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Of Spin and Spam

First there was the Notebooks for Bloggers imbroglio, where Microsoft gifted prominent bloggers with tasty Windows Vista-based laptops. Now the company has been caught in a dust-up with Wikipedia.

The whole thing centers around Microsoft's effort to hire a technical writer to review and edit a pair of Wikipedia entries. One titled "OpenDocument" about the OpenDocument File format standard, and the other titled "ECMA Office Open XML" about Microsoft's competing standard file format. While Wikipedia is famously open to edits and contributions from individuals, the organization is adamantly opposed to any sort of pay-for-play activity on the site.

Microsoft says it explored paying a contributor to review and tweak entries to help counter what it described as inaccuracies in the online content. No money ever changed hands and no for-fee changes were made to the Wikipedia entries. But the contretemps reveal growing fault lines as developer relations and communications become increasingly diverse.

Microsoft, of course, is a leader in this arena. The company has long boasted superior documentation and support for its platforms and APIs -- an effort that has helped it outdistance rivals like Netscape and IBM, among others. More recently, Microsoft has opened a series of alternative channels, including hundreds of Microsoft employee-based blogs, information-heavy video sites like Channel 9 and the creation of MSDN wikis.

But the company seems to struggle with how to manage the wild Web of communications on the greater Internet. For instance, in the case of Wikipedia, Microsoft says it tried to get Wikipedia editors to address the alleged mistakes without success, before turning to the idea of paying someone to edit the content.

What are your thoughts? Did Microsoft cross a line? And should it even be considering these kinds of activities when its internal resources or so vast and capable? E-mail me at [email protected], and we may publish your advice to Microsoft.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 01/24/2007

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