Kevin and Drew are doing their excellent event blogging again, this time for DevDays: announcing DevDaysBloggers.net.
Dave Winer, in reaction to my rant earlier this morning: "Actually it's probably unfair to blame Trippi or Dean, they acted more web-like in Dean's public statements on TV than the people they hired to run their weblog. Scoble's post highlights how unusual and ahead-of-the-curve Microsoft is for supporting a NBB like Scoble, than it is a condemnation of DFA. It's just too early to expect a candidate to run a real weblog. But of all the candidates, if Dean survives, at some point the principles that Scoble outlines will be implemented there, probably first."
Fair enough. I haven't unsubscribed from Dean's RSS yet. :-) I agree that Dean's been far more self-critical on TV than in his weblog, though. And, MSNBC is now reporting that Dean +is+ seeing a comeback in ratings.
Anyway, enough politics for now. Back to geek blogging.
I totally agree with Joe Wilcox of Microsoft Monitor weblog. We should get the Microsoft spoof videos out there in wider distribution.
There are dozens of such videos hiding out internally. There's an entire culture of using humor here that no one has seen publicly unless you've been at one of Gates' Comdex or CES keynotes.
Microsoft PR today: Microsoft has committed $1 billion in cash, software, curriculum and technology assistance over the next five years to Unlimited Potential and other efforts to help reduce the global digital divide.
How come this isn't front-page news? Heck, I couldn't even find it on news.com, MSNBC, or CNN, and that was after spending a bit of time clicking around looking for it.
Corporate charity just isn't as newsworthy as which moviestar won another award.
John Porcaro (he is a marketing guy on the Xbox team) asks the question "how do blogs help your company?"
Tongue-in-cheek post on Damian Maclennan's blog that made me laugh: "Someone invited a character named Scoble or something and it's all gone to hell in a handbasket" (About Google's Orkut).
Musicplasma is a tool that will allow you to identify all the artists that fit your musical tastes. Very cool.
As a short followup to my lengthy rant below about what's happening in Windows Digital Media devices, there's a new site up named Windows for Devices, and they cataloged 72 new devices at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. I only got to see 1/5th of these devices on Friday.
This Friday's .NET Rocks show is really starting to get me interested. Dan Appleman just got added to the show, host Carl Franklin just posted. Plus, Rory Blyth will co-host. Excellent choice! I'm reading an advance copy of his new book (on security for teenagers) and it's excellent. I'll have more to say when I get finished (and when Dan releases me from my NDA).
Paul Thurrott got an interview with Microsoft's top design gurus (Hillel Cooperman and Tjeerd Hoek. These folks are the ones who head the team that's designing the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn.
They talk about everything from the cursed Office assistants to what's coming in Longhorn.
Man, for something you needed to be invited into to join, Google's new Orkut sure got around. I got something like 40 invites over the weekend alone. Now the service is down for more work.
Before the team took it down I noticed that it was built on .NET. Cool!
I'll have more to say when it comes back up.
If I believed in a God, I'd have to start thinking that she's a geek and looking out for me. Why do I say that? Because Alaska Airlines' reservation system keeps putting me next to the most interesting people.
Last night, for instance, I sat next to (and chatted with) the President/CEO of REI, Dennis Madsen. We sat next to each other on the way from Oakland to Seattle -- he was on the way back from visiting stores in Colorado. He wants to revolutionize the way you shop for outdoor equipment. How's he gonna do it? Technology and great employees.
First, Dennis is the real deal. He has only worked at REI during his career. Started there in high school and has been there for more than 35 years. "I've never been offered anything more fun," he told me. He's proud of his employees -- REI was named as one of the 100 best companies to work for, and loves that he gets paid to do things like ski Aspen and try out different gear. In 2002 sales were $735 million and they have about 7000 employees working in 70 stores. The REI website claims that REI.com is the Internet's largest outdoor store, offering about 50,000 items. Dennis tells me that all wouldn't fit in a million-square-foot brick-and-mortar store.
We talked about a variety of things. Here's a selection.
He thinks the next five years are going to see large changes in retailing. Why? Because he sees the trends of low-cost plasma screens. Databases. Product-tracking mechanisms. Combined online and offline shopping experiences. He told me that they are already working on a "REI future store" concept because these things, while being too expensive to implement today, will radically change retailing and if REI waits, their competitors will invest before they do, and will take market share away from them. Did I say I like how Dennis thinks? It's exactly our message about Longhorn.
Here's what I remember from our two-hour conversation (he knew I was going to write about our conversation, and asked me to keep one or two things off the record). Here's a quick rundown:
Technology. "It's too complicated."
Challenges to his business. "Complacency."
Tablet PC. "Have one." (He liked the demo of Tablet PC 2004 that I showed him).
Favorite retailers. "Whole Foods. Starbucks." They make something seemingly routine, like buying a cup of coffee, almost magical, he says.
Attitude toward employees. "Any employee can anonymously ask me a question and I'll answer it on our intranet within 48 hours," he said.
New service they are working on? New gift registry. Connects online, instore. All 70 stores nationwide will have it. Took 18 months to develop. Turns on in two weeks.
Would he let his employees weblog? Yes. They already are participating in online conversations and he's all for expanding that conversation.
RSS? "What's that?" He took extensive notes as I explained it to him and says he "gets it."
Email? Spam is horrible.
Longhorn? He says he could use better file search technology right now "I lose documents on my Tablet PC," he says, which really makes him mad. He's looking forward to using newer technology in his "store of the future" initiatives that his team is working on.
OK, more in depth. About stores, he's seeing that plasma and touch screens will change the retail experience quite a bit. Brick and mortar stores aren't going away, he says. Do note that 15% of REI's business is currently coming in online, though, and those sales are increasing.
Also, he expects that within two to five years everything will be tagged with RFID, which will let his IT teams build new kinds of shopping experiences. For instance, you could grab a camping stove off of a shelf, hold it near an RFID scanner, and you could get a demo on how to properly use it. Or, you could see other things that work with that stove. Or, you could enter that into your gift registry for your wedding. Or...well, you get the idea.
Also, he thinks pricing will change quite a bit in the future. He expects to see "virtual pricing" where the price of something could change based on supply and demand. Pricing would be displayed on electronic monitors underneath each product. Or, you could see the price of something with an RFID scanner. They have 50,000 items available on their online store and three to four thousand in a typical REI store. Imagine repricing your inventory for seasonal changes? That takes a lot of employee time that could be better used to give better service to customers.
Howard Dean's weblog team blew it in the past week. I kept looking at them for some insight into why they did so poorly in Iowa. Some critical thinking. Some honesty. I wanted to see if they were building a learning organization that'd be honest with themselves and with their supporters.
So far, I haven't seen it. In fact, not only have they not aired their dirty laundry, but they actively supressed negative things.
You expect that from a corporate weblog (like mine) right? Shouldn't politicians' weblogs be held to a higher standard? Especially when you consider that Microsoft lets me air our dirty laundry (like I did here when a Windows Media exec made a comment I didn't agree with, but more on that in a few paragraphs).
On the evening of the Iowa caucuses, Howard Dean was on Larry King Live and admitted to the world "we came in third." Dave Winer, who was helping them get a new Dean news channel (named Channel Dean) going, thought that was important news and posted it. Within a few minutes, though, people inside the campaign took down that comment and didn't post anything else.
We thought that Howard Dean was going to give us a new look inside his campaign, his thinking, his team's thinking.
We thought wrong. Howard Dean and Joe Trippi weren't running a weblog, they were using the weblog as a new form of PR. They viewed it as a channel to only deliver good news and pleas for money, not as a way to give us real insight into who Howard Dean is and how his campaign team thinks. Even tonight, I reread the Dean blog, trying to find something negative about the candidate and all I found was gushy "spin" of the news. He's behind in the polls, but the weblog "spins" me as "Dean's coming back."
Translation: politics as usual, only using weblog technology.
What's the result? Well, for one, I am far less likely, after this weblog post, to talk about Howard Dean's campaign. Why? Because I realize now that we're not having a conversation with the campaign team, we're only being talked to. No different than if we were watching campaign ads on TV.
Worse than that, they missed a critical way to get new support from the weblog world and get a new kind of conversation going. They weren't able to switch gears. They weren't able to admit that they had faults (or that the person and ideas they were evangelizing had faults).
What's the lesson there for Microsoft and its webloggers? For me?
1) If we fail at something, we better INCREASE the conversation, not decrease it.
2) If something is going wrong, acting like it's not won't make the problem go away, and will probably turn off those people who could help you turn it around.
3) You should set expectations ahead of time properly just in case they DO go wrong (that's why I don't talk about Longhorn's shipping dates, for instance -- if you're new here, I work on the Longhorn team as an evangelist -- Longhorn is the next version of Microsoft's Windows operating system).
One interesting thing I've found that talking about Microsoft's failures actually gets an interesting conversation going. Before I worked at Microsoft, I thought that it might be impossible for a Microsoft employee to admit that we have problems. I haven't found that to be the case at all.
In fact, in the few cases I've done that employees and executives rush over and ask "how do we fix that?" For instance, take a look at the swing I took at the Windows Digital Media team telling them "Apple's kicking your behind and your 'choice' marketing message isn't working with me, so I doubt it's working with most people."
On Friday, two guys from the Windows Digital Media team (Matt Jubelirer and Mats Myrberg) came over with exactly what I asked them to bring. An Apple iPod. And a suitcase of their own devices. I invited some of my coworkers along. We had a frank discussion about why Apple is way out in front in mindshare and they explained what they meant when they say that buying an iPod means giving up on choice.
I was impressed. First, they didn't try to whitewash the situation. "Apple has industry-leading aesthetics and marketing," said Mats Myrberg, Lead Program Manager on the Digital Media team. It's so nice when team members admit their weaknesses up front.
Second, he said he'd be happy to send devices to webloggers if that'd help, but he admitted a weakness there too. "When we send a single device, like this Dell device, out to reviewers, they say 'that's nice' but they don't get what we mean when we talk about choice. It's only when we arrive with our suitcases of hundreds of different devices running Windows Media that they get it."
I still have problems with the "choice in music" marketing campaign. Why? Cause normal people don't think in marketers terms like that and I think it just confuses the issue. I wish they'd just straight up say "iPod is nice, but devices that run Windows Media do more." After examining the facts on Friday, it's pretty clear that they do a lot more and are lower cost to boot.
OK media consumers, let's look forward to 2006. It's always good to look at where you'll end up when you consider buying into a platform of any kind -- and both Apple and Microsoft want you to look at their offerings as just a piece of their platform offerings. It's sort of like picking a football team -- if you're gonna be locked into a team for a few years, wouldn't you rather pick a Superbowl winner than someone who'll go 1-18?
Over the next three years, it won't be uncommon for many of you to buy 500 songs if you want to buy legitimate music from legitimate sources (translate: official services approved by the recording industry like Napster or iTunes). That'll cost you $300 to $500. It's pretty clear that the world will come down to two or three major "systems." Disclaimer: MSN is rumored to be working on such a system. See, when you buy music from a service like Apple's iTunes or Napster (or MSN), it comes with DRM attached.
When you hear DRM think "lockin." So, when you buy music off of Napster or Apple's iTunes, you're locked into the DRM systems that those applications decided on. Really you are choosing between two competing lockin schemes.
But, not all lockin schemes are alike, I learned on Friday. First, there are two major systems. The first is Apple's AAC/Fairtunes based DRM. The second is Microsoft's WMA
Let's say it's 2006. You have 500 songs you've bought on iTunes for your iPod. But, you are about to buy a car with a digital music player built into it. Oh, but wait, Apple doesn't make a system that plays its AAC format in a car stereo. So, now you can't buy a real digital music player in your car. Why's that? Because if you buy songs off of Apple's iTunes system, they are protected by the AAC/Fairtunes DRM system, and can't be moved to other devices that don't recognize AAC/Fairtunes. Apple has you locked into their system and their devices. (And, vice versa is true, as any Apple fan will gladly point out to you). What does that mean if you buy into Apple's system? You've gotta buy an FM transmitter that transmits songs from your iPod to your car stereo. What does that do? Greatly reduces the quality. How do I know that? Cause the Microsoft side of the fence has FM transmitters too. I saw a few on Friday. But, what we have on our side is a format (WMA) that's already being adopted by car stereo manufacturers. So, now when you buy a new song on Napster, it can play on your car stereo, or on your portable music player. Is the choice to do that important to you? If not, then you can buy an iPod and music off of iTunes.
"Hey, Scoble, that's a lame example." Well, it might be, but the team visited me Friday with a suitcase with a few dozen devices (they have more than 500 devices today that work with WMA, but Apple only has one that works today with its iTunes AAC DRM format).
Want another example? Let's say you're a skateboarder. Did you realize that an iPod has a hard drive in it? That's moving parts. What happens when you biff on a swimming pool move and your iPod hits the dirt? The chances are that the hard drive inside will fail. So, you're far better off using a solid-state music player that plays off of a memory card rather than a hard drive. Is that choice important to you? There are dozens of solid state players that use the WMA format. Only one on the Apple side of the fence.
"Lame again Scoble." OK, how about this scenario. You finally got a raise at work, so have enough bucks to buy one of those new plasma TV screens. While there you fall in love with the new Windows Media Player to attach to it (it really is awesome and does a bunch that Tivo doesn't do). But if you buy your music off of iTunes, it won't work there. If you choose WMA-based music, it'll work there. OK, neither will work on Tivo today, but that's another choice you need to make.
"Still lame, Scoble, I can't see buying a Windows Media Center device for TV." In a few years I think you'll be singing a different tune. Hooking a Windows Media system to your TV makes it far more useful. If you had one of those, you'd be able to display pictures, videos, play music, record TV, capture video from your camcorder, and share that between multiple screens in your house (oh, I just gave you a major hint there). But, you'll need to get your music into WMA format to play there. Will AAC do it? Not today, and you'll need to hope that Apple sees enough value in building iTunes and porting AAC to the Media Center. Oh, and the new portable Windows Media Center plays your WMA music too. Sorry, Steve Jobs doesn't believe in portable video devices (that's what he said just a few weeks ago). Is playing music on a portable video device important to you?
One other important choice? Price! For instance, a $400 iPod only has a 40GB hard drive. Yeah, the Apple stores are awesome. They are beautiful inside, but you are paying a high price for that. Look around at the other music players out there. You'll get a player with a 60GB hard drive for $50 or more less. That's 50 songs. Or, you're halfway there to a pair of awesome Etymotic headphones that'll give you dramatically better sound (the headphones that come with all of these units don't measure up to those from Etymotic or Sennheiser). Is that choice important to you?
"But you don't get it, Scoble, I don't like Microsoft," OK, but look at the history of where we've been. One company licensed its OS to an entire industry. One company didn't. Which company is most likely to free you to work with a whole industry's range of devices rather than just its own? Oh, and Microsoft's licensing for Windows Media is out in the open too. That's a significant reason why there are more than 500 devices today using Windows Media, and only a handful using Apple's AAC/Fairtunes.
As to marketing, this is another Microsoft weakness. We probably aren't going to buy billboard ads telling you how cool the Dell or Panasonic devices are. Why? Because we're not making hundreds of dollars per device off of them (look at Apple's profits per device and you'll realize you're paying a LOT to buy into Apple's system). Look at the devices themselves. They don't have any Microsoft branding on them. We don't spend money making sure that rap stars use our devices in their videos. We don't buy back-page ads in the New Yorker. We don't buy billboards in San Francisco advertising Windows Media. Guess who pays for those marketing devices? You do.
Anyway, back to the point I started with. Whenever I take a swing at something we're not doing well here at Microsoft, I start a conversation. I just wish Howard Dean's webloggers would do the same.
Update: MSNBC shows that Howard Dean is indeed seeing a comeback in the polls. I find it very interesting that Dean is far more self-critical on TV (even doing a David Letterman top 10 list and several sit-down interviews in the past week) than you'd learn about him from his weblog. If Dean digs himself out, it'll be due to his work on TV again, not his blog.