When Microsoft Made a U-turn on MVP program shutdown

June 2, 2019
Microsoft

This article will be a bit difficult to write for a couple reasons.  First, it brings back some really unhappy memories.  Second, there was never a reason given for it, nor anything more than “We changed our minds” ever offered as an explanation for it.

The day the Earth stood still

As I spoke to in my last several articles, the feeling one has after an MVP Summit is way above Cloud 9…able to leap tall buildings,faster than a speeding bullet, you’ve just pulled Excalibur from the stone, all that stuff.  I should hasten to say that NOT ONE WORD of what was to happen, no knee jerks nor strange word inflections nor eyebrow twitches were seen by a single soul in attendance.  In fact, in the world according to Steve Ballmer,the "new" Microsoft will be paying closer-than-ever attention to thew hims of Microsoft's various constituencies. Then along came October 21, 1999 and at 2:10 PM, the middle of my day, I received the following:

Thank you for your past participation in Microsoft technical newsgroups.

Your participation and contributions have been greatly appreciated.  In light of your participation,we would like to let you know about certain changes that will soon be takingplace in the technical newsgroups, including the elimination of the MVP Program.  Each year, Microsoft customer participation in the newsgroups has grown and we expect this to continue. Due to customer feedback and requests for more direct Microsoft involvement, we are changing our newsgroups strategy. Effective 12/1/99, we will be moving to a program in which technical newsgroups are staffed by Microsoft support professionals.  The MVP program will no longer be in operation effective 12/1/99.

This shift in focus in the newsgroups will allow us to respond to customer requests for more contact with Microsoft support professionals and guaranteed response times.  Microsoft will redirect their investments previously made in the MVP Program to the newsgroups overall and driving customer awareness of this valuable resource.

MVPs should be aware of the following:

*            The MVP buddy position will no longer exist and these Microsoft support professionals will be focused on assisting customers on line in a broader arena.  We recommend you take advantage of Microsoft Webcasts, our online training modules focused on Microsoft products and technologies in order to obtain technical and product information.  http://support.microsoft.com/servicedesks/msdn/webcasts/msdn_webcasts.htm  We also recommend you take advantage of our extensive online support offerings.  www.microsoft.com/support.

*            We will no longer be granting MVP Bucks.  Please feel free to use the MVP bucks you currently have before 12/1/99.  

*            MSDN and Tech Net subscriptions created in connection with the MVP Program will not be renewed.  You will be able to continue to use existing accounts until the expiration date (most likely 12/31/99).

*            Your MSN account will no longer be operational after 11/30/99.  

*            MVP Programs at Microsoft subsidiaries around the world may still be in existence.  Each program is run separately.

*            Those individuals who participate in our newsgroups by posting and answering customer questions will have a connection with Microsoft.  We will maintain a forum attended by Microsoft support professionals.  In this forum, those who participate heavily in the newsgroups will be able to ask support professionals questions and obtain guidance on technical and product issues.  Please visit this site for updated information. http://support.microsoft.com/support/mvp/

*            You will be hearing more about Microsoft community programs for the newsgroups and other forums.

We believe that this new approach to newsgroups and community will be beneficial for all Microsoft customers.  If you have any questions or suggestions relating to the changes in the technical newsgroups, we would appreciate hearing from you.  Please contact me at support1@microsoft.com.  Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

 

Joseph Lindstrom
Director Business Development

From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in mere seconds!  I checked newsgroups, called MVP friends, the response was universal – great sadness mixed with downright fury.  Everyone was upset and no one had even the slightest clue as to why it happened.  It made for one HORRIBLE weekend!   I called both my Microsoft contacts, my MVP Buddy and MVPGA – both were totally blindsided by the news, neither had heard anything ahead of time and were just as shocked and dismayed as the rest of us.

The Reprieve

Then, just as suddenly, I received this email the following Monday, October 25, 1999:

Last week Microsoft made an announcement about changes to the Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Program. Since that announcement, we have received feedback from customers and MVPs, asking us to reconsider this decision. Our objectives have always been to provide the best technical support in the industry and a part of that support is the activity taking place in the newsgroups today.  MVPs make a significant contribution to our customer satisfaction, and we sincerely appreciate their efforts. 

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.   

We will also take an additional step to organize an MVP advisory council that will help us shape the program going forward.   Our existing customer advisory councils will also be used to gather feedback and help us shape the future of our newsgroups.  We will work to improve the existing program in a way that better meets our customer needs. Your MVP Buddy will be contacting you about possible participation in the advisory council. 

We appreciate your feedback and your contribution to the Microsoft newsgroups.  If you have questions, please contact <email address no longer exists> or your MVPBuddy.  Thank you for your continued support of Microsoft and our products. 

 

Joseph Lindstrom
Director Business Development 

The Resolution?

So, what the heck just happened?  We were, then we weren’t, then we were again five days later.  The sad part is there is no official answer.  Some speculated it may have been a reaction to AOL and the seven or more former AOL volunteers who asked the Labor Department to investigate whether the use of non-compensated labor by AOL violates the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Here’s the vintage ZDNET article.  Others suspected that the company was spurred on by court decisions requiring Microsoft to provide an array of fringe benefits to temporary employees. According to this theory, Microsoft feared that hundreds of MVPs would be entitled to the same treatment. Here’s Mary Jo Foley’s take:

A number of MVPs and other interested parties claimed that Microsoft's decision to end its popular MVP advocacy program stemmed from Microsoft's fear that its newsgroup leaders might decide to sue them for pay,as happened recently to America Online.  Others speculated that a recent court decision requiring Microsoft to provide permanent temps with benefits caused the Redmond, Wash., company to move to bring its newsgroup leadership in-house to MSN and/or Product Support Services.Still others said they believed Microsoft was interested in charging for newsgroup support and saw it as a new services revenue generator for the company.

The only “Official”(?) explanation I’ve found is from an old Hiawatha Bray article:

Microsoft spokeswoman Carlene Schmaj has a far simpler explanation -- somebody screwed up. Because the MVPs were volunteers who'd been providing free tech support help even before they joined the program, Microsoft assumed they'd continue to do so even if the program was closed down. Then the company could save the minuscule cost of the program.

If they didn’t realize at the time that they'd just stepped on a very large cow pie, they soon did   After a torrent of critical press coverage and thousands of angry e-mails, three days later, the MVP program was back.  Today, thousands of MVP volunteers log on daily, eager to tackle even the most ignorant questions. Their answers often aren’t immediate, but at least no one has to listen to Musak while waiting. And as Microsoft belatedly realized, their price is unbeatable.  If you’d like to so a little exploring onyour own, I’ll add the two links I originally posted:

Microsoft to Online Volunteers:We Don’t Need You Anymore
MVP Program Abandoned-Reinstated

Methinks its now time for some fun stuff, I’ll be taking a look at some of the magnificent venues that have hosted theSummit Attendee parties over the years., Don’t touch that dial!

Hal Hostetler
I am both a Certified Professional Broadcast Engineer, an IT Professional and now a published Author.

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