Scoble to Gates Misses the Point

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Robert Scoble – a Microsoft evangelist/blogger/etc – was asked if he had anything to highlight for Bill Gates’ radar screen. He responded in part with the following (link):

I told him to understand the content-creation trend that’s going on. It’s not just pod-casting. It’s not just blogging. It’s not just people using Garageband to create music. It’s not just people who soon will be using Photostory to create, well, stories with their pictures, voice, and music. It’s not just about ArtRage’ers who are painting beautiful artwork on their Tablet PCs. It’s not just the guys who are building weblog technology for Tablet PCs. Or for cell phones. Or for camera phones.

This is a major trend. Microsoft should get behind it. Bigtime. Humans want to create things. We want to send them to our friends and family. We want to be famous to 15 people. We want to share our lives with our video camcorders and our digital cameras. Get into Flickr, for instance. Ask yourself, why is Sharepoint taking off? (Tim O’Reilly told us that book sales of Sharepoint are growing faster than almost any other product). It’s the urge to create content. To tell our coworkers our ideas. To tell Bill Gates how to run his company! Isn’t this all wild?

I agree with pretty much everything in there, except for perhaps the Sharepoint comments. James has been all over the content producing meme for a while now, and I’ve been talking ad nauseam about the power of the network. So we’re all aligned there. More than that, we’re in violent agreement. What’s the problem then?

Well, as always, the Reg says it best: Love DRM or my family starves: why Steve Ballmer doesn’t Get It.

As that article points out, Microsoft does appear to be far more wedded to the platform than they should be – Lettice’s term is “PC religion”, but its devotion to DRM is the real killer. As much as Microsoft might argue it’s a separate issue – they’re not talking about DRMing your family photos (except if you want to), only paid content sources – DRM and content are inextricably linked. It’s tough to ask consumers to distinguish Microsoft’s behavior and commentary in music from its positions on photo sharing or blogging. Ballmer therefore did Microsoft a great disservice with his characterization of iPod users as thieves (and to give him credit, Scoble did gingerly take him to task here). Why would any iPod user rush out to hear what Microsoft has to say on sharing and publishing content, when the organization regards them as a thief?

Overall, the damage from Ballmer’s words, while repairable, is symptomatic of a larger problem. Ballmer and Microsoft can remedy that gaffe, but the underlying institutional mindset of DRM as the future that likely spawned the comments – born from their own deeply held beliefs on copyrights and IP – simply does not mesh with most consumer beliefs today. Microsoft as an organization often appears far more aligned with big media than with consumers, and that’s not a helpful position to be in when you’re attempting to court the latter.

There’s also the platform questions [1], but it’s the ongoing notion that DRM’s tight control is good for users that is the fatal flaw. It’s not, as Cory brilliantly points out here. So whatever Microsoft’s efforts are in this space, they’re likely to be shackled by the religion of DRM, the culture of control.

Scoble’s right – the future is about publishing and producing. But it’s also about letting go, understanding that open != stealing. That the Commons is important. That sometimes you have to give to get. These are the lessons that are difficult to grok. The technical side, whether it’s RSS, podcasting, blogs, photo sharing, etc, are trivial to Microsoft. I have absolutely no doubt that Microsoft can develop (or acquire) the widgets it needs. But delivering the functionality in such a way that does not treat its customers as born criminals? Ah, that’s the trick.

So if I was going to put something in Bill’s radar, it’d be Cory’s piece, and any of Lessig’s works. If they can internalize those lessons, then I’d be a believer. Until then, count me in the skeptic’s camp.

Scoble’s a sharp guy, and I suspect that he knows much of this already, but has chosen to limit himself to suggestions that are actually actionable in the context of Microsoft’s beliefs. That may be the wise course of action for Scoble the person, but I can’t see how it’ll do Microsoft the organization much good.

[1] I have trouble seeing this experience as a typical case, and I’m pretty geeky. If anything, I think a wifi laptop/TV/networked Tivo combination is far superior, at least until large scale LCDs become price competitive with TVs. I have little interest in watching DVDs on a 19 inch LCD when I have a 32 inch WEGA sitting around.


  1. What're your thoughts on SharePoint?

  2. hey Cote – thx for stopping by. love your blog, BTW. great stuff.

    anyhow, Sharepoint has come a long way, but is in my view more akin to a DM tool than a real collaborative agent in the sense that blogs, and shared metadata applications are.

    it'll also be interesting to watch exchange vs sharepoint. where do employees collaborate now? if it's sharepoint, shouldn't exchange be priced accordingly?

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