Microsoft Vs. Bloggers In Accusations of MSN Spaces Censorship

I’ve been citing pieces of branding consultant james Torio‘s master’s thesis for some time now. But because the thesis is long, and I want to cite a few small pieces, and those pieces aren’t directly URL addressable, I’m quoting them here. Clickable URLs are added, but everything else should be exactly as Torio wrote it. (Also related: Why There’s No Escaping The Blog and MSN Spaces Isn’t The Blogging Service For Me.)

In December 2004, Microsoft announced that it would also get into the Blogging business by offering MSN Spaces, software, which would enable Internet users to create Blogs. The next day Xeni Jardin a co-editor of the Blog Boing Boing, wrote an article entitled “7 Dirty Blogs.” Jardin wrote about titles of Blogs she tried to create using MSN Spaces, and how the built-in censor in Microsoft’s software reacted.

She was able to create a Blog entitled “World of Poop” and “Educational Smoking Crack: A How-To Guide for Teens.” The software would not allow her to create a Blog called “Pornography and the Law” or “Corporate Whore Chronicles.” According to David Kirkpatrick and Daniel Roth, “Within the first hour of Jardin’s post, five Blogs had linked to it, including the site of the widely read San Jose Mercury News columnist, Dan Gillmor. By the end of the day, there were dozens of Blogs pointing readers to ‘7 Dirty Blogs,’ with a proliferation of links that over the next few weeks topped 300. There were Italian Blogs and Chinese Blogs and Blogs in Greek, German, and Portuguese. There were Blogs with names like Tie-Dyed Brain Waves, Stubborn Like a Mule, and LibertyBlog. Each added its own tweak. ‘Ooooh, that’s what I want: a Blog that doesn’t allow me to speak my mind,’ wrote a Blogger called Kung Pow Pig. The conversation had clearly gotten out of Microsoft’s hands.”

The man who came to Microsoft’s rescue was Robert Scoble. He is a software evangelist for Microsoft who writes a Blog called the ”Scobleizer.“ According to Kirkpatrick and Roth, ”When it came to the criticism emanating from Boing Boing, Scoble simply agreed. “MSN Spaces isn’t the Blogging service for me,” he wrote. Nobody at Microsoft asked Scoble to comment; he just did it on his own, adding that he would make sure that the team working on “Spaces” was aware of the complaints. And he kept revisiting the issue on his Blog. As the anti-Microsoft crowd cried “censorship,” the nearly 4,000 Blogs linking to Scoble were able to see his running commentary on how Microsoft was reacting. “I get comments on my Blog saying, ‘I didn’t like Microsoft before, but at least they’re listening to us,’The Blog is the best relationship generator you’ve ever seen.” His famous boss agrees. “It’s all about openness,” said Chairman Bill Gates of Microsoft’s public Blogs like Scobleizer. “People see them as a reflection of an open, communicative culture that isn’t afraid to be self-critical.”

The following is an entry from the Blog about Robert Scoble entitled “TROGGING: Trust + Blogging i.e. ‘Using Blogs to build trust and transparency.’”

It occurs to me that my opinion of Microsoft has risen considerably in the last year. Not that I ever belonged to the “Bill Gates is Satan” crowd. I never was into computers enough to really care whether a guy in Redmond wrote the code, or some guy in Toledo. The same way I don’t really care who made my telephone or my microwave, so long as it works. It’s not an area where I project a lot of myself in to.

Still, there is something quite monolithic about Microsoft, and one always keeps an eyebrow raised when something gets that big, quite rightly.

So what happened? A new product? Nope. I still use the same Windows 98 and creaky, old Dell as always. Great new advertising campaign? Nope. Not watching much TV these days. Bill Gates gave all his money to cancer research? Nope. Not seen that much mention of him in the media recently.

What happened in there’s this guy called Robert Scoble who has a blog that I’ve been reading a lot this last 6-9 months. Robert works for Microsoft. Mark seems like a smart, honest, regular guy who holds down a job, same as the rest of us. He just happens to work for Microsoft. Robert writes about his job and his company the same way I would if I worked for them and liked my job. Informal, informed, friendly, it gives real insight about his company where possible- he tries to be as open and insightful as he can without disclosing trade secrets.

It other words, he seems sane, reasonable, trustworthy, human and somebody who knows what he’s talking about. Which to me helps make Microsoft seem likewise.

One guy and his blog, doing more real good for his company than any multimillion dollar ad agency campaign could ever hope to achieve.

As somebody in the ad business, I find the implications staggering.

Long live Robert Scoble, King of the Troggers!

Microsoft felt the backlash from the Blogosphere, and to their credit they did not issue press releases or create new advertisements for damage control, rather a Blogger who was objective joined in on the conversation; he worked with Microsoft’s customers and listened to what they had to say: building Microsoft’s brand equity. Blogs can be effective because of their transparency. Readers comment, enabling a conversation rather than a company sending a one-way message.