New trends at Microsoft: Blogging, RSS and Channel 9

A conversation with Robert Scoble, technical evangelist for the Windows platform.

Some folks are saying Robert Scoble is doing more for opening the door to Microsoft than any other guy. He blogs prodigiously at his Scobilizer site at scoble.web-logs.com, giving all who visit an inside view of the huge software company to the north.

He took a moment away from his day job at Microsoft as a technical evangelist for the Windows platform team and his off-work passion writing his Scobilizer blog to share his thoughts about all things Microsoft – from RSS to Longhorn to his Microsoft team’s new venture called Channel 9, a streaming video project to let us look into the cockpit, so to speak, and how Microsoft is using blogs to better communicate with the rest of us.

Q: What do you do at Microsoft besides blog all day long?

Scoble: Actually, I only blog at night. The blog is a hobby. I’m an evangelist here on the Windows platform team. We’re building demos for Bill Gates to show off at PDC (Professional Developers Conference). We work with software partners like Adobe, AOL and Macromedia to build software for Longhorn so when Bill Gates announces that Longhorn is shipping, there is a pile of software behind it. Can you imagine if you had a platform that shipped that didn’t have any software on it?

Q: Is there a publicly viewable Web space for your team?

Scoble: There will be. Our team is building something called Channel 9, which is trying to give people a view into Microsoft that they haven’t had before.

Channel 9 is the channel on United Airlines where you can listen to the cockpit. The head of our group was really freaked out about flying. One day it got so bad that his company got a pilot from United Airlines to take him up and answer all his questions. It really helped him because he saw how the thing worked and saw that somebody intelligent was up front. They said if you ever got freaked out to listen to Channel 9 and you can hear what the cockpit is doing.

That’s what we’re trying to do now – taking handheld video cameras and going around and interviewing people who are working on technologies here.

Q: Will this be a streaming video on the Microsoft Web site?

Scoble: Yes.You’ll be able to watch the video interviews we’ve done.
There will also be some sort of blogging kind of thing where we can talk about what we’re doing. There is a forum area where people can talk back. Now that we’re going around to each of the teams and interviewing interesting people, you’ll be able to talk back to this person.

Q: Is this a spin-off from all the blogging success Microsoft has had?

Scoble: A bit.We’re trying to figure out how people relate to the company in a new way because when you’re down in Silicon Valley or elsewhere and you see Microsoft, it looks like a big black box that has two guys running it at the top. You have no idea how it works.

It comes toward you sometimes and that scares you, then it goes away. We want to give people a sense of how it works and give them some way to talk to it because there are 55,000 people working here now and they are all working on interesting things.

I find that when you get a human connection, the product gets better because now you are able to talk in a normal way to a human being who is actually working on the product. You get to see what they’re working on and how they think – and see that it’s not evil!

Q: When you first started blogging, did you have any conflicts with the Microsoft executives or the PR department for being so public and open with what’s going on inside the company?

Scoble: No. I had an advantage because I was blogging pretty openly outside. I was invited to come to Microsoft because of how I talked in the outside world. They’ve left me alone pretty much. I can do whatever I want – with some exceptions. I’ve been in the Microsoft world for 10 years, so I know what bothers the people here. I know I’m not allowed to put up schedules of Longhorn or set expectations that might not be met later. It’s not that I’m not allowed to – but I just don’t want to make people mad or I’ll have to deal with 10 execs coming up and asking why I wrote that.

Q: What’s on your blog’s front page now?

Scoble: I’m passionate about all technology. RSS has changed my life. I read now 14,000 different weblogs and web sites every day. There is a little trick. With RSS, you only have to read what has been updated. If you read in the actual Web browser and you want to get the same information I got, you need to visit each of those 14,000 sites. That’s impossible. If the average page loads time is 8 seconds that comes out to about three hours just loading the pages. In a 24-hour period, only about 20 percent of those sites will have actually published anything. I’m only reading 300-400 sites each night using RSS. Right there, that’s ten times productivity increase.

Q: What is the buzz around Microsoft about integrating some kind of RSS reader into a Microsoft software application?

Scoble: There is some. I didn’t realize how Microsoft works before I got here. When Bill Gates wrote that memo and said the company was an Internet company now, it seemed the whole company just turned on a dime. But what really goes on is it’s an ant hill. The ants are out there looking for food or interesting ideas.

So now RSS is being noticed. All these teams of people are checking out RSS, learning about what it does well and they are thinking about how they can use it. Maybe after six months people will write specs and some ideas.
I am seeing some work internally done but I’m just not allowed to talk about it yet because I’ve learned to not talk about things before the execs talk about it. I mean, you just gotta let Bill take credit for it! (laughs)

The full audio interview with Robert Scoble will air on KLAY 1180 AM at 11 a.m. Saturday and is available at WebTalkRadio.com.

Dana Greenlee is co-host/producer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.

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