During my all-too-long blog silence, I have been designing a developer community program for my new company, Bungee Labs. There are so many considerations and requirements to create a decent community program: organizational transparency, reputation/rapport systems, programs for recognizing and rewarding the best contributions, and so forth. The mix is enormous. It makes me wonder: Is there a software solution that can provide the comprehensive community infrastructure that an ambitious (and somewhat unrealistically optimistic) community planner requires?
[Cue dramatic "was it...murder?" music. Enter Microsoft.]
Last week, Korby Parnell, a friend and former colleague of Bungee Labs’ VP of Community, Alex Barnett, came down from Redmond to visit us at here Bungee Labs. Korby is amazingly knowledgeable in Internet culture and social software. Soon after meeting him, I quickly learned that none of my brilliant and inspired ideas for the Bungee Connect developer community were all that original. Furthermore, it turns out that Korby has been working to solve many of the the challenge of how to implement several of the ideas that Alex and I have been dreaming up. It comes in the form of Microsoft’s “Project Rapport,” soon to be released as a
free no-charge service called Claimspace.
At first blush, Claimspace may appear to provide something akin to Technorati’s authority scoring, but it aims to be much, much more. I refer you to Korby’s blog post for an initial introduction. From what Korby showed me, over time Claimspace could solve many of the needs that Alex and I have identified for Bungee Lab’s community infrastructure. In fact, according to Korby, community managers and planners like Alex and me are exactly one of the personas that Claimspace intends to serve. There is just one problem.
It comes from Microsoft.
Why is that a problem? There are two reasons, both of which are social rather than technical. If Microsoft chooses not to address the first, then they will certainly have to address the second. Either that, or I predict that a more vendor-neutral alternative to Claimspace will quickly emerge and force community managers like me either to choose which one to use, or bifurcate our attention between both. (I beg you, Microsoft, please don’t put us community managers in that position!)
The first problem is that many social-software-savvy technologists will avoid using Claimspace altogether because people don’t trust Microsoft. A significant portion of the technologists who I need to attract into my community program assert–right or wrong–that Microsoft is evil. Humor of the last link aside, there are those who rigorously track what they see as Microsoft’s demonstrably bad behavior. In fact, just Googling “Microsoft is Evil” reveals how deeply the mistrust of Microsoft runs.
Can community managers like myself really afford to lose a portion of their potential recruits as a result of Claimspace’s close tie to Microsoft? One suggestion (which I made to Korby) is to line up a consortium of vendors to back Claimspace as an independent or multi-vendor industry initiative. Barring that, perhaps some of Microsoft’s less extreme detractors might get over their dyspepsia with some appropriate assurances regarding my second concern.
And the second concern is? It’s really just a subset of the first. Claimspace appears to propose that we entrust Microsoft with a crucial facet of our online identities: our professional, online reputations. Some may recall Microsoft’s Hailmaker disaster, an ambitious, nay, audacious identity effort that collapsed due to concern about Microsoft controlling online identities. For Claimspace, this concern won’t likely be a showstopper, but Claimspace, and those who decide to use it for community management, will likely lose a significant number of potential users because people get very suspicious when it comes to Microsoft and online identities.
I cannot emphasize enough how extremely compelling I find Claimspace to be. Korby’s thinking on it (beyond what he shares in the blog post) is comprehensive and brilliant. It would certainly make my life much easier. However, I doubt that I stand alone in expressing these two intertwined concerns (okay, they’re really just one concern), and I ask my readers to chime with their comments, for or against the validity of these concerns. I feel that they deserve to be addressed, so I toss it as a friendly challenge to Korby to see why we should believe that Microsoft can be trusted with our identities in Claimspace. Is being inclusive important enough to Microsoft to implement the appropriate mitigations for the concerns of those of us who do not trust that that Microsoft can be entrusted with our identities?
Here are some further questions that may help show the breadth of what need be considered:
- Where will Claimspace user identities be stored? Are identities centralized or de-centralized?
- How much information will Claimspace require in order to track an individual? Minimizing the amount of personal information required has to be balanced against the potential for stooging/doppelganging.
- What about arbitration? How will an individual be able to repudiate erroneous or malicious claims against his or her identity?
- Once in, can I later choose to opt out of Claimspace altogether, removing all record of my existence from Claimspace?
- How will Claimspace be made hack-proof? That is, could someone launch some kind of DoS-like attack against me in order to besmirch my reputation. (Besmirch. Huh huh…huh huh…)
- (I may add other questions as I think of them, but for now, that’ll do, Ted. That’ll do.)