Scobleizer Weblog

Daily Permalink Friday, July 25, 2003

Oh, this is a cool weblog -- all gussied up to look and act like Outlook.

I see that UserLand is adding trackback to Radio UserLand. That's awesome. I'll add it here as soon as it's released.

Ken, in my comments, comes through with a couple of great links on secrets.

What's cool about Tablet PCs? Just look at Loren's "conference bot" idea to get a sense of how it changes the collaborative design process.

Thanks to Ryan Irelan for pointing me at Anil Dash, by the way.

Mike McBride: "if you missed the Digital Cinema Night at Gnomedex tonight you missed a very impressive piece of technology. The video quality on the big screen was really quite amazing."

Anil Dash berates Microsoft for sucking. He offers to rewrite the "add font" dialog box. Anil, on behalf of the anthill. I apologize for 10 years of a sucky "add font" dialog box. See ya at the PDC.

Mike Sanders is trying to be more positive.

Heh, he forgot Flight Simulator in his seven most effective apps for developers! That's geeky. I know some devs who can even land a 747.

But, I do appreciate a good positive attitude! One case of Kool Aid on the way.

Eric Sink says he is not a legend.

That's like me trying to tell the world "I am not a weblogger."

Anita Rowland points to a story about corporate theft. I once caught a coworker ripping off the camera store I worked for. I see that three people have been caught recently for ripping off the Microsoft company store. I never understood that behavior. I hate entitlement attitude.

Tosh Meston (who works on the Outlook team): "I wonder if Bezos thinks the browser isn't a very good application platform."

Well, the Web is what the Web is. I can see tons of places that Amazon could be tons better, if the platform underneath was better. But, yeah, the Web is awesome. So was the Model T, in its time.

Robert McLaws IM'ed me about corporate secrets and said "I have a counter argument."

Before he could tell me what it is, I answered back "let me guess: Clue Train Manifesto?"

He said "yes."

More Googling on secrets: "Why magicians keep secrets."

I was just at Borders in Redmond and I had an epiphany: there are no business books about the role that secrets play in corporate marketing, management, and corporate strategy. That's very strange, I think. After all, secrets are among the most important tool a marketer (or an evangelist) has to offer.

If I was smart, I'd keep this fact a secret. I'll bet that a marketing book with a title of "keeping secrets" would make an author a boatload.

Hey, look at Coca Cola. Anyone know their "secret recipe?"

Secrets are part of marketing lore. In talking to tech industry veterans about their secrets, they often say "we can't talk because we don't wanna pull an osborne."

When I visited Apple computer for the first time, back in 1977, the one thing I remember (other than the piano in the lobby) was the sign on the wall. It said something like "loose lips sink ships."

When I visited Microsoft's game division last month, they wouldn't talk to me about the next version of Xbox. And, there were some employees there who weren't even allowed to tell me the code name of the products they were working on. Obviously, secrets are important.

SpyZone, a vendor of security equipment, says that companies lose about $2 billion a month to secret theft.

In doing some quick Google searches on the topic, I see there's a lot of articles, like this one from Business Week, about ways to keep secrets, but not much on the role of secrets in marketing and excitement building. FindLaw has another article on things to do to keep your secrets off of the Internet.

Keep in mind, I'm an evangelist for the worst-kept secret in corporate history: the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn. So, I'm very interested in this topic. Also, keep in mind, that as a weblogger (er, journalist) it's my goal to find secrets and expose them to my reader. This is, in a nutshell, the two conflicting forces that drive me nuts as a corporate weblogger (one part of me wants to share secrets, the other part is into keeping secrets).

Also, keep in mind, I know intimately the value of secrets. I had my modem taken away by Jim Fawcette for a week back in 1994 because I was the one who leaked information about Visual Basic 4.0 before anyone else did. Why did I do that? I knew secrets had value and that it would mark me as a person "in the know." Sleazy (and, in hindsight, very stupid -- some companies sue over these kinds of things) thing to do, but that reputation follows me around even today.

Here's some of the reasons companies keep secrets:

1) To keep your competitors from copying you, which would reduce your chances of getting a return from investment. When people in the tech industry talk about "innovation," what are they talking about? Secrets! Why are those things secret? Because they aren't ready to ship as products yet and every month of advantage is a month that a competitor won't have a similar product out. ICQ, for instance, came out on November 1, 1996. It took Microsoft about 30 months to get something similar out.

2) To keep from "Osborning" your current product. Adam Osborne killed his company by announcing a product too far in advance of release (his talking about a future product killed current product sales). Already, for instance, I'm getting questions from IT guys about "why should I buy Windows XP today, if Longhorn is the best thing since sliced bread?" (Answer: because XP is here today and Longhorn is gonna be a big change, not something lightly done, particularly in a corporate environment -- see Bill Gates comments yesterday about Longhorn being "slightly scary").

3) To build excitement and expectations in the marketplace. Let's be honest, when I heard about the Segway for the first time (back when it was a secret) my pulse quickened. What could be SO COOL that Steve Jobs thought it was cool? I started paying attention. So did a lot of other people. When they finally announced, it was on the cover of Time Magazine. Think that they didn't use that secret to the utmost effect?

4) To reward top journalists and "influentials." Last week Steve Wozniak announced his Wheels of Zeus tracking devices. Did you note who got first dibs? The New York Times' John Markoff. That wasn't by accident. (Note that it wasn't a weblogger). I asked Woz for info a couple of times and was rebuffed. I only have a few handfuls of readers. Markoff has millions. And, by rebuffing me, Woz just increased my interest in what he was doing. I even would occassionally turn on his webcam to see if I could see something "secret" on his table.

5) To let the "influentials" know that something is coming. That's exactly why we told everyone that the secrecy surrounding Longhorn and some of our other products would lift at the PDC. That way everyone who needs to learn about our "secret" will be there. Think that all the press and analysts won't be there? They'd be nuts not to be.

6) To give Slashdot something to talk about. I'm just kidding about this one, sorta. By telling people "we have a secret and you aren't gonna learn about it" we challenge sites like slashdot, or ActiveWin, or NeoWin to find out about it, and write about it. Think that's not important? MSN Messenger had tons of users BEFORE it was "officially released." That's an important part of the hype cycle. (And one that many Microsoft employees don't understand, I might add).

7) As part of a marketing strategy. Lots of PR people try to figure out how to get the most press coverage for a specific product. So, they'll plan timed releases of secrets. I've seen PR people even do research on what other things might be announced at the same time. I've watched companies decide not to release something in November, for instance, because most of the press would be kept too busy with Comdex releases.

I'm sure there are other reasons as well. I'd love to hear yours.

So, how does the industry keep secrets? How does Microsoft do it?

Compartmentalize. I don't wanna use names, since that'll get me in trouble, but a Silicon Valley company I know, keeps engineers on one part of its products from seeing other parts that don't have anything to do with their jobs. This one company is so hard-core about secrecy, that inside its design labs, they have curtains and employees have to use their key card and be photographed to get access to the secrets inside.

Educate employees. Apple, in the 1970s, used to have that sign right by the front door of its only building reminding employees not to talk about company business outside the company.

I've seen companies use those devices, and others (Fawcette had a company handbook, which had a "Scoble rule" written in, which told employees that leaking secrets, either of its own, or its partners, would result in disciplinary action). Microsoft made me sign an NDA.

Peer pressure. one company I know uses this tactic. "Do you really need to know?" employees ask each other. Remember when I first joined Microsoft? What was the first thing even ex-employees wrote me "don't leak schedules or information that hasn't been publicly disclosed yet." Translation: if you say something before an executive does in the press, you'll be in trouble.

Corporate pressure. Silicon Valley is rife with stories about HR departments that'd fire, or even sue employees or partners who leak information. At Microsoft, I hear those stories all the time.

Job duties Microsoft usually uses this one. Employees are told "don't speak to the press or analysts unless your manager approves." In other words, if that's not your job, be nice, but turn down the request and hand them off to someone who's job it is to talk.

Security devices When I took a tour of the Windows build lab, I noticed that every CD had some security devices (what they are is a secret and we were asked not to talk about them).

Non Disclosures Ahh, yes, I signed one of those. So, now, if I leak confidential information, the lawyers can come after me and make my life heck.

Keep the pool of people who know small I know some secrets at Microsoft that even my co-workers on my team don't know (and I'm sure they know lots of stuff that they aren't allowed to tell me). The smaller the number of people who have access to something, the better. One of the Silicon Valley companies a relative works for was so scared of leaks about its products that it delayed getting cases for its products until after launch, because it was scared that a vendor -- even one that had signed an NDA -- would leak.

So, I've typed enough for tonight. Wouldn't this be an interesting business book? I think it'd be interesting to see just how Coca Cola keeps its recipe secret. Oh, but, that'd be a secret too, huh?

Finally, there is sorta a reason I'm writing this. Obviously Microsoft is going to share its secrets with a select group of people before the rest of us get to talk about it. How should Microsoft choose that small, "advance" team?

For instance, if we were to give, say, a handful of webloggers an advance look at Longhorn, how should we choose those five people? No promises, mind you. But, I want to start a discussion. Don't be selfish. Put yourself in our shoes. Should we invite someone who has credibility on Slashdot? How about a Linux guy like Doc Searls? Or, maybe an innovator like Dave Winer or Marc Canter? Think creatively and give me your reasoning. Even if you're just gonna beg me for a beta (I've gotten several of those already -- we'll have more news on beta programs at the PDC, from what I hear).

Let's take it out of Microsoft's arena, since I know Microsoft comes with a lot of baggage. If you were a small startup company, and you had something cool to show, how would you decide which five webloggers get to see your product first?

Think this kind of discussion doesn't happen in business? It does all the time. Remember ICQ? It started with 40 users who were given top-secret access. On November 1, 1996 they were released from their NDAs and the rest is history.

Dan Shafer makes the classic "Microsoft is gonna be irrelevant" mistake (he assumes that Microsoft's past abysmal performance in an area predicts future abysmal performance). It's been made before.

This thinking is what leads to business strategy mistakes down in Silicon Valley (and over in Japan).

But, personally, he's right. We haven't figured it out yet. I still love my Tivo (which runs on Linux ). When I unplug my Tivo, you can bet that we're getting it.

Yes, that was a blatant plug for someone from the Media Center group to set me up with one so I can write about that. Heh.

beth goza is our lead microsoft weblogger at gnomedex. i like it, but wish she'd capitalize like normal people. oh, funny, now my shift key doesn't work. i've just been goza'd.

Prakash Swaminathan tells me that the best Indian weblog is Rajesh Jain's. Lots of stuff there. Definitely will be back.

Chris Pirillo has links to tons of Gnomedex blogs. I'll read through them later and see which ones are best.

I'm so missing this.

Robert Levy tells me "hey, we [SmartPhone Thoughts weblog] had the Motorola Smartphone story two days ago, before anyone else had it." Then he points me at their RSS feed.

Kevin Werbach: "The Internet companies that have thrived while AOL faltered -- Microsoft,, eBay, Google -- have two things in commons. They are deeply technology-driven, but they see technology not as an end in itself but as a platform."

John Robb: "Microsoft, despite the mountains of logic that dictate that they should, has never made it easy to migrate to new hardware."

True. And, it's something that all Microsoft employees should care about. Particularly those of us who need to reformat our machines every few days to test new things.

What's my solution? I put everything I can into Outlook (all my business files, etc) that I can (one .PST file to copy that way). And I keep very tight controls on where I put other things so I can easily back them up.

By the way, Windows XP does come with a "Files and Settings Transfer Wizard" which does help quite a bit.

Scott Mace: "Robert, don't get carried away." He's answering my claim that Microsoft has gotten IPv6. He also asks when every Microsoft employee will get an IPv6 address. I have one, I believe (although you can't get to my machines cause we're behind a big old firewall). Not sure when the job will be done, though.

Oh, boy. Don't read this link, er interview by Frank Paynter with Chris Locke, if you can't handle four-letter-words, interlaced with insanity and English literature quotes. Oh, and don't read this if you're eating your breakfast cereal right now. Believe me, milk will flow out of your nose. Now, tell me again, how that interview would have gotten published or produced before the Web came along?

I've been learning a bit about the Peer-to-Peer SDK that Microsoft released the other day. It's really an interesting way to build distributed applications that scale to large numbers of people.

One interesting thing that I learned in discussions is just how security aware Microsoft has become. The P2P kit puts a private key on your user's system. Unfortunately, that makes it very hard to build a system that would let a user "roam" from system-to-system, but it also makes it a lot more secure.

I wonder what kind of new applications people will build using this new technology.

Ingo Rammer's weblog gets talked up quite often in the halls of Microsoft. Why? Cause he writes the .NET Remoting Newsletter and technical weblogs like the one where he talks about sealed classes "What looks like a arbitrary restriction is in fact the biggest performance winner in the .NET Framework."

Why do I love my weblog? Easy: my readers are smarter than I am. Oh, now I'm starting to sound like Dan Gillmor over at the San Jose Mercury News. He says that all the time when we get together.

But, look, it's 6:23 a.m. and one of my readers already answered my SmartPhone rant. Dominic Hopton lays out why businesses don't want camera phones.

I'd agree with him, but I've seen a range of "normal people" buying camera phones lately. These things have gone mainstream. When I went into the Sprint store a few weeks back, they were pushing them as well.

Cell phone salespeople get commissions to sell you the most expensive phones. Right now, those are the camera phones. I just wish Microsoft had one too. And, yes, I am a gadget freak.

Social Dynamix is doing a custom skin for Moveable Type. I'm playing with their FM Radio product for Radio UserLand. It's awesome.

Mike has an interesting post about how to get traffic on your weblog.

Nah, you guys totally are missing the #1 way to get traffic: be interesting!

OK, what do I mean? Remember my college friend Nick Paredes? He started his weblog about three weeks ago. Yesterday he told me he got 11,000 visits yesterday. Why? Cause he was mouthing off about some basketball player who alledgedly raped someone. He has the Google juice because I pointed at him. Now, he's #4 on Google if you search on the name of the girl who was alledgedly raped. Hence, all the traffic.

Not my ball of wax, but, wow. Name another medium where you can go from no readers to 11,000 a day in about three weeks.

Thanks to Sudhakar Sadasivuni for that link.

Anand M is blogging about "the truth of .NET vs. Java." Pretty interesting stuff. I see he's blogging from India. I think he's the first tech blogger that I've read in India. Soon I think I'll complain that some blogger in India has taken my job. Hmmm. ;-)

Motorola rumored to be coming out with a phone that uses Microsoft's SmartPhone software, says the Register. This is cool, but...

Don Box was showing me a SmartPhone-based device last week. Really nice interface and cool looking phone. My take? Where is the camera? Until Microsoft nails the bleeding edge with features that no other phone has, I'm gonna be wanting. I note that many of my Microsoft coworkers have been getting the Nokia 3650 lately. The cell phone market is pretty tough, I feel for the guys over in the SmartPhone division.

So, is the selling point just gonna be "integrates with Office better?" OK, but I wish this thing had a camera on it. If it did, I think it'd be a runaway best seller. Without the camera, it's just another "me too" device.

The Economist: "As Colin Powell is to George Bush, so Craig Mundie is to Bill Gates."

Interesting article on Craig Mundie.

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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; 2:46:00 AM.