MVPs in the Knowledge Base
As a developer, you're undoubtedly familiar with the Microsoft Knowledge
Base. This is the repository, of course, of uncounted thousands of support notes
to help you get past the inevitable bugs and fill in the documentation gaps of
Microsoft products. So at first glance, you might not see anything unusual about
the article Changing the
default font in Word 2002. But closer inspection will reveal the unusual
part of this particular KB article: it was written by Pete Lees, MVP, who is
not an employee of Microsoft Product Support Services.
This particular article is a product of Microsoft's Community Solutions
Content Program, which was formally announced as part of the recent MVP
Summit (though it actually started posting articles late last year).
Microsoft is now inviting its thousands of MVPs - unpaid volunteers who are
recognized for their efforts in helping other users - to contribute directly to
the Knowledge Base (presumably with oversight from PSS, though the actual
process hasn't been publicly disclosed).
On a personal level, I'm rather pleased to see this maturing of the MVP
program. I was involved in the very, very early days, when what we got was some
warm fuzzies and the chance to have Microsoft pick up our CompuServe bills
(which were not inconsiderable!). Though I haven't been an MVP for some years
now, I still know plenty of folks in the program, and it's been nice to watch
Microsoft invest some serious resources in supporting the folks who turn around
and support them.
On another level, though, I wonder what message is really getting across
here. The disclaimer across the top of every MVP-contributed KB article is
certainly a bit scary. Beyond that, though, it seems to me that Microsoft is
walking a PR tightrope with this move. On the one hand, it's good that they're
recognizing the efforts of independent developers to work around bugs and find
innovative ways to use Microsoft products. On the other: isn't that what we
depend on the manufacturer for? What does it say about Microsoft to discover
that they couldn't get around to documenting some critical feature, and couldn't
even be bothered to pay an employee to do the documentation after the fact?
But as a working developer, you've got better things to do than worry about
the political implications of KB article authorship. No matter who writes them,
the articles are one of the best resources around for making use of Microsoft
products, and you'd be silly to ignore some or all of them just because of who
wrote them. We all owe thanks to the MVPs who help make our jobs easier,
whether on newsgroups, on weblogs, or in the Knowledge Base.
Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.