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

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.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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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?

Topic: Microsoft

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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15 comments
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  • I have concluded there is a new monopoly strategy afoot

    and therefore, less transparency is likely over the next few years. I hope I am wrong, but you may have noticed the change in Bill Gates focus (he is still in charge) on owning the living room. This is a huge change in strategy for Microsoft that if taken to its logical conclusion will make Microsoft an Apple+games clone+all hardware partners(HP, Dell, etc.,)+something completely new in the broadcasting arena. This new business model will make the current OS monopoly pale in comparison to its power and size.

    Microsoft in its traditional paranoid business model is afraid that the OS and traditional monopoly is going away (i.e., EU hexes and Google/Linux threats), and it sees itself as a manufacturer of commodities in its OS business.

    The new strategy seems to be, move on to something else. And knowing Gates and Balmer as the leveraged business strategy kings, I think he sees solution to the problem of loss of OS (and intentional crippling of their OS via DRM) as an opportunity in disguise. And he sees this opportunity with the single statement `we will own the living room'. You may not be aware of a little publicized effort to get FCC approval to use the white space bandwidths in the unused television broadcasting spectrum. MS in partnership with a few other players is trying to develop a new high speed internet capability that can be broadcast over the airwaves. J

    ust think about that a minute and realize that the transparency of MS is about to submerge until the new strategy is firmly in place, enough time so none of us will know what hit us until it is too late. All this shift in strategy will drive a significant effort toward confidentiality and proprietary efforts.
    WinnebagoBoy
    • Interesting idea, but communication monopolies get busted too

      Consider at AT&T
      YinToYourYang-22527499
      • Microsoft has grown wise to the legal dangers of Monopoly

        Here is a link to a news feed on the `coalition' which includes Google and Dell as well as Microsoft.

        http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/070327/fcc_internet_device.html?.v=1

        The difference is MS has a head start in technology and experience and is not afraid to leverage whatever it takes to garner business. I doubt they would get nailed this time even if they end up with 90% of the business.

        You cannot underestimate the marketing and shrewd savvy of MS to garner market share.
        WinnebagoBoy
    • The wages of transparency

      I think MS is becoming less transparent because they've figured out that the reward for transparency is being trounced by reporters like yourself more than willing to exploit any information garnered in that way to negatively sensationalize their reporting to attract traffic to their stories. Everyone loves to hate the establishment. Back when MS was the revolution against the establishment of the mainframe-think IT departments and the IBM's of the world, transparency worked for them. Now that they are the establishment, it works against them. It's to be expected.
      jcg_z
      • Using blogs to "trounce" Microsoft

        I guess one person's "trouncing" is another person's substantiation.

        I provide links to Microsoft blogs to give my posts more authority and relevance. I, for one, prefer knowing where my information is coming from...
        Mary Jo Foley
  • I thought transparency was forced by the DOJ

    Why would MS be transparent, unless it were the less bitter of the pills to take.

    I think if MS were left unwatched, they wouldn't remain transparent.

    The problem is of course, can we believe everything we read from the venues MS
    controls? I don't think anyone should be so naive to think they can.
    YinToYourYang-22527499
    • um, no...

      The DOJ has nothing to do with why Microsoft is trying to be more transparent. Its an attempt by the company to seem more approachable to break this perception that it is just one big BORG-like monolith.

      The strategy seems to be working pretty well and frankly MJF, contrary to what ever BS you dreamed up about new management squashing it, I don't see it stopping because I'm finding more and more MS bloggers showing up online every week.

      I've also heard that MS has more bloggers than any other company on the planet. Compare that to Apple or whomever you admire in the tech space. Heck, I think its a firing offense to talk about anthing at Apple unless Steve Jobs approves it personally.
      BFD
      • depends on how MS cynical one is

        The thought did occur to me that both of you are correct in that transparency is required cost of doing business in a web 2.0 world where the super transparent and fun google and the Ozzies of the world spin the altruistic.

        I tend to look at it more as a ruse for the original thesis I proposed in post #1 of this blog, with the caviat that MS will take it if it helps them. And why wouldn't they?
        WinnebagoBoy
      • MS Bloggers: Quality vs. Quantity

        There actually is one thing that the DOJ forced Microsoft to do on the transparency front: It required Microsoft to publish the OEM price list for Windows so that it could no longer use price as a carrot/stick in negotiations with its PC "partners."

        Re: Number of Microsoft bloggers. Yes, Microsoft does have more than 4,000 bloggers, making it one of the biggest blogging houses in the tech world. That is admirable. But look at some of these blogs. Some are really great and useful. Some are nothing but a place for posters to one-up each other with "sanctioned" links.

        Try this. Check out the Shell Revealed blog (http://shellrevealed.com/blogs/default.aspx), which is "the blog of the Windows client team." Look at some of the earlier posts from last year, where contributors to this blog wrote about useful things like the status of Windows Live "Casino." Now look at the more recent posts on that blog. They are more like how-to links. Coincidence? I am doubtful.
        Mary Jo Foley
        • Sure

          Absolutely the DOJ enjoined MS to provide transparency on things like OEM pricing. I was referring specifically to blogging overall from the gentleman's post above.

          And I'm sure that for a journalist that blog post you cited may not be interesting, but that does necessarily not mean that the post is not useful. For the people using the products it might be.

          Plus, why should the blogs be used to provide every single detail on every single strategy? Keeping a lid on confidential information is simply being smart, even if it makes being a journalist a little bit harder anyway :)
          BFD
  • I hope transparency remains

    and I think it will. and it will grow...else some of the smart people are likely to move. but with 4500 blogggers and more by the day, can transparency really go away?
    stevecla
  • Blog on MVPs...Blog on!!

    As the guy at Microsoft with overall responsibility for the MVP Award program (www.microsoft.com/mvp), I guess it is reasonable that I add my 2 cents here. In fact, I've blogged quite a bit on corporate transparency on my personal blog(www.communitygrouptherapy.com if anyone wants to read more). The very notion of a blogging/transparency "crackdown" on MVPs is an oxymoron. MVPs are independent (and proudly so) of Microsoft - their independent perspectives/opinions are what make them valuable to the communities they are so present in. To me, your suggestion strikes me as an idea around trying to control a community. I've said before, there is an inverse relationship between effort extended trying to control a community and your ability to control. So, as far as I'm concerned with the MVP program, I get to be the spokesperson...so, nothing could be further from accurate. Blog on fellow blogging MVPs!!! Thanks MJ for raising the discussion, I'm a huge proponent of transparency and proud of what both Microsoft has done in this area and what I stand for relative to the MVP program.

    Sean
    seanod@...
    • Blog on SeanO

      And he's not kidding. As "over my dead body" as I am about the need and requirement for MVPs to be independent.. SeanO inspires me to ensure that line in the sand is very exact and straight.
      Bitzie
  • MVPs should speak up

    As an MVP, anything Microsoft does to quiet my opinion will only hurt Microsoft. I blogged about it here http://www.craigberntson.com/blog/2007/03/microsoft-to-clamp-down-on-mvp-bloggers.asp
    craig@...
  • The owner of the blog site at www.msmvps.com would like you to know ...

    In your posting you hint that Microsoft may impact the blogging that MVPs do. This would be near impossible Mary Jo on the blogging site of www.msmvps.com, given that Microsoft doesn't own the domain, pay for the server, nor the hosting of that web site.

    Look up the registrar of the site. Vlad Mazek of Ownwebnow.com is a friend of the site as well and helps out..but to say that Microsoft controls the content on the msmvps.com blogging site?

    No way. It's commercial free and Microsoft non sponsored for the very reason to maintain the MVP independence and integrity.

    To sum it up?

    Over my dead body.
    Bitzie