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February 15, 2007

Bits vs. Paper

Microsoft used to have an internal newsletter called the Micronews. The first edition appeared on June 2, 1982, and for a long time it was a comforting presence in your mailslot. Then at some point they stopped putting it in your mailslot, and would simply leave them in a stack in the mailroom (which was fine). Eventually the dead-tree burden got too big, and the issue of November 5, 2004 was the final printed one. It turned into a website; but on Dec. 22 of last year the Micronews breathed its electronic last, as it was merged into the main internal Microsoft portal (I know some of these dates, incidentally, because of a nice retrospective site, complete with front-cover images throughout the decades, that is linked to from the FAQ for the new site; it includes a couple issues of the Microsnooze parody version, complete with the Stone Cold Steve Ballmer picture).

One feature of the Micronews that was extant at least by early 1990, when I joined, was classified ads. For a while they were called the "Unclassified Ads", because it was an unordered list of items; then it became the "Semi-Classified Ads", which were very loosely grouped into 5 or 6 categories (something like transportation, housing, furniture, etc).

As a convenience to employees, they started printing the classified ads in a separate insert, the idea being that the newsletter itself was for employees only, but you could bring the insert home. So for many families it was a ritual that every Friday after work they could look through the Micronews classifieds. There was an unspoken notion that since the items were for fellow employees you offered good deals, where "free if you haul it away" was a common price for items that had outlived their usefulness.

Anyway, at some point they transitioned the Micronews classified to an online site, and then last summer they moved them to the Windows Live Expo site. Expo allows communities, and a special "@microsoft.com" community was created for employees.

Since you can filter your listing view by community, you can achieve the same functionality as the old classifieds (and their online version). It's nice that it's online so you can search and all that, and I understand the value in dogfooding our public Expo site. You can even invite an external person to join the community, so your spouse can check the classifieds also. But the feel of the old classifieds is completely gone. The idea was NOT to be a savvy online shopper on the prowl for great deals; it was to scan through for the random junk that your co-workers were unloading and decide that hey, maybe you would take a flyer on a secondhand Costco trampoline.

Yet, I think there are people who totally don't get this, and can't imagine any way in which the old way was preferable to the new way. I also notice this in people who read books online, particularly on their PDAs. To me reading books in electronic form really has no advantages and significant disadvantages. But I think for some people the calculus looks something like:

  • Lousy contrast: -10
  • Small display: -5
  • Inconvenient navigation: -15
  • I'm reading a freakin' book on my freakin' phone!!!: +200

Well, I'll continue to read books on paper, and I miss the old Micronews classifieds.

Posted by AdamBa at February 15, 2007 10:19 PM

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A propos the last thing, one point you omitted was the possibility of searching for the first mention of Mr. McGillicuddy since here he is on page 300 and I can't recall his introduction near page 100 (+50), which may change the calculus some. That said, I have never read a book online, although I have short papers.

Posted by: marble chair at February 16, 2007 07:44 AM

I think you missed a bullet point: "I'm reading a book while I have a few minutes to kill, and I didn't have to carry it with me!"

I used to subscribe to Analog Magazine, but now I subscribe to the eBook version of it through fictionwise.com. I can download both a PDF version to read on my ThinkPad and a Microsoft Reader version for my Pocket PC, and a few other formats too.

The PDF version in particular is *easier* to read than the print version. My ThinkPad has a really good high density display (15" 1600x1200), and this is the kind of display where ClearType and Acrobat's CoolType really shine.

Of course, there is one drawback: I can't give the magazine to a friend when I'm done (not legally anyway - and since I'm grateful that the magazine comes without any DRM, I respect that).

Ah, life is full of tradeoffs!

Posted by: Michael Geary at February 16, 2007 09:07 AM

Oh man. Where is my Microsoft Reader on my shiny new Verizon PN-820 Smartphone?

What are they trying to do, prove that Reader isn't part of the operating system?

Oh well, it looks like there's Tiny eBook Reader or Mobipocket Reader. It looks like they will both work with my Fictionwise multiformat stuff. I wonder which is better?

Posted by: Michael Geary at February 16, 2007 05:43 PM

When your eyes are as bad as mine (need magnifier to read anything), the calculus shifts a lot, and I say this being one who read dead-tree books constantly.

Take care,


Posted by: David Moisan at February 17, 2007 05:04 AM

It's certainly useful to have the text of a book available online and searchable; but I still would rather do my basic reading from a printed book. Then again I do have good eyesight etc.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at February 17, 2007 10:00 PM

It seems to me that microsofties and their families have not taken to the expo website at all. In the past my ads on micronews would get some response, but putting them on expo is a waste of time.

I gave up on expo and put something up on craigslist, and the interest from serious buyers was just amazing.

Posted by: Sid Singh at February 20, 2007 10:29 AM

I was in a presentation to a big audience yesterday where somebody asked "How many of you still get your news from a printed newspaper you subscribe to", almost like it would be silly to do such a thing, and only a handful of people raised their hands. To me this seems like an issue, that we are so different from our customers. Then again maybe I'm a dinosaur.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at February 21, 2007 07:04 AM