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Internet Incantations

Something powerful has happened with the explosion of the Web.

The Internet gives people who don't know each other the power to find each other through e-mail lists such as offsite link.groups.yahoo.com, through newsgroups such as those organized on groups.google.com, and through Web sites such as offsite link.about.com. E-mail lists and newsgroups are used to share common problems and to help solve those difficulties. Through Web sites such as offsite link.slashdot.org and offsite link.epinions.com, people can exchange opinions about topics of interest -- technology, world events, products, travel...you name it. Individuals have opinions, and they're using the Web to express them.

Talking the talk

Some companies are having a hard time adjusting to the open communication that the Web is making possible. Case in point: the recent legal action offsite link.Ford Motor Company vs. BlueOvalNews.com. Ford reportedly sponsored offsite link.BlueOvalNews.com, a Web site for Ford vehicle fans. The site includes pages on all the Ford vehicles, photo essays on favorite models, and information on manufacturing and future technologies. BlueOvalNews.com claims to be dedicated to providing balanced news of Ford's products to its customers: "BlueOvalNews is a totally ALTERNATIVE Ford news source with a different twist. If you're just looking for Ford press releases, you've come to the wrong web site."

BlueOvalNews.com learned about problems with the 1999 Ford Cobra Mustang through various newsgroup discussions. When the problems were reported on the Web site in an article compiled from Ford internal documents, Ford stopped sponsoring the site and sued. BlueOvalNews.com won the court case and two days later Ford issued a recall on the vehicle. In spite of the recall, Ford is appealing the lawsuit.

Companies can choose to fight consumers who use the Web to share product problems. Is this the best way to treat devoted customers? I think not!

Because the Web also presents an open forum where people can discuss this kind of treatment, Ford's handling of the situation is bound to create a backlash. Attorney Scott McKay used the BlueOvalNews.com Web site to invite 1999 Cobra Mustang owners to join in a class action lawsuit against Ford. I don't know if the lawsuit is justified. I don't even know who is right or wrong. But I do know that devoted customers and fans should be treated well -- especially when they are having problems with a product.

MVPs speak out

Microsoft recently had a close encounter with the power the Internet brings to the people. Kevin Weeks of Developer News provided the facts in the news story "Back Again", where he wrote: "In a reversal of its decision to cancel the MVP program, Microsoft has announced the program has been reinstated."

As a Microsoft MVP, this situation affected me personally.

On Thursday evening 21 Oct. 1999, Microsoft's private newsgroups for MVPs were buzzing with talk of the shutdown of this award-based, volunteer program. A few had received an e-mail from Joseph Lindstrom, director of business development, which read in part: "Due to customer feedback and requests for more direct Microsoft involvement, we are changing our newsgroups strategy...Microsoft will redirect their investments previously made in the MVP Program to the newsgroups overall and driving customer awareness of this valuable resource." Others didn't receive the e-mail until the next morning, but MVP Buddies (Microsoft employees who support the MVP program) confirmed its truth.

By Friday evening 22 Oct. 1999, Microsoft MVP Karl Peterson had set up a Web page with offsite link.news on the situation and a mailto link for sending feedback to Lindstrom, Steve Balmer, Bill Gates, and other Microsoftees. A fair share of the 600 Microsoft MVP's posted messages in Microsoft’s product support newsgroups, providing links to Peterson's Web site and inviting customers to use the link to send feedback to Microsoft.

By Saturday morning 23 Oct. 1999, offsite link.DevX.com was making plans to expand its newsgroups to provide a home for all the MVPs. Meanwhile, the MVPs were discussing other invitations they had received via e-mail to post on various newsgroups and Web discussion groups. Even if Microsoft didn't agree, it seemed that others viewed this group of 600 experts on Microsoft products to be an asset worth saving.

Throughout the weekend, the MVPs shared copies of messages sent by Microsoft's customers to Lindstrom and others protesting elimination of the MVP program. MVPs also shared rumors that Microsoft was being flooded with thousands of e-mails from customers requesting that the MVP program be reinstated.

Their voice is heard

On Monday afternoon 25 Oct. 1999, only four days after sending out the original e-mail, Microsoft recanted its decision. Lindstrom sent a new e-mail to the Microsoft MVPs, stating: "Clearly, the feedback received recently is in strong support of the MVPs and the great contributions they make in the newsgroups. Based on this feedback, we will reinstate the MVP Program effective immediately."

Microsoft MVP Christian Desbourse joked, "600 MVP's collaborate over the whole weekend to get a user to find the undo function." If rumors are correct, not one but thousands of users found the undo function this weekend, thanks to the force of the Internet.

Power to the people! And power to Microsoft for listening and for taking such swift action in support of its customers' wishes!

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