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
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
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.
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.
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.