Below is our working draft of Chapter 2, which examines Microsoft. We have a few more interview requests, including one with Bill Gates. Since we simply don't know if Gates and other Microsoft people will come through, we decided to go with what we have.
Please let us know what you like-or dislike about it.
(One special note of thanks to Marc Orchant, our book editor. He has improved the quality of our content and made us a stronger team.)
Title: Souls of the Borg
“[Corporations] cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed, nor excommunicate[d] for they have no souls.”
—Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634)
We live in a time when most people don’t trust big companies. Headlines gush with tales of malfeasance, abuse and old-fashioned plunder, but that’s just part of it. There is a general perception that large companies are run by teams of gray lawyers and accountants, overseeing creations that may have stepped out of “I, Robot”. We see these companies as monoliths without souls, where counting beans matters more than relating to customers. We see a oneness. We call their language “corp. speak,” and their words means little to us. Their value systems are different than our own. From our external viewpoint, we see no humanity.
For a very long time, Microsoft, Corp. has been at or near the top of the list of most despised and mistrusted companies in the world. This is no coincidence. Since the late 1970s, Microsoft has been perceived as a company at war with competitors and governments, whose products have been scorned almost as universally as they have been adopted. It’s accused of having been a predator and a monopolist. Technology graveyards are filled with once-promising and talented companies that stood in their way as this monolith strip-mined and steamrolled its way to become the world’s largest software company. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, the respective chairman and CEO of the company would make many people’s lists of the richest and most detested business people on Earth.
Industry trade publications dedicated entire sections toward vilifying the company. In its early days, the Open Source movement appeared to have a primary goal of defeating Microsoft in the marketplace. If Microsoft launched a product or even upgraded and old one, it was attacked for hosts of reasons.In fact, if you type in “Evil Empire + Microsoft” in a Google Search, you generate 471,000 responses, well over double the number you get by typing in “Ronald Reagan + Evil Empire” (The words were first used as the title of a speech by the late president against the old Soviet Union). The words, “Microsoft sucks” gets you 669,000 responses, and the word “Microsoft” plus “Borg” generates just over a quarter-million returns.
But, in truth, Microsoft is not a monolith. Nor is it the domicile of some heartless mass of half-androids with a collective consciousness and without hearts. Instead, it is an organization comprised of over 56,000 people worldwide. And most of them have little or no idea exactly what Gates and Ballmer did over the years to shoulder their way to the top of the software industry. But, there they are at the top, because most of the people in the world who use computers use their software and it has been that way for a long time. <p>
While Microsoft today will certainly win no popularity contests, the company has made serious efforts to improve its public image and the perceptions people have. Walter Mossberg, author of the widely-read “Personal Technology” column that appears every Thursday in the Wall St. Journal observes that "since the end of the anti-trust trial, Microsoft has been on a massive charm offensive. It has methodically settled lawsuit after lawsuit with rivals and governments. It has reached out to all sorts of constituencies. Bill Gates himself has become calmer, less publicly combative, since leaving the CEO post. His charitable foundation has taken off in a very public way. And the company has allowed numerous employees to show a human face by blogging. All of this has improved their image.
Indeed, if you look at recent trends, you’ll find that while frustrations with Microsoft security flaws still abound, there seems to be a diminution of the blanket hatred so recently aimed at the company. Taking a couple of hours to examine Google results, you’ll discover that more recently the negative articles and posts trail off. The frequency of fresh verbal assaults is down and the epitaphs are for the most part aging. Publications appear to be covering the company from a more neutral standpoint, and respected magazines like Fortune and the Economist now occasionally even sing their praise. Recent product launches such as MSN Spaces have been warmly received with very few hostile comments.
Even the oft-demonized Gates seems to be enjoying slightly friendlier receptions from the press and public. On a December day in 2004, the chairman addressed a half-dozen Silicon Valley venues and seemed more comfortable taking questions from the audience, than veterans observers could recall. Members of the press expressed surprise and even disappointment that most questions were polite. Even those who challenged him selected topical issues (security flaws and Linux) rather than launching into ethical diatribes. The anti-Microsoft lightning rod site Evil Empire Blog: info about bugs, security holes and dirty business tactics shut down in January 2005. Its author explained that it was because mainstream media was covering the issues so well. Others noted that the blog’s readership had been steadily falling for several months.
Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corp. and current chairman of the Open Source Application Foundation (OSAF), long outspoken in his distaste for Microsoft, seems to have mellowed, at least slightly. Speaking at a tech conference in May 2004, he told an interviewer who was egging him on, that “singing songs about the Evil Empire may still be fun, but they’ve become merely nice tunes for aging hippies.” Other long-time nemeses, such as Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Sun Microsystems founder Scott McNealy and Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison, for varying business, legal and strategic reasons have all seemed to have sit down and collectively shut up on the issue of Microsoft.
In fact, there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that Microsoft has started being perceived as a kinder, gentler enterprise. Microsoft insiders told us that there is hard evidence — spreadsheets with metrics indicating warmer relationships with customers, partners and prospects. They are reluctant to share the data for the record but people in the company seemed to us to be heartened to see that outsiders are starting to recognize that at least some members of its global workforce actually do have hearts.
What changed? Microsoft has not engaged in any new marketing campaign; nor has it announced any new practices; its software is under near-constant security attack and its software anomalies still bug users. No court or former competitor has declared that Microsoft has become more virtuous. No erstwhile competitor has stepped forward to exonerate Microsoft’s past behavior.
According to Michael J. Miller, Editor in Chief of PC Magazine, “I think many people, particularly in Silicon Valley, have softened their view towards Microsoft. There are probably a lot of reasons for this — including Microsoft’s larger presence in the Valley, more outreach to the industry, and the post-Internet-bust economy.”
Joshua Allen, XML team program manager, a veteran of a decade at Microsoft sees one more reason, “Blogging unquestionably has had the most impact.” Allen, of course, has taken contrarian routes before. He was a self-described Johnny Appleseed for Open Source software, distributing freeware to anyone who would take it. But Microsoft started to impress him, with innovations that made it easier for everyday people to access the Internet, even before browsers were in vogue. Precisely at a time when the world seemed united against Microsoft, he also took issue with a press that seemed intent on unfairly hammering at Microsoft, particularly the trade tabloid InfoWorld. He began at a time when the accusations and assaults on Microsoft were at their apex. Governments wanted to dismember the company into three parts. An Anything But Microsoft (ABM) movement, allied with the Linux Open Source movement was gaining steam. There is something in him that felt the universal assault on Microsoft was unjustified, and something in he we thought, that loves the underdog, so he joined the company in 1995.
Four years later, in 1995, Allen became Microsoft’s first blogger. His current blog, Better Living Through Software has been running since 2000. Internally, there was a lot of internal angst about participating on external mail lists. “We were afraid to get out there and just talk with people. We were worried about getting the company in trouble, with bad publicity.” Allen didn’t ask for permission from his Microsoft superiors or Legal or PR. He just started posting to his blog because “I wanted to say that I was a Microsoft person and you can talk with me.”
“I knew better than to do something stupid in public and I thought I would make a good test case,” he recalls. Allen thought that if he started, other Microsoft employees would follow and, “we’d show that we were really people and not the Borg.” He thought the company’s culture would be conducive to blogging. Like other employees interviewed, he cited CEO Ballmer as always encouraging Microsoft to talk with customers whenever and wherever possible.
It took less than a month before his boss got the first internal email demanding Allen be fired. Such emails would continue steadily, if not abundantly for years. While he minimizes the adversity, one co-worker observed, “Josh was walking around with more arrows in him than the only buffalo on an Indian hunt. He changed jobs inside Microsoft during that period and both his new and former superiors encouraged him to continue, repeating the Ballmer message: "Microsoft people should be talking with customers.”
In time, a few associates close to Allen started blogging, then a few more. When it reached about 15, the legal department started looking and worrying and talking about risk. The bloggers, according to Allen, began walking on eggshells. “Everyone was worried that someone would do something stupid and the whole thing would fall down. The legal people kept worrying and contemplating guidelines.”
As of March 2004, there were more than 1500 active bloggers at Microsoft “Legal is still worrying”, says Allen, but “until this day, we haven't had anyone do something so incredibly stupid that it required a blogging policy and none has ever been issued.”
While the legal folk fretted about risk, customers were enthusiastic, many not even realizing they were using a new interactive medium called a Weblog. The customers were more interested in the topics and in the two-way conversation that was taking place than in how it was being made to happen. They were happy that a real person inside Microsoft was talking with them — was listening and responding in non-confrontational and conversational tones.
And, of course, the conversations begat conversations. People like Dave Winer, the father of blogging technology, Doc Searls, co-author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto”, the brilliant book that is blogging’s bible, and Tim O’Reilly, founder & CEO of O’Reilly media, all started pointing to Allen’s blog. Just the fact that a Microsoft guy was blogging, was newsworthy enough for Winer to point his readers through a hyperlink to Allen five times in 2000. Allen recalls he got traffic just from people curious to see what the Evil Empire was up to. Other bloggers would link, saying, “This is what the Borg is thinking,” and stuff like that, Allen says. <p>
But Winer, long-considered one of Microsoft’s harshest critics, repeatedly asked why more people at Microsoft didn’t blog and each time he asked a few more would pick up the gauntlet. And as the numbers rose, Allen felt it revealed “a company of individuals with diverse opinions. More like herding cats, than the Borg. People could see for themselves that there are camps and trends within the company.”
Looking back at more than a half-decade of blogging, Allen says, "I think Microsoft has experienced a vast softening of its image. People, including journalists, have a lot more information about Microsoft now.” Perhaps more significant, he thinks, has been the impact on employee morale, and the company’s ability to attract new talent.
But, if one of the points bloggers are trying to make about Microsoft is the diversity of viewpoints within the company, that diversity includes sharp divisions over the blogging itself. Management remains far from unanimous that blogging is a good thing. Allen says there are high-level managers who recollect past company errors fomented by loose lips. Bloggers say the most frequent challenge they hear is to define the business model for a blog, which seems to us a bit like being asked to determine the ROI on a press release, a charity fundraiser or an email account. Personally, Allen says, “I think [Microsoft’s blogging opponents] are well-intentioned, but they worry too much and they underestimate the power of word of mouth.”
What does the Microsoft experience have to teach other businesses? According to Allen, “Your whole company won't collapse if you do this and your customers will love you. Although he spent a decade at Microsoft, Allen was an independent contractor and many of his customers are small businesses. He thinks, “small businesses need blogs even more than big ones, because they live off of relationships, and blogs build relationships very effectively.”
Like Allen, Lenn Pryor joined Microsoft impressed with the company’s technology accomplishments but, unlike Allen, when he came on board in 1998, he hadn’t realized the company’s universal unpopularity.
"The first thing I learned when I visited customers was that people were not always happy to see you. What got in the way of my relationships was the fact that I worked for Microsoft. The two people who represented the company —Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer — got in my way.” He felt he had been painted in the corner by being associated with “two of the wealthiest people on the planet.”
Lenn kept having a recurring experience. He’d go out to dinner with a customer. They’d be having a pleasant enough time, then the customer would become quiet and pensive for a moment, then blurt out:"You know Lenn, I'm really surprised that you're such a nice guy. I didn't expect you to be.” Then Pryor would ask, “well, why not?” And the customer would say, “Because you're Microsoft and Microsoft is fundamentally evil. You just don't seem evil, so you're either really good at concealing this or I've read you guys wrong."
This bothered Pryor. Because he represented Microsoft, customers seemed certain he could not be trusted. He anguished about this for years.
There were only brief interludes when his constituency saw him as human. They occurred for one week every two years in the form of Microsoft’s Professional Developer's Conference (PDC), which Pryor ran in 2003. Some 6000 developers would mingle with 2000 Microsoft people. They’d see previews of new technology, share ideas, eat pizza, drink, joke, show each other family photos and generally bond. "We were actually everyone's friend. We became human in our customers eyes and they became human in ours. All the misconceptions went away," recalled Pryor.
But, the magic ended with the event. Pryor knew that unless he thought of something, the good feelings would dissipate. "We’d be Microsoft again, the evil guys." But how?
It had been a long week, and he had an emotional hangover and drove home with a cold. A few days later, he was taking a long shower to shake off a Nyquil-induced haze. That’s when the epiphany hit him.
At PDC, there had been a human connection. Microsoft saw and heard the customer as more than just a statistic and customers saw Microsoft representatives as real people. If Pryor could somehow bring this humanizing factor into everyday life, Microsoft’s customer relationships could be forever changed." This was an exciting idea, but he hadn’t a clue how he could make this happen.
Like Allen, Pryor had been tuned into blogging by Dave Winer who had been talking for years about the humanizing aspects of the Web. That idea had always resonated with Pryor. Now it reverberated. What Microsoft needed, Pryor realized, was some form of open channel. “Channel” is one of those words with multiple definitions, most of which were applicable. Maybe, Pryor thought, he could create some form of reality TV inside Microsoft that he could distribute to people using the Internet. He’d bring some guy with a camera inside Microsoft to show the developers, the tech gurus, the creators exactly as they are when they are at work. He would keep the footage raw, no editing, no marketing polish and certainly no slick commentator with a suntan and a suit.
This idea became Channel 9, the quirky, impromptu video blog. The name comes from the United Airlines (UA) open audio channel in which passengers can listen to pilots during take-offs, flights and landings. Pryor knew it well, because it had helped cure him of his personal petrification of flying. "I had this terrible relationship with UA and its product. I was scared to death of their product even though I had to use it for business, and no one was doing anything about making me feel better about them or their product.
"Sound familiar?" Pryor asks, smiling at his metaphor sinks in. "A lot of people tell us: ‘I really don't like you guys. I don't know you and don't trust you, but I have to use your products to do business.’” Pryor says he cured his fear of flying by learning about the life of a pilot. ”The more I could understand him, the more I could feel that his best interests were my best interests. I don't think there's any better way to describe how people feel about Microsoft, then how people feel who are afraid to fly."
"You have several hundred people locked into a metal tube at 40,000 feet, traveling at 600 miles-an-hour and there are two guys in the front of the plane, you're just going to have to trust."
Microsoft, Pryor decided, should build its own Channel 9. "We’ll just share our lives with people and then they'll see we're human and then they'll trust us." It seemed all so obvious and simple even after the effects of the Nyquil had completely worn off.
Channel 9 would redefine evangelism as companies generally practice it. Historically, evangelists have extolled the virtues of their company products by spreading the word about features and benefits. Pryor wanted to shift the focus from product to relationship.
Pryor took his idea to his boss, Vic Gundotra, general manager for platform evangelism, who thought the idea of having some guy walking around with a video camera just filming people in hallways and cubicles and having them talk about their jobs and their lives sounded a bit crazy. But he also thought it was a good idea — he liked it. He told Pryor to “go for it”.
How would it get started? Gundotra and Pryor agreed, the project should start low-key, certainly without marketing hoopla. Also, they knew there would be people at Microsoft who would oppose it. Vic would provide the air cover and his not-insignificant support.
Pryor would have to re-jigger his team. There was this guy, Robert Scoble, a relatively new hire from NEC who hadn't quite found his place at Microsoft yet. Pryor had known Scoble before Robert came to work at Microsoft. Winer had been Scoble's mentor and boss at Winer’s company, Userland a couple of years back. An avid, prolific blogger, Scoble was posting up to 50 blogs or more on his personal site, Scobleizer, on his own time each night.
Recently, Scoble had been NEC's evangelist for the TabletPC. In that role, he had attended a developer's conference, where he publicly advised Ballmer to "give Microsoft a more human face." (Ballmer rewarded the idea with an autographed dollar.) When NEC finally shipped its acclaimed Tablet PC, Scoble made certain two people in Redmond got some of the first tablets off the line. One was Bill Gates. The other was Vic Gundotra, who became impressed by Scoble's passion and style. Besides he loved his Tablet PC. Gundotra would eventually hire Scoble.
Scoble wasn't your usual Microsoft kind of guy, certainly not one you’d expect to find in the front room. Said Pryor, "Robert is a lovable goof. He has all his flaws hanging out on his sleeve. He's curious like a child, and it’s hard not to like and trust him."
Earlier, when Scoble first came to Microsoft, before he reported to Pryor, Lenn invited Scoble and his wife Maryam to his home for dinner. Before Scoble arrived, the Pryors would have a shrill surprise. "We hear this WAAAAAAA. WAAAAAAA. It's our fire alarm. My wife and I become frantic. We open the front door and there's Robert with a silly smile on his face. 'I did it,' he tells me. 'I pulled your fire alarm. I thought it was your doorbell and you had an odd sense of humor.' Robert is just standing there and he's laughing his ass off. Fire engines are pulling up, the condo president is coming up, and Scoble's just laughing about it all. I figured, if he could handle this so well, he could probably survive anything."
Before Scoble joined Microsoft, Pryor already admired Scoble's personal blog "Scobleizer." While most Microsoft critics tried to climb up and get in your face, Scoble used a more diplomatic approach. "Robert always came across in a way that made me want to listen. He'd say,” You guys did something wrong. Let me tell you why it hurt me and why it hurts you and why I think you can do better. Robert tells you a lot about himself. He puts himself on the line. His style and his gift for words are important. He delivers criticism from his heart."
So Pryor invited Scoble, to a Sonics basketball game where Michael Jordan would make his last uniformed Seattle appearance. After Jordan's courtside introduction, the two would never again glance at the floor. Instead, they would spend three hours brainstorming and germinating the Channel 9 concept. Neither recalls who won the game, but both left certain that Scoble and Channel 9 were right for each other.
Pryor and Scoble envisioned a hybrid, real-time format, rich in communication and very two-way, with the audience voice being as relevant as the video itself. Channel 9 would encourage real conversation, "not just a drive-by stuff, where people hurled inflammatory comments and moved on. “In my mind," Pryor recalls, "Microsoft could start the conversation, but it wouldn't work if Microsoft controlled the conversation.”
It began as a standard text blog. "We were still preaching at customers,” Pryor recalls. “I wanted everyone to have a face on the site, to eliminate anonymity and encourage adult behavior, while minimizing the drive-bys. The video came soon after, with Robert's voice asking people at Microsoft about their jobs and the projects they had worked on. The viewers never saw Robert, but they would hear him mutter an occasional, "Oh Crap," as he inadvertently walked into an occasional wall. A Forum section allowed developers to debate issues of all sorts. A project collaborative system, called a 'wiki' was added to let people inside and outside Microsoft work together on software. "We showed who we are and where we work. We said: ‘come look inside and see and hear our people, hear our thoughts and passions.’ “ And people did, approximately 2.5 million of them came in the first six months.
In fact, Channel 9 is generally recognized as among the most innovative forms of not only blogging, but corporate communications. It was the first corporate video blog. It was the first to put the words and faces of customers on the front page, thus creating a form of “equal time” for those who either praise or admonish Microsoft. It was the first to use the collaborative social media called “wikis” to allow a product team to collaborate with customers to improve products and upgrades. It uses RSS, the technology that enables syndication, on every page and was the first full corporate site to do so, "We also used Channel 9 as way to respond to customers. If people wanted to know something, we put up a video about it. If there was a new product coming out, we put up a video. We started responding to issues in real time. This was not a documentary." There was no smoothing, polishing or refining. This was a new — an interactive video of real people talking about their work with customers and other people who cared.
It’s also a question open to speculation as to how Channel 9 will evolve. Recently, the Channel 9 conversation strayed from its usual techno-centric bastion into politics. People from 60 countries participated and with some surprise discovered a vast foundation for agreement. While some were concerned that Microsoft had lost control of the topic, Pryor was elated. It indicated that Channel 9 is no longer about Microsoft. It's about the community. "Maybe the future of this site is to turn it over to the users, and turn the Channel 9 keys back to the community."
Although Pryor's background is marketing, he has little interest and a slightly veiled contempt for traditional data metrics that marketers use to justify programs. He eschews data mining and sees no value in surveys. But he does concede the company has data that shows Channel 9 has shifted perceptions of Microsoft from the negative to positive in less than six months time. “There’s no doubt we’ve moved the needle,” he says and adds with obvious pride, “we did it without so much as a press release.”
But he expresses faith in the anecdotal evidence that perceptions of Microsoft have moved from a net negative to a net positive in less than three-fourths of a year. He checks blog polling sites like Technorati that shows nearly 1300 other blogs have linked to Channel 9, and PubSub who rated Channel 9 in March 2005 at 5877th of over 8.5 million sites ranked. "This shows that we are in the conversation, that people are talking about us and that matters a great deal. We are part of a global community because of the human connection and that matters a great deal as well."
Like Allen, Pryor readily admitted that Microsoft management support for blogging is "far from unanimous." On one hand there is Scoble and 1500 bloggers rapidly building a "trust network," and igniting favorable media coverage in national business publications. On the other, there are people whose job it is to reduce risk and control corporate messages.
Pryor's role, in part, is to bridge the gaps that remain between Scoble and other elements, such as PR, even though each has evolved to see the other's value and respect each other's turf. For example, bloggers almost never break hard news stories at Microsoft, nor do they launch new products. In a few cases however, bloggers have posted within minutes after official announcements were issued. Instead, according to Pryor, bloggers focus on supplementing information for customers. "Our job is not to be the place for the New York Times to find scoops. But blogging is good for PR. If blogging gets you good press, then this is good for the PR people."
Still, it could all fall apart. While Pryor is among many people who see evidence that both Gates and Ballmer favor blogging, uncertainty remains. "There are lots of people at Microsoft, or any other company, who do not see the value in this. Robert has no formal marketing or PR training, yet suddenly here he is, doing those jobs for Microsoft. This threatens PR people, marketing people, lawyers and so on. Guys like Robert break the rules. When you put a blogger up in front of your company, you take risks. This makes lawyers nervous, but we're seeing the rewards these risks generate. Today, Microsoft is building relationships, while six months ago we were losing them," Pryor says.
Still, Pryor concedes, some day Scoble could stomp on the wrong foot and get himself fired. “If Robert goes, it will suck, but it's not about one guy anymore. You can't put the Genie back in the bottle again. Once you establish that this is how you’re going to communicate to customers, you cannot go back to the way it was."
While Scoble has become the poster child for business blogging and remains the company’s most well-read blogger, there are 1200 other bloggers listed at blogs.msdn.com, and their styles, topics and frequency of postings depicts a widely diverse group. The number of visitors each has probably varies from Scoble’s more than 10,000 per day to perhaps just 10. Yet each is linked into a network beyond Microsoft called the Blogosphere and thus each has worldwide reach.
Scoble may be the most famous, but others have their admirers as well. Betsy Aoki, a Microsoft community program manager’s blog has even inspired its own fan club. It turned out to have only one member—Phil Webber of Oregon but he wrote about Aoki with great admiration bordering on reverence. When they eventually met, Aoki thought it was an awkward encounter and that Webber would go away disappointed. But he didn’t, and he continues to be her fan club. Aoki’s job is to provide people at Microsoft with the tools and knowledge they need to blog.
“Scoble is our evangelist. I’m the co-dependent enabler,” she quips. “I’m a different kind of community evangelist. People come to me in varying states of blog readiness. They recognize blogging’s power and the importance of the admonition ‘blog smart.’
If there is a Microsoft blogging policy, it would be those two words: “Blog Smart.” Its author is unknown, but it seems to be the perspective of the bloggers we encountered. There is a general sensethat at least so far, management is trusting bloggers to behave as responsible employees, and employees sense that the longer they can keep an open blogging policy the more unlikely that it will ever be shut down. They argue that by blogging they have an important competitive advantage over companies that don’t allow open employee blogging. What is even more important, they argue, is that blogging lets them get closer with their customers.
Says Aoki, “Customer complaints go straight into my inbox. They get responses. I exchange tons of email, so customers (see that) they have an impact. You also see you have an impact yourself. You blog and someone comments. It makes your work at
Microsoft much more ground level.” She says the blog she cares most about is her own, because “this is where I get to hear from other people and (this) lets me feel real about my job. “
Aoki shares our view that businesses of all sizes and in all fields will have little choice but to blog moving forward, even small businesses. “First there were phone books, then websites and they (businesses) know that if they don’t have it, it works to their disadvantage. Blogs are just the next logical step.” There’s one additional reason: You can also get your own fan club.
Mike Torres, lead program manager in Microsoft’s MSN division, got to Microsoft via several start ups, most notably, jump.com, an online calendar-socialization service purchased by Microsoft. He had two chances to join Microsoft and turned them down because he was enterprenuerial by nature and felt that because Microsoft was very big he would not be able to be true to his nature. By early 2003, he was convinced otherwise, particularly by Microsoft’s efforts in Web-based socialization tools.
He ended up heading the team for MSN Spaces, Microsoft’s highly consumerized blog tool set, which we were told unofficially, had signed up over three million adopters in its first three months, with very little traditional promotion behind it. Torres pointed out that the money saved from not needing marketing campaigns can be re-channeled into product improvements.
Torres says Spaces is a communications tool for everyday people, and not for business users. It has one aspect we thought would be useful to point out and that is the use of MS Passport, an online authentication system considered relatively bulletproof because each user has a unique ID and password. Workgroups of 8-10 people inside Microsoft use Passport and MSN Spaces to collaborate on projects. We think small businesses and consulting organizations may find this an easy way to establish a private collaborative blog.
Torres has of course returned to blogging. “It gives us a sense of freedom,” he says, and he uses blogging’s standard search services to directly and quickly find and respond to any comments for or against MSN Spaces. “It stops the rants. A lot of times when you do that, there's a ‘sorry - I didn't know you were listening’ reply. One guy posted, ’Big retraction: I was wrong.’ “Most people usually just say thanks for stopping by. What happens is that if they know you’re in the conversation, people get respectful. They may still criticize you, but they don’t lie.”
In fact, if Aoki has her fan club, then Torres’ Spaces has its grassroots supporters as well. Torres says readers have started posting tutorials and defenses. They have become advocates and promoters.
Torres caused a minor stir when, as head of MSN Spaces, he posted a blog under the headline: “5 Things I Dislike about MSN Spaces . “Here was a champion of the team ranting in public about how the product could be better. It showed that we don’t just ship products and then walk away.”
Yet another area where Microsoft bloggers feel the company is receiving benefits is in recruiting. There are two recruiters blogging, giving advice on applying to Microsoft and demystifying the process. Channel 9 had Scoble tote his camera around to show applicants what a full recruiting day would look like, including interviews with the shuttle bus driver and pans of the interview rooms.
According to Kim Cameron, in charge of Microsoft’s design vision, blogging removes marketing’s disintermediation roadblocks between technologist and end users. “I think blogging … lets a product architect like me have a more direct relationship with the people for whom I am building products - with no interpreters in the middle. It lets me add a new conversation--one focused around the scientific aspects of what we are doing. And allows … for deep discussions with people from other teams who are building complementary or potentially competing technologies." It seems like blogging is now accelerating the rate of change at Microsoft. It was a game of inches gained slowly back in 1999 when Allen became the first known Microsoft blogger. cyberspace. Today, the rate of new bloggers at the company and the number of posts per day (or hour) increases on a daily basis. A Microsoft blog — any Microsoft blog -- has access to millions of people -- sometimes within hours -- and particularly if Scoble links to it on any of his three blogs (scoble.weblogs.com ; www.scobleizer.com and redcouch.typepad.com. He estimates that combined, he has 15,000 visitors a day on average. That
translates to 105,000 a week; 472,500 a month or 5.67 million visitors a year. This doesn’t count exposure he receives through thousands of links to his postings by other bloggers.
Scoble seems an unlikely poster child for a new business communications medium. He’s just a mid-level employee, with a salary only in the five figures, but he is the third most-famous person at Microsoft. His rank in the organization is seven levels below Bill Gates, yet he’s’ regularly sought out by national publications for interview, and is emerging as one of technology’s more sought after speakers. Observers say it’s because he’s assumed a style of simplicity and honesty that people love because it is in such clear contrast to “corpspeak.” As one observer put it, he speaks in his blog to his readers like friends talk with each other, and it has high resonance.
So what does all this mean to Redmond? Does this mean that because of Scoble and its 1500 bloggers, the world now loves Microsoft? Let’s not be silly. As Walt Mossberg of the Wall St. Journal told us, Microsoft faces a number of challenges and not all of them can be addressed, much less solved by blogs. Despite what Mossberg refers to as the company’s “charm offensive”, Microsoft has a lot of work to do.
“Just as things were looking up for the company, a serious crisis hit the Windows world — the seemingly unstoppable plague of viruses, spyware, and other security threats. Tens of millions of Microsoft customers, especially consumers and small businesses without IT staffs, have been hammered by the security mess, which has cost them time, money, and, too often, lost data and lost productivity. Many of them are furious at Microsoft for failing to protect them, for making software that is so easily compromised. The company is responding with security initiatives, and may eventually win back the trust of consumers. But, until then, I believe the security crisis has undone much of the good Microsoft did in improving its image — at least in the mainstream community, where most people don't read technology-oriented blogs or attend technology conferences or post their feelings on web pages that Google can search."
And the evidence is still mostly anecdotal that blogging has actually moved the needle, but it is generally perceived that fewer and fewer people regard Microsoft as a heartless monolith.
Blogging has moved the needle.
Our point is this: If blogging can do all this for one of the world’s most despised and distrusted companies, think of what it can do for yours.