smartest speakers at my conferences). Most Microsoft employees are well above the 100IQ point range. Name any other industry that has a major leader where that's true.

One thing I've noticed is that Microsoft does not have a human face other than Gates and Ballmer. Everything you see about Microsoft has been "approved" by PR/marketing professionals. That's the way it was supposed to have been done in the old days, but today, one little jerk like me can post something on his weblog and, within hours, have several thousand very important readers. Today, we need human stories to tell about Microsoft, and we need human connections so we know who to start a conversation with. The MVP summit is a HUGE step in the right direction, here, by the way. You should see the agenda I just received. Wow.

Yesterday the jerk (me) posted, and lots of people started having conversations, which is good. People who are very interesting and very powerful are watching here. With power, comes responsibility to give back. So, now we have a weblog community. Microsoft's execs are paying attention. What should we tell them now?

So, how do weblogs fit into this mix?

Weblogs put a human face on corporations. We want to do business with other humans, not with some "borg" that is run by proxy by the world's wealthiest guy.

See, Microsoft weblogs are getting traffic, just because we're hoping to learn something about Microsoft that hasn't gotten filtered by Microsoft's marketing and PR machine. We're hoping to get a HUMAN connection.

One Microsoft weblogger (he hates that term, by the way, cause he says he's not a Microsoft spokesperson or doing official Microsoft business when he weblogs) is very scared. "If I post anything about my product, and PR finds out, I'll be screwed."

"Or, if I post something about a potential future product feature, and another person on my team disagrees, we'll create an incorrect expectation in someone's mind." Sort of, if I talk about that we're thinking of doing a new feature XYZ, but then it never comes out, or it turns out the feature works differently than designed, it'll cause confusion in the marketplace."

Microsoft has largely turned into a place, these employees tell me, where things are controlled by their legal and marketing teams, and it's pretty hard to get out of that mindset. One weblogger tells me he never talks about Microsoft stuff, because he isn't sure what would need to get approved by legal, and what would need to get approved by PR first. "It's better for me just to say nothing."

I find the same fear when dealing with my employers. Do I dare talk about new products that we're about to announce? Well, I did. I took a major risk by talking about our Tablet. That turned out to be a good thing, though. I got a conversation started.

I must give credit where it's due. For the first time in seven years a Microsoft Product Manager used the word "partner" when refering to me. OK, now, keep in mind, I've had several community sites. I helped plan one of Microsoft's biggest developer conferences. I've been an MVP for five years now. But, I haven't heard Microsoft refer to me as a "partner" since Windows 95 hit the market.

I also must give out more credit. I had several calls/emails/instant messengers with all sorts of people across Microsoft (execs to "little people") and to a one they were interested in solving their perception problem. This is a VERY positive thing, especially going into a week where Microsoft is spending significant resources trying to get communities going.

All the above does NOT mean I've turned into a wimp in the past 18 hours, OK? It's just that we've started a conversation, and if you want to drive a conversation forward, you need to admit when your conversation partner has done something good. Microsoft has, I'm recognizing it.

Wow, I made top six on DayPop!

Ole Eichhorn says "I like Scoble - he thinks of interesting stuff. I like him so much, I'm adding him to my blogroll."

Tom Maszerowski says "Nothing funnier than a Microsoft supporter who's torqued off at the mothership."

Alwin Hawkins says "Nobody (and no organization) likes to cede power and control to the plebes when they've held it for so long. I'm interested in how closely they'll listen to their MVP's."

Doug Saunder says "I certainly have noticed Microsoft's difficulty in creating community."

Anil John says "As someone who runs a site dedicated to evangelizing MS .NET Mobile Technologies ( LearnMobile.NET ) with absolutely no support from Microsoft, some of the points raised are striking a bit too close to home. Interesting reading! Especially the comments.

Bruce Umbaugh says "Valuable for the ideas, first of all, but also as early warning."

Eric Hancock says "I had the pleasure of a recent (brief) experience with SharePoint. My reactions? Hard to install. Poorly documented. Barely beta quality. Complete, total lock-in with other Microsoft products. Not where I want my company to go, and certainly nowhere I'd suggest any other company goes."

Brian Jepson says "Excellent. It was hard for me to choose a quote from all the good stuff in this piece."

Paolo Valdemarin says "I don't think that they will ever get it..."

Rob Fahrni says "I think Microsoft could provide fine tools and a place to do weblog communities but the best communities seems to exist around zealots. You know the type. The man's holdin me down. Am I wrong?" My comment: no. Hey, did you know that the man is holding me down?

Dan Lyke says "One of the discussions we had last night was about the ways that NDAs and similar restrictions keep us from giving manufacturers free press. Often good free press. But as I'm discovering with digital cameras, few people are willing to take the risk that their product is good in order to discover new markets, new applications, or let people share use patterns." (We had dinner together on Thursday evening).

Mark Paschal says "Microsoft pretty much has to hate communities."

John Walkenbach says "[Scoble] makes perfect sense. But, of course, it falls on deaf ears in Redmond." My comment: John, you need to read my comments. It definitely did not fall on deaf ears. More to come.

Oliver Travers says "Microsoft would have to unlearn its obsessive control culture, and it's going to take a long time, if they even want to give it a try."

Stefan Smalla says I'm a "weblogger extraordinaire." Heh. He also says that all the interesting things last night happened in my weblog. I TOTALLY agree! I've never had so much Microsoft reaction to something I wrote.

Some annonymous person posted something in my comments last night. You know, I hate annonymity. Have the guts to come out and say what you want to say and put your name on it. Until you do that, I'm gonna discount any points you might make.

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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; 2:05:14 AM.