Mary-Jo Foley, whose articles I only read when other people direct me to them, has a new speculative blog entry, musing about whether Microsoft will continue down the track of openness and transparency, now that a few champions of openness – okay, Jim Allchin and Robert Scoble - have left the company.
[What brought this on is the current issue of Wired magazine, and its cover article on transparency, with a cover photo that cleverly features transparency. My wife wants to know whether Wired will be putting John Krasinski on the cover any time soon.]
In Mary-Jo’s post, she rambles about how wonderful it is that Microsoft has become open, and then treads into pure fantasy, to ask “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 thought Mary-Jo was supposed to be clued-in on everything Microsoft.
First, let’s address the “featured communities and other constituencies” – clearly, Microsoft provides the current venue for many of these communities and constituencies. Sure, Microsoft could say “you either post nice stuff about us, or we close down your access”. But Microsoft knows, or at least, those concerned with community at Microsoft know, that when you start putting the squeeze on a community, like a toothpaste tube, all that happens is that all the toothpaste comes out of the tube, and makes more of a mess elsewhere.
In the case of communities of Microsoft users, that “elsewhere” would very quickly pop up in Usenet, other web sites and fora, and would garner visitors purely on the basis of being an independent voice. This has happened already to several other companies who don’t manage their own communities, or who manage their own communities with an iron fist.
As for Microsoft restricting MVPs in that fashion, I think Mary-Jo’s lost it.
Microsoft provides exactly no blog space to MVPs. Something about maintaining our independence. The current MVP motto is “Independent Experts. Real World Answers.” [I think maybe that should be "Real Weird Answers" some days.] For anyone to believe Microsoft’s MVP programme is about Independent Experts, Microsoft really needs to make it clear that we get to say what we like as MVPs. To that end:
- The MVP award is retrospective – you get it for your previous year’s work. So, in a very real way, when you’re an MVP, you can say what you want and still be an MVP until the end of the year (my year ends on April 1, I hope I get re-awarded).
- The Microsoft criteria for MVPs says only that on balance, candidates should be neutral-to-positive towards Microsoft (I’m paraphrasing). Makes sense, really – someone who’s universally negative to you is unlikely to receive a “thank you” gift from you. But look at the MVPs – we even have MVPs whose primary source of income is supporting Linux systems; There are MVPs who don’t even use Windows! And you only have to peruse the blogs of MVPs to find plenty of comments where we’re taking Microsoft to task for things we believe are stupid.
- Last time a Microsoft employee told me to do something was … when I worked for Microsoft. Most of my communications from Microsoft as an MVP consist of “what can we do for you?”, whether it’s hosting mini-meetings at Microsoft-related events, or product group feedback.
So, yeah, I think Microsoft can crack down on the MVP blogs about as easily as the MVPs can crack down on Mary-Jo Foley’s blogs when she says these fanciful things.