Ex-Microsoft blogger starts on a new media adventure

Ex-Microsoft blogger starts on a new media adventure

By Michelle Quinn

If the public perception of Microsoft has softened recently, Robert Scoble may be partially responsible.

Over the past three years, Scoble has gained fame as the “Microsoft blogger,'' a Microsoft employee writing online about Microsoft and its products. His persona is non-defensive and engaging, an online bedside manner he says he learned dealing with angry customers when he worked at a camera store in San Jose.

Some of what Scoble did was considered radical at the time for someone writing about the company he was drawing a paycheck from. He linked to critics' blogs and invited customers to come up with ideas about how to best fix problems with Microsoft products. In 2004, he launched Channel 9, a Microsoft online forum that airs video interviews with Microsoft employees.

 

His blog www.scobleizer .wordpress.com ranges from geeky discussions about new software or high-definition television to musings about life with his wife, Maryam Ghaemmaghami, and son Patrick, from a previous marriage. (Both also blog). But the Scobleizer, as he is known, isn't all tech, all the time. Scoble took readers through his mother's illness and death and endured their snide comments when he complained about how much he made at Microsoft (under $100,000).

In June, Scoble left Microsoft to join PodTech.net, a start-up that creates programming for iPods and other portable video and audio devices (PodTech must be paying Scoble a bit more — the start-up also hired Maryam — because the couple sold their Seattle home for about $440,000 and bought one in Half Moon Bay for $900,000, according to his blog).

The decision to leave Microsoft was first reported on a blog, of course, before Scoble told the company. It has led other bloggers to ask: Will anyone care about Scoble anymore if he's not working at Microsoft?

The co-author of “Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers,'' Scoble sat down with the Mercury News at PodTech.net's offices at US Venture Partners on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park. This is an edited version of that interview.

Q Why did you leave Microsoft to work at a start-up?

A I began to notice some trends. Geekbrief.tv. started last December and has 2 million unique visitors a month. Then Microsoft came out with a new portable video player, and with other video players people are going to be hungry for new content. I saw a business opportunity. The viewing patterns are changing. We want to interact. Something is changing in media consumption behavior. I wanted to explore that more and be part of the new kind of media being built.

Q Ford has started a blog, as have other corporations. Are corporate blogs something trendy or is something changing?

A Companies realize the power of the word-of-mouth network that is out there. A kid in Australia with five readers can get in the New York Times in a few days. Look how my news of leaving Microsoft got out. I told 15 people at a blogger conference and one of them wrote about it. Within an hour, it was on 500 blogs. Then I was in the mainstream media. The word-of-mouth network is so efficient now. Now you go on a photo forum and ask where should I buy a camera and you get 1,000 responses from around the world.

Q What did your experience at Microsoft show you?

A We were tired of committee-based marketing. Here we were having real conversations with people. On the first day we started Channel 9, the public relations people tried to shut it down. But they couldn't because 100,000 people showed up. That was three years ago. Now it has 4.3 million unique visitors a month as of two months ago.

Q But won't it be dispiriting if all this blogging is really about selling things or talking about consumer products? If this “word-of-mouth world,'' as you call it, is about spreading information about Ford Escorts.

A It can work against companies as well.

Q How do you sort the hype from reality in this current wave of Internet companies?

A I look for doubling effects. I look for things that continue to see doubling in size. The instant messenger ICQ launched in 1996. By the time I signed up, six weeks later, they had 65,000 downloads. Back then the word-of-mouth network wasn't so efficient.

My skepticism right now is about how many Web 2.0 Web sites have audiences. The one site people outside the geek world talk to me about is Zillow (which gives real estate price estimates). It's easy to get doubling effects inside a passion chamber — all the people who care about something will check it out. It's hard to have it double forever. The trick is to know if it has a chance to jump from the passionate few to the unpassionate many.

Q How do you respond to critics who say you are getting boring now that you left Microsoft?

A I don't have the Microsoft crutch to hang on anymore. To have access where no one else had access is great. It is really easy. Now that I'm on the outside, I have to do more reporting work. But I don't let people get to me. I think that's why I survived at Microsoft. I try to learn from criticism.

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