Interview with Robert Scoble (Microsoft - Chief Blogging Officer)

Picture_011_1Note that this is also posted on my 1000FlowersBloom blog because I thought it was relevant to both audiences.

I had a wonderful conversation with Robert Scoble today who is a technical evangelist at Microsoft but who has also been called the Chief Blogging Officer. He says this isn't his official title but Wikipedia disagrees with him.

Our talk covered blogging of course, but we also talked a lot about Microsoft and how it’s changing in relation to this new Web 2.0 world we’re entering. One thing that really struck me is that Robert was a smart, nice guy who really just told it like it is (to the extent of not being boneheaded since he does work for Microsoft). He’s willing to say things that aren’t exactly the party line, like Microsoft came late to the web services party and that he is worried about the Open Source threat.

I’ve got highlights below and here’s the link to the audio. The timeline is at the end of the post.


How do you make the move to Microsoft? How did you convince them to embrace blogging?

Robert - “Ballmer said - I couldn’t stop it [blogging] anyways. They already had 80-100 bloggers when I got there. I just added fuel to the fire by bringing in an irreverent style of blogging… I told Bill Gates to split up the company.”

Even though I know that this is the case that Microsoft has a liberal blogging policy I’m still amazed by this. They really do get that there’s no point in trying to stop your folks from talking to the world. They’re doing it anyways. You can drive it underground or you can embrace and encourage it.

How do you know you’re being successful? Is it unique visitors?

Robert - “I hate that measure… I put up the video of the MSN Search team and Danny Sullivan and John Batelle linked to it. That to me means I’m more successful because those are the two guys in the industry who are the Search experts and the Community experts who are watching the Search world. Getting those two guys to say this is a good video means a lot to me… It brings very very focused traffic.”

Chris - “Good readers is more important to you than a lot of readers?”

Robert - “Yes, absolutely”

Chris - "How do you know if you’re getting good readers?"

Robert – “They tell me. …When you start getting email from Steve Jobs, from venture capitalists, from Dan Gilmour… if you’re getting interesting feedback… from people who are doing stuff that you look up to… that counts for a lot.”

Ultimately it’s being credible and well thought of in the community that drives traffic to you. Robert is well respected because he understands that and feeds off of that. Oh he also mentioned he did a little search engine optimization and that didn’t hurt.

Is there a marketing guy who tells you what to blog about?

Robert – “No. Part of the thing about Microsoft is hire smart people and let them do their job. We don’t have a blogging policy. We have a policy that says be smart”

Again, it looks like Microsoft totally understands the whole Cluetrain phenomena and knows to trust it’s people.

What’s the most uncomfortable moment you’ve had at Microsoft in regards to your blog or Channel 9?

Robert – “When I do stuff like tell people they should be fired for not having RSS Feeds, that caused a backlash… It’s not nice to tell someone they should be fired especially when they’re on your team… If you’re going to write in a way that you’re taking on the machine or a political system, you better do it with an end goal and a reason in mind, you better be willing to pay the consequences.”

One well known fact in the Valley – if you’re a startup don’t use the Microsoft stuff use the Open Source stuff. Is Microsoft worried?

Robert – “Yeah – I’m worried… They do [get that]… On Nov. 7 we are releasing Visual Studio and SQL Server Express Editions. Very low cost editions for hobbyists and entrepreneurs to get into the system without paying a price. This is direct reaction to feedback from entrepreneurs who say I’m a college kids and I want to start a business. I can’t afford to start it when you charge me a $1000.”

While this is great, I don’t think this is enough. The reality is that with open source software that the stuff is cheap and stays cheap over time. The fact that the open source solutions scale now should scare the heck out of Microsoft. I haven't seen an example of a startup using Microsoft stuff in a serious way. 

Now that Google and Yahoo are pushing APIs and web services, is that a worry for you guys?

Robert – “Absolutely, I worry about that all the time. Virtual Earth has APIs, MSN Messenger now has APIs. They never had APIs before.”

This is another proof point for why I'm such a big believer in free markets. The competition has forced Microsoft's hand and is making life better for everyone.

How does Microsoft feel about their data being used alongside Google functionality? Are you ok with that?

Robert – “Yes. If you’re going to be a platform player you have to be comfortable with other people being rich on top of your platform.”

It struck me that Robert's answer and Toni Schneider at Yahoo's answer were very similar. I think everyone realizes that you have to let your APIs be used in ways that you might not expect and which may be uncomfortable.

Why aren’t we seeing more mashups of Microsoft APIs?

Robert – “It’s not as sexy to say we built something on Microsoft, also we came in a little bit late… you’re struggling to get back the mojo”

What do you think about the fact that Google is being viewed as evil?

Robert – “Welcome to the club… There’s a cultural thing going on where when you’re the Yankees you’re hated… Google hasn’t figure out how to put a human face to their company yet… They’re trying to do big things and when you try to do big things you piss people off”

What does the future hold for you?

Robert – “I’m having a ball, I don’t want to mess that up… I get to see the inside of a big company in a way that very few people get to do… How many people really get to go across Microsoft and go see 500 people. Bill does, Steve Ballmer does…I don’t know where it goes from here. It’s already exceeded the dreams I ever had.”


0:20 How did you make the move to Microsoft?
1:12 You didn’t ask for permission blog?
2:22 What is your job description?
3:44 How do you know you’re being successful?
5:45 How do you know if you’re getting good readers?
6:24 Is there a marketing guy who tells you what to blog about?
7:11 What’s the most uncomfortable moment you’ve had at Microsoft in regards to your blog or Channel 9?
9:41 Is there a secret agenda behind your blog?
10:32 Why does it take so long for Microsoft to get software out there?
14:30 Do you think Google wind up in the same position over time?
16:11 One well known fact in the Valley – if you’re a startup don’t use the Microsoft stuff use the Open Source stuff. Is Microsoft worried?
18:28 Now that Google and Yahoo are pushing APIs and web services, is that a worry for you guys?
19:20 How does Microsoft feel about their data being used alongside Google functionality?
20:15 Why aren’t we seeing more mashups of Microsoft APIs?
20:54 What do you think about the fact that Google is being viewed as evil?
23:09 What does the future hold for you?
25:54 If you were me what question would you be asking?

Interviews moving over to 1000 Flowers Bloom

Well I have decided that I need to start a new blog rather than just keep the WSFinder blog.

The original purpose of the WSFinder blog was to really support the WSFinder Wiki of Open APIs and keep people informed of the new APIs that were coming out and of what they could go play with in terms of Mashups and Examples.

Something funny happened along the way though. I ended up getting much more involved in thinking about and talking to people about all the fun stuff going on with Web 2.0. I blogged the Web 2.0 Conference.  I started podcasting. In short I ended up breaking out of the boundaries of what I wanted to do with WSFinder.

So I'm going to restrict the WSFinder blog to its original mission of talking about APIs. This blog - 1000 Flowers Bloom, will be really devoted to what's going on here in Silicon Valley and in the tech industry. The mandate will be much wider and if every once in a while you get some personal stuff. So be it. You'll get podcasts etc. here.

I hope this will make it easier for people to keep up with me and for me to participate in the amazing conversations happening on the Web.

There is still going to be content here about APIs and interviews that are relevant to that but if you're looking for more interviews and podcasts head over to 1000FlowersBloom.


Interview with Toni Schneider (Yahoo - VP Developer Relations)

I had a great conversation with Toni Schneider who is the VP of Developer Relations at Yahoo about Yahoo's strategy around APIs and what they are trying to do.

Toni is a really smart guy that really understands Web 2.0 and the power of opening up Yahoo as a platform for developers. 

I was originally going to do a full transcript of the interview but that turned out to be a TON of work. So I thought I’d summarize for folks and provide some key points that I thought Toni made during the interview

Here's the link to the audio.

On what his group at Yahoo does:

Toni - “Once an API is ready we launch it, we support it, we evangelize it, we make sure that developers build things and we help them build great things.…Clearly the end goal is to have great applications emerge.”

I think that this is terrific. The fact that he has a team of 12 people working on this shows that Yahoo is making a real commitment in this area.

On the business behind getting developers to create things on a Yahoo platform:

“It’s about driving more user signups, more activity on that platform, making that platform more useful to our users and eventually helping third parties monetize what they’re building on top of our platform and sharing in that revenue.”

This part is great but rather than making money say per API call Toni thinks that Yahoo they should get a cut of the revenue that a developer using their APIs gets.

Chris – "Isn’t that a good thing then if they pay you per API call because then you participate in the value that you’ve created?

Toni – "Yes except it would be better if it was free for them as well to use the API. ...But then we share in the revenue so that if someone makes tons of money then we get a cut of that.”

As an entrepreneur this makes me intensely uncomfortable.

I would like to have an easy pricing model so that I know what it costs me to get access to the data and functionality. I don’t want to give up a percentage of revenue if I get successful because that ends up potentially being very expensive to me. It’s harder for me to evaluate a build vs. buy decision at that point.

I think that what this will really lead to is people using the Yahoo APIs initially and then dumping them once they get traction because it will no longer be cost effective to use them on a rev share basis.

Yahoo and Google functionality and data mixing

Chris – “Let me ask you the hard question. If I want to do something commercial that had both Google functionality and Yahoo functionality and data would you say yes or no?”

Toni – “We say yes as long as it meets our criteria… I’m not sure what would happen if Yahoo says yes you can do it but you need to serve our ads and Google says the same thing”

This was a telling question. I was a little surprised to be honest that Yahoo was so open about letting their APIs and data be mixed in with Google APIs and data. I think that the rubber has yet to really hit the road though. There hasn’t been an example of this conflict crop up yet but it’s coming.

What does he wish people would build?

Toni - “If I can point to one area it’s mobile… Most of the apps we’re seeing are web apps which is great but I wish people would build more mobile apps.”

I think that the mobile space is getting hotter and Toni’s comments here reflect that. There’s a lot of open territory to use APIs and webservices to make mobile experiences great. So if you want to build something to flip maybe this is an area to look at! ;)

How much do you look at other developer networks? What works and doesn’t work?

Toni - “It’s been useful to see what guys like Ebay and Amazon have done… First thing that I did was hire Jeffery McManus who ran EBay’s developer program.”

Nice! I bet that anyone who is or has been in developer relations is in high demand now. 

Toni - “Our goal is to make it as simple and easy for people to get into the system without just making it complete free for all and causing a bunch of risks… We can look at some of the things they’ve done that have been too restrictive… built these artificial hurdles out of fear of what are these people going to do.” 

This totally makes sense as a philosophy. Let developer play as much as possible without restricting them. Who knows what cool stuff people will come up with?

Toni - “Amazon released stats that said 85% of usage is on REST, 85% of support load is on SOAP. We decided to go on REST. Flickr had similar statistics.”

Very interesting stuff here for folks who are thinking of releasing APIs. REST seems to be the way to go.

How will Yahoo handle competing with developers that use their APIs?

Toni - “We certainly hopefully will never steal someone’s idea… If we see something we like we’ll approach developers and say hey do you want to come work for us?...We haven’t seen something where somebody has built a product that we’re in the process of building and there’s a natural conflict there.”

This is always a tough line to walk. I think that the reality is that no company, Yahoo, Google or Microsoft will be able to do everything. There will always be room for entrepreneurs to create valuable things. There’s just always the risk that they see it and do it anyways. You run this risk whether you use their APIs or not.

What is the roadmap for Yahoo Developer Network?

Toni - “Fairly soon, next 3 weeks we’ll talk more about where this is going. Focus right now is on opening up internal APIs.”

Looks like people should be expecting some news from Yahoo soon!

Toni - “The next set of services on the roadmap are going move more towards content that we aggregate and personal content. We do this today with Flickr… this is where I personally think a lot of interesting applications start to happen.”

This ties very nicely into the talk that Terry Semel gave at Web 2.0. I think that this is a huge advantage that Yahoo will have over anyone else. They have a ton of content that no one else has.

Toni - “Our goal is over time to open up everything that makes sense. Always within reason protecting security, privacy and third party content rights. This is a major initiative for the company.”

Looks like the race is definitely on to get the APIs out there. It will be interesting to check back in and see the progress that will be made.

Web 2.0 real or hype? What is Web 2.0?

Toni - “The idea that web based products are no longer web pages that are developed in a vacuum... that was the web 1.0 model… Web 2.0 changes that model, you are no longer putting out web pages that live in your own little silo, you are putting out web services that go out all over the web in different forms and shades… We’ll see tens and hundreds of thousands, millions of web applications that show up on the web or mobile that tap into those services.”

Totally agree with Toni on this. This is real and it’s happening now.

Interview Timeline

0:21 - Toni Schneider Background/Oddpost Acquisition
1:12 - Why not run Yahoo mail? Why be VP of Developer Relations?
2:05 - What does it mean to be VP of Developer Relations?
2:55 - What is success for Yahoo Developer Network?
3:46 - How does this help Yahoo’s bottom line?
6:00 - Will there be a pricing model for the Yahoo APIs?
7:27 - Do you think it will always be an ad driven model?
8:29 - Isn’t pay per API a better way to do it?
9:09 - What’s the coolest example of Yahoo APIs in action?
11:36 - Is there something you wish people would go do?
12:42 - What about putting Yahoo data and Google data together?
13:29 - How much do you look at other developer networks? What works and doesn’t work?
14:27 - Are Ebay and Amazon the model to follow?
15:47 - How will Yahoo handle competing with developers that use their APIs?
17:48 - What is the roadmap for the Yahoo Developer Network?
20:24 - Web 2.0 real or hype? What is Web 2.0?
22:54 - Is there a question I didn’t ask you that I should have?

Interview Podcasts coming soon

I will be doing a podcast interview with Toni Schneider who is the VP of Developer Relations at Yahoo on Wednesday. I’ll be asking him about his thoughts on Web 2.0, APIs and what Yahoo’s role in all of this will be.

Drop me a line if you have any questions you want me to ask specifically.