With a public article from Mary Jo Foley today, apparently this is now common knowledge. Microsoft is shuffling consumer product groups and realigning the MVP program to focus more on development and IT. I've known about this for a while but its not supposed to take effect until July 1, 2016. But, alas, Mary Jo has a way of sometimes forcing things to light that would otherwise remain hidden.
I was a Microsoft MVP for 9 years and still keep in touch with the program as much as I can. I have some very good friends still in the program. The program has gone through many changes since it was launched in 1993. It’s had some stellar years, but also some really horrible ones. Microsoft continues to believe it can control its own community, but anyone that has worked as a community person and evangelist will tell you that it’s impossible for a vendor own its own community and be successful. The only true way to accomplish community success is to support and foster customers where they decide to reside, such as web sites and web-based forums (like myITforum.com), User Groups, email discussion lists, and 3rd party conferences and events.
A Microsoft spokesman, told Mary Jo that…
"The MVP program started off as a consumer influencer program but has, over time, become more Developer and IT Professional focused. We are now formalizing this change by having the Xbox, [email protected], Bing Ads and Windows & Devices Award Categories supported directly by the product teams."
That’s not true. The MVP program actually began as internal reward program at Microsoft back in the day and then someone at Microsoft had the brilliant idea to expand the program externally to reward hardcore customer contributors. At the time, the only way to participate was through NNTP servers (remember that?). I was among the very first non-Microsoft people to obtain an award.
The MVP program is in a constant state of evolution, and even more so the last couple years. At one time, the program rewarded the best and brightest technical minds on the planet. Over time, and through attempting to expand numbers, the group became diluted with partners that tarnished the intent. “Once an MVP, always an MVP” seemed to be the message, because it was treated like tenure instead of continually highlighting and rewarding top contributors. Even today, there are many brilliant contributors who should be MVPs but won’t be until the old guard retires. That's not to say that smart people don't exist in the program today. We bring a lot of those brilliant MVPs to IT/Dev Connections each year to deliver some fantastic, non-diluted content.
Many MVPs will tell you today (secretly and off-record, I might add) that the program has turned into a coveted marketing arm for Microsoft. As an MVP they are sometimes hampered by embargos stiffer than what’s handed out to journalists, and when they are able to communicate it has to follow specific messaging (much like you see in sessions at Ignite).
Some of the MVPs in this new alignment will be lucky enough to opt to migrate to a new area. Microsoft is creating a few new MVP areas, for example there will be one covering Windows and Devices for IT. These changes will take effect on July 1, 2016. Some of the MVPs won’t be so lucky.
If you monitor the Microsoft Yammer feeds, you’ll read about many MVPs who feel they are being abandoned, but frankly the changes make a lot of sense. Except for a few accessory areas, Microsoft has always had difficulty in the consumer space. The company’s greatest successes have come when it delivered for business, and if you look at where the majority of revenue for Microsoft exists today, it’s not in the consumer space – not even close. It’s difficult for any company to throw support behind an area that doesn’t generate revenue.
Microsoft is putting its community focus on what works and I believe this is a true representation of what you can expect to see from the company in the future. In essence, Microsoft is reorganizing its support/marketing groups to prepare for a renewed product onslaught in the next year that is centered completely around Windows 10 and the Cloud.
UPDATE: Additionally, according to unconfirmed reports, Microsoft has also laid off all its current Redmond-based MVP leads (those product managers who represent specific MVP focus areas) and will hire regional MVP leads to replace them. This action was done before hiring new MVP leads (or reassigning the function to a regional operative). As I noted earlier, the MVP program has gone through good times and bad times. We’ll just have to wait and see which type this turns out to be. One has to wonder what the final outcome will be. Will the costly MVP program survive this latest round of changes?