More Feedback about Disclaimers

To make one thing clear.  I do not believe that a disclaimer should be included with every post or comment, but I do think there are some things that could still be done with the site (and recommendations for non blogs.msdn MS people) that could help mitigate risks.  For example: The disclaimer should be linked in a standard location on the blogs.msdn pages.  By default there is no disclaimer on new blogs so only the diligent people end up with one thereby exposing others to potential risks.  Anyway, onto the feedback.

Starting with Dare (Click for Full Post)

“Josh Ledgard (who along with his wife Gretchen hosted an excellent barbeque this past memorial day weekend) ... The various discussions I've seen around blogging disclaimers often boil down to pointing out that they are unlikely to be useful in preventing real trouble (i.e. some customer who gets pissed at bad advice he gets from a Microsoft employee and decides to sue). ”

Thanks for coming, the BBQ was good times!  He makes the case that he doesn't believe disclaimers would hold up in court in worst case scenarios.  I feel about as qualified as Dare should to comment on the validity of that statement... so I won't.  :-) He then disagrees with this statement: “What represents a company better than the collective values and opinions of its employees that are expressed through their blogs”

“I don't believe that my personal opinion and the Microsoft official position are the same thing even though some assume that we are b0rg. Also I want to be able to make it clear when what I am saying is my personal opinion and when what I am saying somewhat reflects an official Microsoft position.”

I guess the key word in my statement was “collective”.  True, in a specific case, like Dare goes on to explain, his views may be different than the official Microsoft stance on an issue.  Perhaps my statement was more philosophical and targeted at the value side of things. The complete disavowement of a company for its employees perspectives would bother me a bit.  In an extreme example: if one were to notice an overwhelming set of untrue statements in a companies blogs it may lead you to believe (rightly so) that this company does not hold honesty as high value.  I noticed that this statement is not in everyones disclaimers, and it may not even be standard anymore, so any discussion here is probably not worth it.  

Joe Duffy seemed to agree with a need to minimize some risks. 

Josh Ledgard, Chief Community Evangelist at Microsoft, talks about the legal implications and challenges (via Scoble) that arise when early community involvement is solicited in the product lifecycle. It sucks big time when such legal barriers have the potential to force one to sidestep in the wrong direction... but consider the consequences. Yikes.

This is why we are working to find a good balance.  In the end I think some education on both sides will go a long way towards reducing the fears and enabling us to do most everything we think is right. I'll add a minor note that my blog title is self appointed.  It's mostly for personal motivation and its true in spirit.  A good part of my job right now is spent redefining how teams participate and contribute to online communities.  Also, I often feel like I'm doing some sort of “reverse evangelism“ of community into Microsoft.  Hence the title.

(BTW, I find Scoble's response pretty ignorant and childish, and akin to a teenage fit of rebellion. Dude, there's a reason legal departments restrict certain things... because there are implications should these safeguards not be put into place. Microsoft owns its IP, and as such can tell anybody - yes, even Scoble - what they are or are not able to do with it. Regardless of on whose time it occurs.)

Scoble responds here.

I'm well aware of the risks. Here's another way to look at it. If you're mining gold, you probably need to work with dynamite. Now, if your bosses are too risk adverse, they'll take away your dynamite, which means you can't get any work done. Eventually your gold mine will turn bankrupt. If you aren't careful enough, you'll blow off your hand, or worse.

To play devils advocate, as a stock holder I might say “ok, maybe I'm not afraid of you, but all it takes is one really good slip from someone not qualified to handle dynamite to attract costly lawsuits and collapse what was a profitable mine”.  There are things that can be done to reduce the chances of that and some of those measures might even be practical.  I just want to explore options. 

A big reason I want to start exploring options now is that I'd like to start handing out some more explosive dynamite.  There are lots of ideas floating around.  Imagine, for example, if every spec for Orcas (VS after Whidbey) was available as a Wiki.  I bet we would get some great feedback, but there are some risks in doing so that we would want to minimize.  How about letting beta customers help decide if we are ready to RTM based on the latest tech preview bits?  What if we started working collaboratively with customers on source code to Visual Studio components?  And these are just some examples of the potential dynamite we have yet to turn teams loose with.  Soon, the employee is not just risking a hand he has dawned a C4 jacket.  It reminds me of a quote from the guys working on Halo 2...

“Halo 2 is a lot like Halo 1, only it's Halo 1 on fire, going 130 miles per hour through a hospital zone, being chased by helicopters and ninjas ... And, the ninjas are all on fire, too."

That's sort of how I feel the customer reaction should be when teams start fully realizing their potential to work with the developer community.  We've only scratched the surface of what we are capable of.