The most powerful piece of software inside Microsoft may be the $40 application from a tiny vendor called Userland that Robert Scoble uses to write his weblog.
Scoble, part of the Windows marketing team, publishes his personal observations at the Scobleizer Weblog . His daily ramblings, unedited by corporate brass or media handlers, give the world a window into Microsoft, building buzz for its products such as Office 2003 and creating a human face for a company that needs all the humanizing it can get.
"Ive gotten email from people telling me they have changed their attitude about Microsoft because of my blog," says Scoble. "It helps me share the companys beliefs." It also helps Microsoft hear what the market is saying, both good and bad. "I link to everyone who hates Microsoft, and I send the negative stuff to the executives," he says.
The blog, which Scoble established before hiring on with Microsoft, comes off like a conversation with a smart friend. He links to other bloggers, makes recommendations about Windows-related products, talks about his own upcoming demo of the next version of Windows, known as Longhorn, and mentions the need to balance his personal and professional lives. Almost anything is fair game. "That is the first Apple marketing in a long time that makes me want to buy an Apple product," he wrote recently about an ad for the iPod music player.
Employee weblogs at Microsoft have the backing of no less than chief executive Steve Ballmer, along with Scobles boss, senior vice-president Eric Rudder. Yet Scoble is still looking over his shoulder. "It feels like some people are sort of tolerating it," he says. Even now he is supposed to check in with media relations before doing interviews with the press, for example, even though hes already posting his unfiltered thoughts on the Web.
"Its a huge route-around," says Scoble of his site. People used to get information either from company press announcements, or from reporters who managed to get past Microsofts public relations firm, Waggener Edstrom, which guards Redmond like the hellhound Cerberus at the gates of Hades. Now one person can accomplish things no marketing department ever could.