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August 07, 2005

Response to the Response

There has been a fair bit of discussion on the Microsoft bloggers alias (which I was actually unaware of until Friday, when I got cc'ed on the whole email thread) about the recent "Vista virus" fire drill. Lee Holmes discussed it, as did Robert Scoble. (I've decided I should stop referring to him as "Scoble", last name only. It makes him sound like Scoble Inc., a company or an organization or some other faceless thing that you are anthropomorphizing, like when people say "Microsoft did this...". Or when people talk about celebrities having a dual nature, "Bono the star" and "Paul Hewson the real person". I want to avoid thinking about him as "Scoble the A-List Blogger" and start thinking about him as "Robert Scoble the person". Blogs are anonymous enough already, we can dispense with the extra baggage that an aura brings. He's an individual, I've met him, his name is Robert, I should use his name.)

Anyhoo...what the %$^#$ was I talking about...oh right, the virus dealie. Accusations of astro-turfing have been made, in regards to our response on Slashdot. Actually the accusations have only been made internally. I don't think anyone has publicly accused us of astro-turfing; I would assume most people approach a Slashdot post the way I do, with the skeptic-o-meter on maximum.

To me the key point about astro-turfing is that it is done in some official way. People are instructed to go pretend to be something they are not to try to influence a discussion. What Lee and I did was of our own volition. Neither of us hide the fact that we work at Microsoft, it is prominently displayed near the top of our blogs.

However, this incident did make me realize one somewhat amusing thing. When the story broke it never occurred to me to go contact our PR department internally to work on this. For one thing, I had no idea how to (I now know how to). But mainly it was that my instinctive reaction was to blog about it. It was the same with Steve Ballmer and the anti-discrimination bill. I could have responsed to it initially by sending Steve email, and I could have thanked him for changing his mind by sending email. But I didn't. In both cases I only blogged about it. In fact, right here, right now, with this blog post, I am abandoning an email discussion I am having with someone about this meta-issue, and instead blogging about it.

I don't know if overall this is good, bad, or indifferent. But I think that is the reason blogs are helping change the perception of Microsoft. People see what goes on inside the mind of a Microsoft person and that creates empathy. And from a PR point of view, you have to take the crunchy with the smooth. Blogs can't simultaneously be the independent view of non-borg-ified Microsoft employees, and also be required to hew to the official PR message. Because THAT would be astro-turfing.

UPDATE: Fixed the link to Lee's post after he changed the title.

Posted by AdamBa at August 7, 2005 11:06 PM

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Sorry, Adam -- I just introduced link rot to your blog, since I fixed the typo in my blog title :(

Posted by: Lee Holmes at August 7, 2005 11:59 PM

And sorry for including you both on that email thread - it just got wayyyyy out of control :)

Posted by: Jonathan Hardwick at August 8, 2005 12:11 AM

No one on the outside made any charge of astroturfing whatsoever. You guys need drama so badly, that you create your own PR blowups? Honestly. Astroturfing is not being honest, creating a false (or faux) impression of real grassroots, when it's really corporate directed.

Many many examples of Microsoft astroturfing -- the whole anti-Apache, anti-Linux FUD era, Fake Mac to PC ads (recall that?), and then the dead people writing the Utah Attorney General and all the fake Letters to the Editors and the Edelman Public Relations blow-out and the Tech Central Station slash DCI fallout. And forget not all the Gartner and IDC (and many others) "research papers" and tons of Forum and Usenet plants, and then the MVP program itself and all the Enthusiast junkets and all such similar group coordination, where it all looks like outside 'activity' to the naked eye.

But this wasn't one of them. You did well, even if the (mainstream and CIO) perception is that Monad is viral prone junk left out of Vista for that very reason.

Posted by: Christopher Coulter at August 8, 2005 02:34 AM