Microsoft Opens “Channel” for Dialogue

A team of Microsoft evangelists has unveiled an innovative new site, Channel 9, aimed at nurturing a dialogue with developers and evangelizing the software giant’s products. Site features include a blog, video, RSS feeds, wikis and forums.

The creators of Channel 9, at, specifically disavow any marketing intention — a line in the Channel 9 “doctrine” reads, “Marketing has no place on Channel 9.” But it’s clearly an attempt to influence the company’s image in the developer community, embodying “marketing as dialogue” ethos championed in the influential book, “The Cluetrain Manifesto“.

The site is named after an in-flight channel that enables passengers to hear what is going on in airplane cockpits. In a welcome message, Channel 9’s five Microsoft creators say, “We think developers need their own Channel 9, a way to listen in to the cockpit at Microsoft, an opportunity to learn how we fly.”

“Markets are conversations. People are out there talking about your products and if you’re not at the table you’re missing out. Well, we don’t want to miss out. And that’s why we’re doing this,” said Lenn Pryor, director of platform evangelism at Microsoft, speaking in a video on the site.

To facilitate dialogue, the site offers discussion forums and wikis, which are collaborative Web pages. Also in the interests of spreading the word, the site is available to users via RSS feeds, a hot syndication technology that distributes headlines and text. Users can read the personal reflections of Microsoft developers on the site via a team blog.

“This is going to be more effective than something that seems like marketing. It’s the best kind of marketing. It’s relationship building,” said Gary Stein, an analyst with Jupiter Research, which shares a parent company with ClickZ News.

One of the site’s most fascinating videos features Bill Hill, a Microsoft typography researcher, elaborating in a Scottish burr about “Homo Sapiens 1.0.” In the video, Hill advocates that developers always remember software is built for human use. The video is titled, “The most important operating system is not Windows.”

That Microsoft has forgotten operating systems, and browsers, other than its own, is the main criticism the site is getting. Interestingly, it’s a criticism that reflects many people’s sentiments about Microsoft as a corporation.

“If the people who put up the site wanted to make a bold statement about getting inside the cockpit and seeing how things are and ‘we’re trying to do something different’, they should have looked at either open standards or cross-platform technologies,” noted Joe Wilcox, a Jupiter analyst, specifically pointing out the use of Windows Media format for the site’s many videos.

Adam Sohn, a member of the developer and platform evangelism team at Microsoft, defended the decision to use the format. “Windows Media format is pretty broadly accepted (it is very easy to license and play back the formats, and a bunch of non-MS players do that, including Yahoo and Real and some non-Windows versions as well),” Sohn said via email.

“For Mac users, there is a Windows Media Player for the Mac. Finally, I would point out that many developers have multiple machines or have Windows running on one of their machines in dual or multi-boot mode,” Sohn added.

Even those running Windows, though, ran into some problems using the site. Users of the FireFox browser, for example, noted that all of the videos on the front page began playing at the same time upon page load, resulting in a cacophony of voices. On IE, video play was user initiated.

“We are actively listening to feedback from the community, and we will continue to work to make this a great place for developers to learn about Microsoft,” Sohn said.

Whether or not it was created as a conscious marketing ploy, Channel 9 is certainly garnering publicity in geek circles. Blog tracking site Technorati reported more than 160 posts on Channel 9 and 19 blogs linked to it Tuesday, the site’s formal launch day. Slashdot, a self-described “nerd news site,” reported 221 posts on the subject as of Tuesday night.

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