Mini-Microsoft, Steve Jobs' Secret Diary, and a Potential New YouTube
To any executives who, rightly, are incredibly concerned about insider blogs: Having employees who care enough about a company to actually and consistently put their jobs at risk is incredibly rare, and having someone who appears to have the actual breadth of knowledge and capability to do this well is rarer still.
03/05/07 4:00 AM PT
There are two guilty pleasures I've developed of late.
One is reading "Mini-Microsoft," which is an unauthorized blog by a Microsoft employee that probably does more to provide a glimpse inside the company and humanize it than anything the firm is officially doing. Taking this beyond Microsoft, I wonder if there is a way to do this more effectively to help a floundering company from the inside.
The other is "The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs." This is a brilliant piece of work, clearly not by Steve Jobs himself, that seems to put Apple in perspective better than Apple itself does.
Finally, last week, I saw what may be the first really credible alternative to YouTube. Here I mean more than just a YouTube clone -- something different, better, and less restrictive.
'Mini-Microsoft' Tells All"Mini-Microsoft" appears to be an unauthorized blog by a Microsoft employee. There was a similar Apple Blog, but it stopped getting updated back in November of last year right after this was posted.
Ah, to be a company in the Internet age. When I was working at IBM, we were taught to watch what we said or worked on in public, because competitors and reporters were constantly looking to compromise our secrets and intellectual property.
In the Internet age, employees -- disgruntled or otherwise -- can go on the Web and do some rather incredible -- and some incredibly stupid -- things. If you search on "blog" and "fired," you'll see that there are a lot of folks learning that if you speak out of turn, free speech may be protected, but employment isn't.
Still, when I was working at IBM, I had a number of jobs that actually centered on fixing problems, and I couldn't believe the massive amount of effort it took just to get through managers and employees who simply would throw their bodies at things because they could.
I've followed a lot of large complex companies, and I know there are always lots of people who want to move the ball -- and an often overwhelming number of bureaucrats and butt kissers who make moving that ball impossible.
Watching Mark Hurd over at HP has been refreshing. He's the first chief exec I've seen in a long time to actually step up and deal with that problem. It appears Michael Dell may be trying to go down that same path. Let me tell you, it isn't as easy as it looks folks -- not by a long shot. But it is incredibly necessary.
So, I really sympathize with the guy who writes "Mini-Microsoft," as well as the guy who used to write (and probably work) for Apple. The "Mini-Microsoft" posts are insightful and likely reflect the feelings inside the company more closely than its own employee surveys do.
Three Responses to Advice
It is interesting to note that the HR (human resources) industry has known for years that employee surveys can't be trusted, but still uses them because it can't come up with anything better. If the HR folks don 't find a way to fix that, other firms will likely have "Mini-Thems" popping up. Given that eventuality, let's look at how they might be put to effective use, using "Mini-Microsoft" as a guide.
Sharing dirty laundry with the world has two problems: One is that it makes the firm look vulnerable -- not that Microsoft actually needs a lot of help on that score right now; the other, bigger one is that it may actually do more to piss off executives than it does to actually move the ball.
There are three ways advice is received: taken, pondered and acted upon; ignored; or fought. An employee blog can fix the "ignored" problem, but because executives resent the method, the blog may set up barriers to improvement -- blocking employees who are trying to do the same things by conventional means.
Don't get me wrong, the cause for a blog like this is typically the lack of employees being successful using conventional means. Still, if progress is the goal, then progress must be the focus.
For anyone thinking of doing this, do understand that if you get caught, you will likely be fired immediately -- if only to prevent open insurrection. However, if you are going to do it anyway, look at "Mini-Microsoft" as a generally good example.
According to one rule for effective teambuilding, the ratio of praise to criticism should be 4 to 1. "Mini-Microsoft" suggests it's more like 1 to 2; there is praise, but there seems to be much less of it than criticism. When there is a variation from this rule, it should probably go the other way.
If you get people agreeing with you on one thing, they are more likely to agree with you on others -- and people will generally agree they are doing some things right.
Make Lemonades From Lemons?
If there is criticism, there must be actionable recommendations. I actually think "Mini-Microsoft," in general, does a rather nice job of this. The author does seem to generally consider the implications of what he is criticizing and discusses action items. In most cases, when I see posts like this, they are constant rants. Rants are just annoying, and I've never seen them accomplish much of anything.
To any executives who, rightly, are incredibly concerned about this practice: Having employees who care enough about a company to actually and consistently put their jobs at risk is incredibly rare, and having someone who appears to have the actual breadth of knowledge and capability to do this well is rarer still. I know, because I used to run teams that were supposed to be made up of folks like this -- and let me tell you, they are both really hard to find and incredibly valuable.
Chances are, anyone doing something like this right now will eventually get fired. Were that individual embraced instead -- sanctioned, but then given a more appropriate and effective podium -- I think her or she could make a huge positive contribution. The lesson for management is this: Don't lose an important asset simply because you can't find or use it properly -- or because you have your head up your ass.
This is about making a difference, and that goal should be top and center for executives and managers as well as the grunts who actually do the work.
Steve Jobs' Diary
If you like watching Apple, "The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs" is truly a guilty pleasure. While there isn't a lot of inside news on Apple here, there is a dry humor and a kind of twisted look at Apple news that a lot of us have just come to find we can't live without.
A few weeks ago, it looked like Apple had found a way to shut it down, but the site is still going, and the irreverent commentary on Apple, Microsoft -- or anything else somewhat related to Apple -- is just fascinating.
It actually reads like Steve Jobs is writing it and must be done by someone who has followed him reasonably closely for some time. There is a lot of speculation over who this might be. All I can say is it is nicely done and worth a look. It also probably does more to humanize Apple than all the fake blog stuff that Apple seems to put up.
It has links to articles the avid Mac Fan sites avoid like the plague, but it discusses the positive stuff too. It is kind of like "The Daily Show" for the Mac crowd, but it is so well done I think a broader audience would enjoy it.
We could use more humor in our industry. Lord knows, we could all afford another laugh from time to time.
The Next YouTube
Every once in a while, I run into a product that gets me to stop, pause and rethink things, and last week I had such an experience. Izimi, which launches today, is such a product. It is a peer-to-browser file-sharing tool that may address the recent problems with YouTube and censorship, a topic we probably should take up in the future. With Izimi, the file stays on your system, so if you want to deny access at any time, you can do that yourself instantly. You can also easily update the file and; once again, because it exists on your system, the updates are immediate.
You only post the link to your file on the Izimi Web site. Then you can take this link and embed it in anything else -- e-mail, blog, a column like this one -- and, as long as your PC is up and running, anyone can pull this file and view or use it.
Obviously, if you are on dial-up, this isn't going to work well, and you'll want a hosted solution. However, if you are worried that others may be making decisions on your stuff, this is one really good way to keep more effective control over it.
It's free, and, just like YouTube, the revenue model isn't cooked yet, so there isn't even any real advertising. It's worth checking out. As we think about what happens when we move to the next generation of broadband, instead of going the Google direction where everything is hosted, things could come back to everything being local. Peer architectures could rule, pushing the pendulum back to where Intel and Microsoft would like it to be -- in the home and closer to the client.
I actually think this would be a really cool part of the new Home Server platform, since that product is designed specifically to do things like this and will be left on 24/7.
We'll see; if you get a chance, check it out.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.