Every Man His Own Pundit

Can blogs be reliable sources of information? As is always the case, don't believe everything you read on the Internet.

At the turn of the last century, great-grandfather Pea was making a decent living as a hostler. Since the word is obscure, I should remind you that a hostler was the person who took care of the horses at an inn. Great-grandpa felt comfortable in his work and was looking forward to many years of quality horse care. Then Henry Ford started shipping those danged noisy tin cans. It was all downhill from there.

Auntie is starting to feel much the same way about her profession of pundit. Sure, it's been a great run, writing about computerata and sundry associated topics for the last decade or so. But there's this awful innovation that's making us obsolete. I refer, of course, to the horridly fast rise of the terribly non-euphonious blog.

Take the column I write for this very magazine. I've devoted myself to reading the Microsoft tea leaves on your behalf, trying to figure out the next move we should expect from the behemoth of Redmond. But now, you just need to hop over to http://www.microsoft.com/communities/blogs/PortalHome.mspx to find over 400 people who work at Microsoft and who spill their thoughts and plans across the virtual printed page on a regular basis.

Sure, some of the contents of any blog, even one from inside the "Big House" (as those in the know are calling it these days) are utterly trivial. Births, camping trips (why does every Softie go camping for their vacation?), city council meetings, and discussions of blogging software are the detritus of every blog, not just those from Microsoft folks. But you'll also find announcements of new product releases, requests for feedback on coming features, dissections of past bugs, and even hints of competitive positioning in these blogs.

Beyond leaking information, blogs appear to be changing Microsoft's culture in other ways. Over the last few years, Microsoft has hired a number of prominent "rock star" bloggers (like Don Box, Chris Sells, and Robert Scoble) to develop or evangelize Microsoft products, and their online efforts have remained an important part of their jobs. Meanwhile, related projects like Channel9 http://channel9.msdn.com/ are helping promote a new level of corporate transparency for Softies.

So where does this leave the professional pundit? Why should you listen to my opinions on SharePoint Portal Server when you can hop over to the Microsoft site and read what dozens of people from the SharePoint team have to say themselves? Who cares about my perception of Microsoft hiring when a pair of prolific recruiters are dissecting the process from the inside out?
Well, for starters, you probably don't have time to read 400 blogs. Auntie doesn't either, even with the help of good RSS software, but she can certainly skim headlines and pick out interesting topics to follow up. As the blog explosion continues (and it shows no sign of stopping), this sort of filtering service will become more and more useful to you, my loyal readers.

IT Blogs

Besides the links to blogs in the article, by visiting the following links you'll find even more IT-related blogs than you can shake a mouse at:

 


Then there's the FUD factor. Now, far be it from this cynical gal to accuse Microsoft of pushing fear, uncertainty, and doubt at prospective customers in the past. But there are plenty of folks who swear that such things have happened. As yet, to their credit, there's no real sign (beyond some boilerplate disclaimer language) that anyone in the legal or corporate management portions of Microsoft are taking notice of blogs. But the possibilities are definitely there. Imagine fifty different Microsoft bloggers writing about a coming feature that they know will be cut from the product, just to prevent customers from switching to a competing vendor. The best way to avoid such scenarios is to have independent analysts take blogging into account, along with all the other channels of information.

Still, it's clear that you can get more information directly from Microsoft than ever before and that blogs are an important way for this information to spread. The savvy sysadmin or developer will spend some time to identify key blogs in her own area, and keep an eye on them-and then depend on folks like dear old Auntie to monitor the rest. At least, that's the way that I think it should be.

Just in case, would anyone care to hire a hostler?

Do you trust Microsoft's blogs for the straight dope? Or are you so cynical that you just assume it's all spin? Drop a line to Auntie@mcpmag.com and get the chance to win an MCPmag.com hat. The best comments will be published in a future online column.

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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