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    The Bungee Line was an audio podcast for web developers, covering web API's, software development, and the creation of richly interactive web applications.

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Can We Trust Microsoft with Claimspace?

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.)

14 Responses

  1. “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?”

    To be honest with you, I doubt it. I pretty much certainly fall into the camp of people who can’t get over their distrust of Microsoft and are therefore harming the free software community, but given that caveat, I can’t think for one second why I’d trust Microsoft to do anything that benefits the community at their expense, or to make commitments in that regard and then keep them. A negative vote here; much like a great deal of MS software, Claimspace sounds good and is well written and decent but there’s no way I’d trust a large part of my business model to it, especially if I might end up one day being a Microsoft competitor.

  2. I think the simple answer is that we plainly can’t trust Microsoft. While there are clearly intelligent and well intentioned people working there, there are also parts of Microsoft (which in many cases seem to the be most externally visible parts of Microsoft) that have displayed consistently hostile behaviour towards the free software/open source community. Patent FUD is only the latest in a long line, not to mention the bubbling format wars over the current Microsoft Office format. Microsoft is remarkably consistent in this, and it amazes me that followers of the industry need to question it… Let’s have a good five year stint with Microsoft not being hostile to FOSS and then we’ll see. Never happen?

  3. Challenge accepted.

    Pre-caveat: My employer has yet to issue me a pair of evildoer horns. [I feel so naked.] Perhaps they’ll arrive in year 8 of my employ??? Until they arrive, if ever they do, I am not authorized to speak or do evil on behalf of my employer…nay, not even on behalf of our evil shareholders. The thoughts and opinions expressed here, in my blog, elsewhere on the web, at the bar, and in my evil office can only be attributed to me.

    Caveat to my Caveat: For legal reasons, I am advised to state, for the record, that my references to evil and evildoing and horns and such are sarcastic.

    And dude, I LOVE your spam blocker widget. I’ll give you a lead of 38,461 and race you to 100K. First one there buys the other a real beer, not a near beer of the Utahan variety. ;-)

  4. To #2:

    Sorry, but OIN is a prime (and specifically-intended-to-be-hostile) “patent FUD” group. Guess what, they’re not Microsoft.

    As regards the document format wars: as I recall, there’s only been one specific detractor among the entire committee, who’s trying to force their specific format down everyone’s throats rather than allow Microsoft’s format to be standardized. That’s not a war — that’s just being rude.

    Microsoft has been — as much as a for-profit venture can — perfectly happy with supporting free software, public-domain software, and software (free or not) that comes with source code. CodePlex and the recently-announced PopFly are great examples. So what if they choose, for very sound reasons, not to distribute much of their own source code, but instead provide plenty of free software when they don’t have to.

    This is especially true in their developer tools, where the only thing you have to pay for are the professional SKUs of Visual Studio: the SDKs and non-Pro SKUs are free. SQL Server, in a size appropriate for the home, is also free. If you provide support to the community, there’s the MVP program with its own award of software.

    I’d love to see a time when people actually fess up to the fact that others are entitled to charge for the works they produce.

    But enough of my rant.

  5. The premise is false. Trusting Microsoft is irrelevant. If they want to do this, they’ll do it. And it will succeed or it won’t. I think the real question should be “Is it a good solution?”

    Personally, I think not. It feels to broad, too overreaching. If it succeeds, it could be the next credit score: some thing that hugely impacts your life, but you have little direct control of. At least your credit score isn’t subject to DOS or POD attacks.

    I don’t want a cumulative score of everything I do! I understand the value of review, peer rating, etc., but I don’t think it should be taken out of the context of a particular community that uses it. I don’t want my reputation with my car club intermingling with my reputation in my Linux User Group, intermingling with my status as an amateur photographer. They are so different, so abstract, and my participation is as different and abstract.

    Does that make sense?

  6. BTW, I *don’t* trust Experian.

  7. Feels like you’ve got us in a Catch-22: because we are perceived as untrustworthy, anything we might try to do to build trust simply can’t be trusted. Sheesh. Are we really in such a hole with the community that we can’t catch a break? Is Microsoft no longer worthy of the benefit of the doubt? Those of us that are trying to change things from within need help; we simply can’t do it without the participation and prodding of our customers and skeptics.

  8. Dave: the problem is that the recent mantra from Microsoft people that I’ve spoken to, here in the UK and on LugRadio (Bill Hilf, Nick McGrath) has been “don’t judge us as the company that called the GPL a cancer; we’re not like that any more”, and yet that really doesn’t seem to actually be the case. Do you genuinely feel that saying that Linux violates a specific number of patents but refusing to say what they are is anything other than a campaign to generate nonspecific fear and scare people away from open source and back to Windows? Perhaps you’re comfortable with that way of doing business, but I can tell you that a large portion of our community isn’t, and thus the mistrust rolls on. Broadly, therefore, no, Microsoft is not worthy of the benefit of the doubt. You guys are the boy who cried wolf. I’m quite prepared to believe that there are people trying to “change things from within” — most of the MS hackers I know are decent and committed people — but, well, it’s not you who makes the decisions, and the people who do make the decisions don’t in any way cause me to trust them.

  9. [...] Ted Haeger asks whether we can trust Microsoft [...]

  10. [...] points to Claimspace, a service I had never heard of but that looks compelling to me as someone deeply involved in [...]

  11. Dave Morehouse:

    I’d like to investigate your opinions more, but the site you listed doesn’t seem to work.

    Firefox 2.0.0.2 on openSUSE 10.2 responds to http://davemscom.spaces.live.com/ with:
    “XML Parsing Error: syntax error
    Location: http://davemscom.spaces.live.com/
    Line Number 3, Column 49:
    ————————————————^”

  12. You can never trust any organisation. You can only ever trust people.

  13. Hmm. Now I know you were just farting around when you wrote “just Googling ‘Microsoft is Evil’ reveals how deeply the mistrust of Microsoft runs.” But, I thought I’d give it a try.
    In fact, I got 35,100,000 hits. I kept going… “Novell is evil” landed 1,110,000. “Linux is Evil”… 14,500,000.
    So, while we can debate the validity of the metric, let’s run with it. Novell rates a puny 3% of Microsoft’s evil quotient but Linux at large hits a whopping 41%! Now, we could delve deeper and investigate, I don’t know, evil hits versus installed user base. I’ll leave that to the statisticians.
    The point is, everybody who has ever made news is hated by somebody. The more you’re known, the more people hate you. A lot more people know Microsoft than Novell, it isn’t surprising that they get razed a lot more often. You just spent a fair bit of time with your Mac ad parodies trying to raise awareness of Linux. Perhaps we could measure your success by looking for a spike in the “Linux is evil” pages.
    But I’m just farting around too. I think the real issue isn’t with the software provider. The issue is with the community. Any time a community’s influence expands past its borders, the results are dubious. People within a community know, or are at least more likely to know, the internal politics and the personal biases. They know the jerks and the liars. If the jerks and liars are loud enough, everything the outsiders hear is rubbish.
    That’s the dilemma. That’s the issue. Noisy, rude, pushy liars are the problem. If you can keep them out, or muted, I think you’ll have a lovely time.
    I’ve got more thoughts, but 10:00 is the new 2 am…

  14. [...] back that I posted some of my thoughts about Microsoft’s Claimspace initiative. (See “Can We Trust Microsoft with Claimspace?“) In that post, I challenged the mind behind Claimspace, Mr. Korby Parnell, to lay out the [...]

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