I had a wonderful conversation with Robert Scoble today who is a technical evangelist at Microsoft but who has also been called the Chief Blogging Officer. He says this isn't his official title but Wikipedia disagrees with him.
Our talk covered blogging of course, but we also talked a lot about Microsoft and how it’s changing in relation to this new Web 2.0 world we’re entering. One thing that really struck me is that Robert was a smart, nice guy who really just told it like it is (to the extent of not being boneheaded since he does work for Microsoft). He’s willing to say things that aren’t exactly the party line, like Microsoft came late to the web services party and that he is worried about the Open Source threat.
I’ve got highlights below and here’s the link to the audio. The timeline is at the end of the post.
How do you make the move to Microsoft? How did you convince them to embrace blogging?
Robert - “Ballmer said - I couldn’t stop it [blogging] anyways. They already had 80-100 bloggers when I got there. I just added fuel to the fire by bringing in an irreverent style of blogging… I told Bill Gates to split up the company.”
Even though I know that this is the case that Microsoft has a liberal blogging policy I’m still amazed by this. They really do get that there’s no point in trying to stop your folks from talking to the world. They’re doing it anyways. You can drive it underground or you can embrace and encourage it.
How do you know you’re being successful? Is it unique visitors?
Robert - “I hate that measure… I put up the video of the MSN Search team and Danny Sullivan and John Batelle linked to it. That to me means I’m more successful because those are the two guys in the industry who are the Search experts and the Community experts who are watching the Search world. Getting those two guys to say this is a good video means a lot to me… It brings very very focused traffic.”
Chris - “Good readers is more important to you than a lot of readers?”
Robert - “Yes, absolutely”
Chris - "How do you know if you’re getting good readers?"
Robert – “They tell me. …When you start getting email from Steve Jobs, from venture capitalists, from Dan Gilmour… if you’re getting interesting feedback… from people who are doing stuff that you look up to… that counts for a lot.”
Ultimately it’s being credible and well thought of in the community that drives traffic to you. Robert is well respected because he understands that and feeds off of that. Oh he also mentioned he did a little search engine optimization and that didn’t hurt.
Is there a marketing guy who tells you what to blog about?
Robert – “No. Part of the thing about Microsoft is hire smart people and let them do their job. We don’t have a blogging policy. We have a policy that says be smart”
Again, it looks like Microsoft totally understands the whole Cluetrain phenomena and knows to trust it’s people.
What’s the most uncomfortable moment you’ve had at Microsoft in regards to your blog or Channel 9?
Robert – “When I do stuff like tell people they should be fired for not having RSS Feeds, that caused a backlash… It’s not nice to tell someone they should be fired especially when they’re on your team… If you’re going to write in a way that you’re taking on the machine or a political system, you better do it with an end goal and a reason in mind, you better be willing to pay the consequences.”
One well known fact in the Valley – if you’re a startup don’t use the Microsoft stuff use the Open Source stuff. Is Microsoft worried?
Robert – “Yeah – I’m worried… They do [get that]… On Nov. 7 we are releasing Visual Studio and SQL Server Express Editions. Very low cost editions for hobbyists and entrepreneurs to get into the system without paying a price. This is direct reaction to feedback from entrepreneurs who say I’m a college kids and I want to start a business. I can’t afford to start it when you charge me a $1000.”
While this is great, I don’t think this is enough. The reality is that with open
source software that the stuff is cheap and stays cheap over time. The fact
that the open source solutions scale now should scare the heck out of Microsoft. I haven't seen an example of a startup using Microsoft stuff in a serious way.
Now that Google and Yahoo are pushing APIs and web services, is that a worry for you guys?
Robert – “Absolutely, I worry about that all the time. Virtual Earth has APIs, MSN Messenger now has APIs. They never had APIs before.”
This is another proof point for why I'm such a big believer in free markets. The competition has forced Microsoft's hand and is making life better for everyone.
How does Microsoft feel about their data being used alongside Google functionality? Are you ok with that?
Robert – “Yes. If you’re going to be a platform player you have to be comfortable with other people being rich on top of your platform.”
It struck me that Robert's answer and Toni Schneider at Yahoo's answer were very similar. I think everyone realizes that you have to let your APIs be used in ways that you might not expect and which may be uncomfortable.
It struck me that Robert's answer and Toni Schneider at Yahoo's answer were very similar. I think everyone realizes that you have to let your APIs be used in ways that you might not expect and which may be uncomfortable.Why aren’t we seeing more mashups of Microsoft APIs?
Robert – “It’s not as sexy to say we built something on Microsoft, also we came in a little bit late… you’re struggling to get back the mojo”
What do you think about the fact that Google is being viewed as evil?
Robert – “Welcome to the club… There’s a cultural thing going on where when you’re the Yankees you’re hated… Google hasn’t figure out how to put a human face to their company yet… They’re trying to do big things and when you try to do big things you piss people off”
What does the future hold for you?
Robert – “I’m having a ball, I don’t want to mess that up… I get to see the inside of a big company in a way that very few people get to do… How many people really get to go across Microsoft and go see 500 people. Bill does, Steve Ballmer does…I don’t know where it goes from here. It’s already exceeded the dreams I ever had.”
0:20 How did you make the move to Microsoft?
1:12 You didn’t ask for permission blog?
2:22 What is your job description?
3:44 How do you know you’re being successful?
5:45 How do you know if you’re getting good readers?
6:24 Is there a marketing guy who tells you what to blog about?
7:11 What’s the most uncomfortable moment you’ve had at Microsoft in regards to your blog or Channel 9?
9:41 Is there a secret agenda behind your blog?
10:32 Why does it take so long for Microsoft to get software out there?
14:30 Do you think Google wind up in the same position over time?
16:11 One well known fact in the Valley – if you’re a startup don’t use the Microsoft stuff use the Open Source stuff. Is Microsoft worried?
18:28 Now that Google and Yahoo are pushing APIs and web services, is that a worry for you guys?
19:20 How does Microsoft feel about their data being used alongside Google functionality?
20:15 Why aren’t we seeing more mashups of Microsoft APIs?
20:54 What do you think about the fact that Google is being viewed as evil?
23:09 What does the future hold for you?
25:54 If you were me what question would you be asking?