The end-of-year retrospectives are popping up everywhere as Christmas and New Years approach. This morning, Soma Somasegar’s walk down 2010 memory lane caught my attention. He posted “A Year of Excitement” late-day yesterday (Eastern Standard Time). Whether or not there is any Microsoft “excitement” is topic for discussion in comments. But the tone of his post and emphasis is something other Microsoft bloggers — and employees from other tech companies — should try to imitate as they look back on the year or even ahead to 2011.
Somasegar writes: “I’m always impressed with the work we do here at Microsoft — you can see how unbiased I am 🙂 — but this year I’m especially proud to see some of the work having a real impact in my house and with my family members.” Stop right there. Somasegar is senior vice president of Microsoft’s Developer Division. He’s not a consumer evangelist but a developer. He works for a company selling most of its products to businesses, and he engages developers among them.
Companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Research in Motion, Samsung and Sony, among many others, don’t just sell products — they sell a lifestyle around them. Each has a clear digital lifestyle philosophy and worldview. Apple’s digital lifestyle marketing is exceptional, as is Nokia’s (regardless of its declining mobile phone/operating system market share) and Sony’s. These companies tell a good story about how their interconnected products benefit you.
Microsoft told a good story during the 1990s, particularly to beta testers, developers, enthusiasts and IT pros. As Microsoft developed more products and trenched in the enterprise, the lifestyle message scattered. Not that Microsoft failed to try. For years the company has talked about converging personal and professional lifestyles — work and home — and how its products could meet the needs of both. It was the right idea, but unbalanced; there was too much marketing emphasis on work compared to home. Much changed over the last 18 months, as Microsoft hired a new ad agency, shipped Windows 7 and prepared to launch Kinect and Windows Phone 7 for holiday 2010. Somasegar’s post captures some of that rebalanced emphasis of home-work lifestyles.
“Several weeks ago, my family became Windows Phone 7 users,” he writes. Microsoft gave out Windows Phone handsets to all employees. Family members, too, or did he buy those? Somasegar shows a picture of the personalized phones that he, his wife and daughters use. He then highlights features that are meaningful to his family, such as Bing search and personal connections:
I have hundreds of Outlook contacts, Hotmail contacts, and Facebook friends. I have contact information for some of my friends in more than one of those sources, and I was impressed with the People hub’s automatic contact linking so that each person had just one contact card with information from all my sources, including their photos.
He praises the number of applications — a measly 4,000 — but, hey, is a developer guy that sees the richness of the apps. Somasegar moves on to Xbox:
We have an Xbox Kinect at home, and I was amazed at how fast my daughters got the hang of controlling the Xbox and playing games using motion and gestures. Dance Central is popular at my house, but for all my years of software experience, this is one place where my wife and daughters have me beaten hands-down.
There’s a photo of his daughters playing games. Somasegar concludes by briefly praising Internet Explorer 9, which is still in beta. The blog post isn’t exceptional writing, but it’s personal and approachable, providing a homey perspective. And it feels genuine, rather than being crafted or vetted by one of Microsoft’s outside PR agencies.
Apple’s Serotonin-rush Mob
Somasegar is a developer, like many Betanews readers. He’s a father and husband, too. These familial roles are worth remembering and emphasizing during the holiday season. They’re part of our lifestyle, particularly during an era when home and work lifestyles often overlap so much. There’s a humility, too, that I often see among Microsoft employee bloggers and the lifestyles they tout compared to competitors.
Take Apple as example; messaging is tightly controlled. Where are the employee bloggers to be found? Where are they hiding? Apple runs a great lab rat experiment, where many bloggers, enthusiasts, investors and shareholders feed off rumors. They chase them through mazes looking for the next product announcement. Many people writing about Apple live the mouse-in-the-maze lifestyle — or rat race, if you prefer.
What about people adopting the modern Apple lifestyle? It’s a serotonin-rush mob. Macheads buy into feelings of exclusivity (based on price), superiority (from product design and bleeding-edge technologies) and belonging (the so-called community of Mac hardcores and, for Generation Y, using what their friends do). I’m often galled by many Macheads’ sense of superiority and closed-mindedness, where their lifestyle, regardless of how they define it, is the only one acceptable.
Unlike controlling Apple, among Microsoft’s lifestyle attributes — and I would assert much the same about Google — are availability, choice, cooperation and ubiquity:
- Making personal computing’s benefits available to all (derived from cofounder Bill Gates’ quest for a PC on every desktop).
- Providing customers with a wide choice of products (by the software licensing model that leads to many products released from the software platforms).
- Collaborating with customers, developers and testers (as demonstrated by tools for feedback, employee blogs and commercial products like SharePoint).
- Seeking standards, and arguably formats Microsoft controls, that make information easily consumed anywhere (successful efforts that solved 1990s’ problems of sharing documents created by different applications).
The Internet platform and rise of ubiquitous search has diminished the last attribute’s significance — and there Google deserves credit. But I digress. Somasegar stepped out of his developer role into another, there peeking into the Microsoft lifestyle that is for most people the most meaningful: Family.