So last night my plan was simple - I was going to bring together Jas Sandhu, who works with the developer evangelism team, together with Justin Grant, our MSDN marketing mogul, and Sean Kollenkark, who is an MSDN pm that firmly believed I should talk more at length with Justin about community over beers.
Little did I know I would get sucked in...not exactly to a den of iniquity, but a den of hipster bowling where the Channel 9 crew and other evangelists were finishing up an offsite. I knew the night was going to be unusual because as Jas and I bowled waiting for Justin and Sean, I got a strike, which I never do (carpal tunnel plays hob with your bowling scores).
In between frames I listened to what the Channel 9 crew was saying. (I guess turnabout is fair play here, since they are always exposing the rest of us, including people like my officemate :D ). Then, we all headed out to a bar and then finally to an Italian restaurant (why is it that my talks about community recently have included Italian food? or is it just coincidence?) where we waxed loquacious about community, Channel 9, and VB and C# developers until we literally shut the restaurant down. The waitstaff stacked chairs up around us.
I was sitting next to Charles and it was related to me that he was the one who yelled “THE CLR ROCKS!“ in the middle of the street in the middle of the night at PDC. That guy is passionate about Windows and he's not afraid to raise his voice. And he's fearless, several times that evening he challenged Lenn and the rest of us about what Microsoft, MSDN and Channel 9 were doing. The Italian meal (with excellent wines chosen by Justin - always hang with the marketing folks if you want to drink the best) was a microcosm for me of Microsoft as a company - smart, crazy, passionate people who are completely capable of driving everyone out of the restaurant and staying into the night arguing about arcane points of coding. :D
It would be easy to look at the Channel 9 site and say those guys are being disingenuous about the candor the site is based on and the idea that they would get into trouble is overrated. After all, someone pointed out to me, Gotdotnet did the same thing a while back.
But after hearing their stories about getting the site set up, the press calling, the differing opinions among people at Microsoft and the reaction the site has produced, I'll add my voice to theirs and say, what they are doing looks easier than it is. For one thing, keeping a Web site running, moderating the community, and recruiting is more than a full-time job, it's a way of life and as hard as making cold sales calls or fixing a computer application you know nothing about. Ask anyone who works at a news station or newspaper about the challenge of keeping an information machine running, and they will say - it is work.Gotdotnet struggled through the same growth phase.
From what I saw, they are trying for something bigger than the “we are the bad boys of Microsoft“ and because this is only the beginning, it's hard to see that. Or prove that. Only time is going to show the grander elements of cultural change and exchange of information that Channel 9 hopes to bring about.
(And they aren't the only ones in the company mind you. MSDN, the rest of Microsoft all have a desire to talk to folks more and understand what you want from us. They are just the ones who have Scoble behind the video camera. :D )