Microsoft's MVP program turns 20

Current MVPs reminisce and voice concerns about their changing role and the future of the program

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I also turned to an old friend and my favorite go-to person for advice about Windows patches, Susan Bradley. Like PA Bear, Bradley posts voluminously on the Microsoft Answers site as well as on her own SBS Diva Blog. She's been an MVP for 13 years. Here's what she has to say:

In this day and age of "social" the MVP program may not be as relevant as it used to be. Certainly there are numerous ways for Microsoft to get feedback from customers: Facebook, blogs, forum, Twitter and the "telemetry" data that features prominently in the Building Windows 8 blogs. But as Microsoft outsources, automates and tries to become a services and platform company, I think a leaner, smaller group of MVPs is what it really needs. Right now there are nearly 4,000 MVPs, most of whom don't know each other. I'm not convinced that Microsoft knows what to do with 4,000 of us. Certainly even with NDAs, you cannot keep secrets with 4,000 people, so MVPs cannot be privy to the super secret NDA issues we've discussed in the past, issues that competitors would love to know.

Microsoft encourages MVPs to write wikis and blogs and answer questions about Microsoft products. Fine, but that encouragement doesn't relieve Microsoft of the obligation to write good documentation. Many an IT pro has complained that documentation these days is less robust these days. Microsoft shouldn't be encouraging and outsourcing core documentation duties. While real world based guidance is great, Microsoft documentation should at least covers the basics. Ultimately good documentation is also a sales tool.

Does the MVP program have a future? I think it needs to get smaller and focus on more of an ombudsman role, representative of the installed customer base. I'd like to see more resources go to communication to forum moderators and community leaders that focuses on support of Microsoft products. I think in order to do that, the number of MVPs needs to thin down and get more targeted.

Will there be Microsoft MVPs in 20 years? Perhaps the better question is will there be a Microsoft in 20 years? At their core, MVPs are just people that like to help people. They typically don't do it for glory or fame, and increasingly are just as frustrated as every other computer user in their interactions with Microsoft. They've mourned when products they are enthusiastic about get killed off (e.g., Woody and Home Server) and wonder what Microsoft is up to just like you do. When the MVP program works well (and to its credit there are still places where it works really well), passionate users of a product, MVPs, are teamed up with passionate developers of a product and both strive to right the wrongs, fix the things that need fixing and come to a general understanding that some things you can win and somethings you can't. Each helps the [other] to understand better why an issue can or cannot be fixed, or should and should not be fixed. In turn the MVP is empowered to help other computer users of the technology understand better as well.

The Sinofsky era of the Microsoft MVP program was a time that put up a lot of communication barriers. I think the silence hurt the MVP communication and program deeply. Time will tell if changes are coming to loosen these barriers and to rebuild some of the communication that was lost.

I think Microsoft still needs MVPs to be that voice of the customer.

Conflict-of-interest note: I've been a Microsoft MVP for the past six years. My interactions with the MVP program -- primarily involving a charity that gives PCs to needy Asian kids -- have been stellar, thanks largely to the SE Asia Community Program Managers. 

That said, I agree with PA Bear and Bradley wholeheartedly.

This story, "Microsoft's MVP program turns 20," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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