It was five years ago that Microsoft launched Channel 9, a community for developers. Jeff Sandquist, Senior Director of Evangelism at Microsoft, discussed how the company took the first steps to open up and build a vibrant community, at a time when Microsoft would be described as anything *but* open.
Channel 9 was developed as a way for developers to interact with Microsoft engineers as well as with each other. The core content was videos of engineers talking about their products, supported by comments, forums, and wikis that facilitated communications and community building.
Jeff shared that the night before the launch of Channel 9, Microsoft executives downplayed expectations, telling the Channel 9 team that it would be OK if not that many people showed up on the first day. The next morning, the visitor counter quickly reached 20,000 people and media outlets were pounding down the door ask what Microsoft was doing.
"What we realized was, it was a really special thing that we did ... people really didn't get to see inside our hallways, so it was a chance to see inside the walls," he said. "Channel 9 allowed us to do that, to show the people that the people making the software at our company really care about what they are doing."
When Channel 9 launched, it was seen as revolutionary, but I asked Jeff if it really was. He said that Microsoft's roots were to use technology to connect with customers, ranging from news groups to blogging. "Doing [Channel 9] wasn't that different, but it scales massively."
When asked about the need to give up control, Jeff said that customers will always say things about your products that you don't like. The only thing you can really control is to decide if you want to participate or not in that conversation. Microsoft already had a thick skin and was ready to have tough conversations -- after all, building software is a difficult challenge.
Jeff closed by sharing, "Doing anything public opens you up for feedback. Sometimes it's hard not to take it personally." But clearly, the success of Channel 9 shows that Microsoft was ready to jump in, and jump in with both feet to hear directly from developers about what they were doing right, and where they should change.