The real question: How to keep Microsoft on the transparency track

Summary:The April Wired Magazine cover story on "Radical Transparency," with its case study on Microsoft's Channel 9 and blogging initiatives, is making some waves, but for the wrong reasons. The real and most important question is whether Microsoft employees will be encouraged to continue being transparent.

The April Wired Magazine cover story on "Radical Transparency," with its case study on Microsoft's Channel 9 and blogging initiatives, is making some waves, but for the wrong reasons.

Some media members are simply shocked that Microsoft's PR team keeps dossiers on the reporters and bloggers who cover the company. That's old news, folks. And not even very interesting news.

A few years back, I had a chance to see my "dossier," which Microsoft's PR team inadvertently sent to another reporter, who forwarded it to me. (Thanks, Dan Gillmor!) Initially, it was alarming to see what I considered to be punishment plans for various stories I'd written. But nothing in my file was all that surprising. Among their other duties, PR people are paid by their clients to get stories placed -- and, if negative, hopefully killed -- on behalf of their clients.

(If I had reason to create my own PR dossier, detailing the my dealings with various Microsoft marketing-communications and public-relations team members, my ratings and payback plans would be far more dastardly.)

The more thought-provoking piece of Wired's package, at least to me, is the saga of how Microsoft's blogging and video-casting strategy came to be. Several Microsoft execs -- from the recently retired head of Platforms and Services Jim Allchin, to Corporate VP of Developer & Platform Evangelism Sanjay Parthasarathy -- championed the transparency concept. They encouraged their employees to blog and allow the Channel 9 team to record interviews with some of Microsoft's best known developers.

I read the thousands of Microsoft MSDN and TechNet blogs and (less happily) spend hours watching these videos on a regular basis. Sure, there's some fluff, as well as some indecipherably geeky bits, in there. But many of them have been invaluable in helping me -- and, I'd wager, Microsoft partners and customers -- better understand Microsoft.

The real question, to me, is whether Microsoft employees will be encouraged to continue being transparent.

With many of Microsoft's old management regime retiring/quitting/moving on, will Microsoft employees be allowed to keep blogging as openly as they have been? Will self-policing set in? Or, worse, will bosses start cracking down on employees who dare to acknowledge the existence of a service pack, a manager's resignation or a shift in strategy? Will Microsoft attempt to extend any kind of blogging/transparency crackdown to its Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs), featured communities and other constituencies, claiming that it's for everyone's best? I've heard and seen things that lead me to believe these things are already starting to happen.

I'd argue that corporate transparency -- just like the idea of "giving away" news for free on the Web -- is one of those concepts that turns accepted thinking on its head, but ends up being the right and logical choice.

What do you think? Is Microsoft's transparency campaign destined to be a short-lived experiment that will gradually fade away?

Topics: Microsoft

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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