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Microsoft and Radical Transparency: It Goes Back to the MVPs

Jeff Sanquist has a great post about the Wired Magazine Article on Channel 9.

the story has finally shipped in the magazine and is also available online.  There are a number of gems in this piece that talk about the traffic growth of Channel 9, the explosion of employee blogs at Microsoft and how it began.  Unfortunately though attempts to invent tension that really wasn’t there.   Transparency did take a huge leap forward via Channel 9 and blogging, but that is not where it all began, it had already started.  Transparency is something that has been happening at Microsoft for a long time.  Much of this work actually began all the way back on CompuServe forums where our employees began answering questions.   Since then folks at Microsoft have been connecting with customers in any way they can.  Employees have done so online, at our conferences, over lunch, through newsgroups, forums and today via blogs.

[via Jeff Sandquist]

I absolutely LOVE this acknowledgement of the origins of Microsoft’s transparency. There is a lot of talk about how blogs started Microsoft’s transparency, but the fact is that there were semblances of transparency going back quite awhile. I say “semblances” because the employees were not doing as much of the answering on the CompuServe forums as a small, dedicated group was doing. This small and dedicated group answered tough technical questions and began to serve as a front line of support… this small group became the original Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs). The MVPs were the conduit to Microsoft, they provided much of the human face of Microsoft. And the MVPs did not work for Microsoft.

I was one of the first bloggers to join, which consisted mainly of bloggers that were not Microsoft employees (I was not a Microsoft employee at the time). This was a great new site developed by Scott Watermasysk that was known as “.Text” (which later was subsumed into Community Server). When more and more Microsoft bloggers began to join that site, there was quite a pushback from a vocal few about whether should remain community-driven or should include Microsoft employees. Humorously, there was a debate about the amount of chatter on “the main feed” (the concept of aggregation and subscription-based reading still had not sunk in to everyone). The solution was to provide 2 feeds from the main site: Microsoft bloggers and non-Microsoft bloggers. This was then made more evident through moving the Microsoft bloggers to and keeping the community on Many of the bloggers on were recognized later with MVP awards for using it as another channel to engage the community… even when they weren’t acting as “yes men” and would say when something needed to be fixed or was just plain broken.

There were other avenues where Microsoft employees participated in the community, such as the Microsoft newsgroups and the ASP.NET forums. In fact, after the CompuServe days, participation in newsgroups was how MVPs were awarded. This didn’t provide “transparency” per se, but it did provide some interaction to Microsoft and let you see that there actually were humans on the other side of the wire.

Jeff calls out that Channel9 is not where it all began and that it had already started. I am glad he calls that out because you would get that impression from reading different blogs that discuss the “Radical Transparency” meme and the Wired article. No, Channel9 started after there was already a significant amount of blogging activity. However, you have to admit that Channel9 provided a huge and much-needed transparency boost. No, Channel9 did not start Microsoft’s transparent blogging efforts… Joshua Allen (Microsoft’s first blogger) started Microsoft’s transparent blogging efforts. He paved the way through the legal department, suffered pressure from many different directions within Microsoft… and still continued writing even when what he had to say wasn’t popular within the company. It should also be noted that Dare Obasanjo helped push that envelope with a blog that included a very realistic look into Microsoft’s inner workings (which he started even before he joined Microsoft). Long before Scoble joined (and subsequently left) Microsoft, there was already a movement for people to share their voice.

Thanks, Jeff, for recognizing the origins of transparency and acknowledging the early work of others. And thanks for creating Channel9… it was sorely needed.

Update: fixed some odd formatting errors and funky link stuff that my blog editor seems to have created.