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Microsoft uses blogs to reach out to IT community

In addition to offering technical information that IT administrators and developers crave, Microsoft's 1,400 company-hosted blogs serve as a way to make a "humanizing connection" to its customers.

This is the last in a three-part series on how the blogging phenomenon has affected IT professionals.

Microsoft's Web site generates millions of page views and is unquestionably the leading source of information for IT professionals who make their living working with the Windows platform. Just below the surface, however, is a community of Microsoft employees who offer an unpolished -- and occasionally candid -- view of what's going on inside the

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walls of the world's biggest software company.

It's the Microsoft network of blogs.

Redmond hosts more than 1,400 Web logs, or blogs, through its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), covering products ranging from Windows XP to ISA Server to Exchange Server, and more are on the way.

By now, most large companies allow their employees to blog, as long as they follow some basic rules. Such is the case with Microsoft, where Korby Parnell, a program manager in the company's developer division, recently spelled out a few unofficial guidelines for his colleagues in a blog post. Those tips might have

… if you think that Microsoft is going down a good or a bad path with regards to IT pro technologies, you can tell that guy right there.

Betsy Aoki, Microsoft community program manager

been helpful for at least one Microsoft worker if they had been issued a couple of years ago.

In 2003, Microsoft got off to a bumpy start with the blogging phenomenon when it fired a contract worker for posting a photo on his blog of Apple computers being delivered to the Redmond campus. That incident behind it, Microsoft has been one of the biggest backers of corporate blogging in the technology business.

Betsy Aoki, the Microsoft community program manager in charge of the site, said company-hosted blogs are rewarding outlets for its technophiles.

"Inside the company, there are a lot of insider e-mail lists where people talk about everything under the sun," she said. "That would go on without blogging, but with blogging we have a chance to show that to the outside."

Not afraid to show some personality

Aoki likens reading and writing blogs to sharing a pizza late at night in a college dorm. Mixed in with technical how-to tidbits and product information, blog readers can learn, for example, what an Exchange Server development team member thinks about movies, current events and Thai curries. That blend of the technical and personal reflects today's culture, she said.

"We really are considering the state of the world today, and we really do want to hear from customers," Aoki said. "Blogging is a great way of showing the flavor of Microsoft people but also [to] have an immediate bounce back. The customer has a chance to influence the thinking, so if you think that Microsoft is going down a good or a bad path with regards to IT pro technologies, you can tell that guy right there."

But Microsoft blogs aren't all about philosophical musing. In the material that's mixed in, an IT professional can find valuable how-to tidbits, plus troubleshooting and technical advice. The majority of the MSDN blog sites are technical in nature, said Lenn Pryor, the director of platform evangelism at Microsoft who recently left the company and blogged about it.

Pryor, along with a group of fellow employees, developed the Channel 9 blog for developers last year. "Channel 9 is about bringing that humanizing connection to the technology side for developers," he said. "It's had a very positive impact because people feel that we're quite accessible."

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