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Monday, June 2, 2008

Robert Scoble Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0 Interview: "Microsoft gave me an extraordinary opportunity"

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0:
1. Robert, you are one of the world's most recognized and productive individual bloggers and Internet figures/personalities. A partial listing of where others can find you on the web:
Scobleizer TV (at FastCompany.TV)
Your blog, Scobleizer
Friendfeed
Friendfeed Scobleroom
Twitter
Google Reader Shared Items
Facebook
Qik
Upcoming
Flickr
Google Calendar
Pownce
Disqus
Digg
YouTube
Del.icio.us
Seesmic

You know the first question “Who are you?”

Robert Scoble: A guy who likes both new things and the people who build them. I got that love from my dad who was an engineer in Silicon Valley for 30 years.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: What drives Robert Scoble in his work across the Internet? What can you tell us about your online experiences and the roles/effects that you are seeking?

Robert Scoble: I started out in the 1980s playing with computers and hanging out at a small user’s group where we had a BBS in one of the members’ garages. There were something like six Hayes modems (really fast ones, too, that worked at 2400 kbps and cost more than $500 each) that answered calls from around the world. I thought it was the coolest thing. Ever since then I’ve been involved in online communities. I’m always seeking out what early adopters and developers are doing. What are the trends, what are they using, etc?

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: Have you heard of a service called Friendfeed? What do you think of it?

Robert Scoble: I’m addicted. It’s where everything I do on the Web gets aggregated and then people can talk about that stuff. I love seeing people’s photos, videos, blogs, Twitter messages, and a lot more coming in there and how people react to it all.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: Which of the above services (and others) might you use in a typical day, and for what purposes?

Robert Scoble: I use a variety of online media. Start with my blog at scobleizer.com where I write longer posts. Twitter is for short thoughts or telling people what I’m doing. Qik is for doing video with my cell phone. FastCompany is for more professional, longer videos. You’ll also find me reading feeds at Google Reader and talking with people on Seesmic and Stickam.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: What is the World Wide Talk Show? Why is it important?

Robert Scoble: If you watch FriendFeed you’ll see that it goes on 24 hours a day every day. It includes photos, audio, video, text, pictures, and more. But then you can comment on all that stuff. So, it’s like having a multimedia talk show that goes on all day long.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: You're known for being extremely personable (also in real life), and engage in online conversations/comments with others seemingly all day (and night?) long. Tell us a bit about your communications and how it ties into the work that you do.
Robert Scoble: Thanks, I try to touch as many smart people as possible in a single day. My goal is to have a longer conversation with someone interesting every day. I do that and try to video them for FastCompany.tv.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: In terms of your background (source) your experience has included (from first to present) all of the following (partial listing only): sales in a discount camera shop; multiple roles for Fawcette Technical Publications (your wife Maryam also worked there); assisted in co-chair of the Visual Basic SIG for SDForum; webcam manufacturer Winnov (where you were named a Microsoft MVP); Dave Winer's UserLand Software; NEC Mobile Solutions (a position you found via Craigslist and where your blog was discovered by Microsoft); Microsoft (detailed below, Channel 9 MSDN Video team); Podtech.net (VP of Media Development); to your current position at FastCompany.TV (Managing Director/Scobleizer TV – also reported (at Revision3) WorkFast.tv)

Can you provide us a sense of some of your professional experiences on the way to where you are now, what things have impacted you and why, and what you've taken away from this collection of work? Also, what have been your most and least enjoyable work roles or situations?

Robert Scoble: The most important to me, I think was helping run a camera store back in the 1980s. That’s where I really learned customer behavior, how to compete vigorously with other stores, how to get attention, how to get people to talk about the store to their friends. Microsoft certainly gave me the most attention, because so many people know and use Microsoft’s products around the world.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: Of course your most famous employer by far has been Microsoft.

The Economist in 2005 wrote about you:
“Impressively, he has also succeeded where small armies of more conventional public-relations types have been failing abjectly for years: he has made Microsoft, with its history of monopolistic bullying, appear marginally but noticeably less evil to the outside world, and especially to the independent software developers that are his core audience. Bosses and PR people at other companies are taking note.”

“Ballmer's Microsoft Loses Admired Tech Evangelist”. Forbes' article when you left Microsoft declared:

“For the last three years, one man has shown how a blog, plain-spoken and irreverent in its tone, could be a tool to significantly help soften the monopolistic bullying image of a corporate giant like Microsoft. Now, however, it has come to an end.

Millions of tech geeks have religiously visited the blog of Robert Scoble, one of Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people )'s many so-called technical evangelists, and producer of mini-films for its Channel 9 video division. Scoble however, has never been a blatant propagandist....
But far from being put off, readers and industry watchers came to appreciate both Scoble's honesty and his inside look into the traditionally insular world of software development. That his blog would occasionally mention a chat with Chief Executive Steve Ballmer or Jonathan Schwartz, the boss of Sun Microsystems (nasdaq: SUNW - news - people ), only added to his guru-like status, leading up to unofficial titles like "Chief Humanizing Officer."”

Robert, how would you detail your Microsoft experience, both in terms of what was involved for you, your thinking during this work (and following) and what you feel that you were and/or were not able to accomplish?

Robert Scoble: That’s impossible to say in just a paragraph or two. But Microsoft gave me an extraordinary opportunity: a chance to study one of the world’s great corporations from inside and it let me do that with a video camera and, further, let me put the videos up in pretty much unedited form.

I got to see a huge amount of Microsoft. There were very few things I wanted to do that I couldn’t. If there’s one thing I wish Microsoft were a lot more aggressive about getting into Web 2.0 stuff. I asked Bill Gates and the leadership team to “go shopping” and buy companies like Flickr. They refused and the answer I got back from Steven Sinofsky had the words “business value” repeated 13 times. Basically they told me to go away until I could prove these things had real value. Too late now.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: In 2006 you co-authored a book with Shel Israel (a colleague of yours now at FastCompany.TV) entitled
Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk With Customers

An excerpt from Amazon:
“Bloggings' Six Pillars: There are six key differences between blogging and any other communications channel. You can find any of them elsewhere. These are the Six Pillars of Blogging:
1.Publishable. Anyone can publish a blog.You can do it cheaply and post often. Each posting is instantly available worldwide.
2.Findable. Through search engines, people will find blogs by subject, by author, or both. The more you post, the more findable you become.
3.Social. The blogosphere is one big conversation. Interesting topical conversations move from site to site, linking to each other. Through blogs, people with shared interests build relationships unrestricted by geographic borders.
4.Viral. Information often spreads faster through blogs than via a newsservice. No form of viral marketing matches the speed and efficiency of a blog.
5.Syndicatable. By clicking on an icon, you can get free "home delivery" of RSS- enabled blogs into your e-mail software.
RSS lets you know when a blog you subscribe to is updated, saving you search time. This process is considerably more
efficient than the last- generation method of visiting one page of one web site at a time looking for changes.
6.Linkable. Because each blog can link to all others, every blogger has access to the tens of millions of people who visit the blogosphere every day.
You can find each of these elements elsewhere. None is, in itself, all that remarkable. But in final assembly, they are the benefits of the most powerful two-way Internet communications tool so far developed.

Tell us about the book, in terms of its content and what it is trying to say, the book writing process and what that was like for you, how the book has been received, and how it has sold.

Robert Scoble: The book was an interesting process. A couple of friends, Buzz Bruggeman (CEO of ActiveWords) and Andy Ruff (works at Microsoft) thought it’d be good for me to write a book and paired me with Shel Israel, who is a guy who’s helped dozens of companies startup in Silicon Valley. We were in the right place at the right time, but also did something that turned out to be smart: we put the book up on our blog and let the readers tell us what they thought. That made the book much better and got us lots of PR that really helped the book’s sales, even to today. Even today, two years after it’s been out, it’s still in the top 10,000 on Amazon out of millions of books, so we’re pretty happy.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: Anybody that follows you closely can tell that you really enjoy being a dad. Tell us, to the degree that you feel comfortable, what family life means to you and adds to your life, and what you wish for the next generation including your children.

Robert Scoble: It’s a lot of fun helping kids grow up and become adults. Patrick is 14 now and is entering high school. He’s really a geek and a lot of fun to hang out with. Milan is nine-months old and just starting to really crawl around and get in trouble. It’s interesting having kids in two separate generations like that. Patrick never knew a world without Netscape. Milan will never know a world without an always connected device in your pocket. I wonder what the world will be like when they get into the workforce. Heck, when Patrick was born the average PC only had 16 megabytes of RAM. Now they regularly have four gigs – heck, my cell phone has eight gigs of memory. What a world. What do I wish for my kids? That they solve global warming before it really becomes a huge societal problem. I doubt we will, though. USA is still building coal plants and doesn’t have a decent plan to stop doing that.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: Your own parents worked in technical/technology related fields, including your Mom who worked for Apple (you were born in New Jersey but grew up around a mile from Apple – you reportedly learned how to solder a motherboard at age 11 and had a summer job with HP) and your Dad has a Ph.D. in materials engineering. The love and experience with technology in the broad sense must be pretty deeply ingrained in you?

Robert Scoble: Oh, yes. My dad always had a garage full of electronic components and gadgets and stuff. Plus lots of kids in school were really into this stuff too. In High School I hung out with some really geeky kids who went on to write video games and other stuff. Heck, even my first girlfriend in high school now is a director of marketing at Plantronics.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0: What are some of your personal (or professional) goals for the future. What are three things that most people do not know about you that might be surprising to our readers?

Robert Scoble: I’d love to interview Barack Obama, he inspires me and has had interesting experiences lately. I’d love to sit down with Steve Jobs and have a bottle of wine. But really I’d just like to make interesting videos that get people talking. My goals? Get the most interesting businesspeople and tech innovators on FastCompany.tv. Three things? 1. I used to play saxophone in the high school band. 2. I failed college-level chemistry. 3. I was in Physics class when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit

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