Monday, November 12, 2007

Microsoft's survey of opinion leaders

I was minding my business last week, trying to finish grading when the phone rang. The call came from the 204 area code (Manitoba, I later learned Winnipeg), and the caller identified herself as being with Ipsos Public Affairs. For participating in a survey I was offered a $50 donation to one of a variety of charities, both blue chip (Alzheimer’s, Cancer Society, American Heart Association) or socially conscious (Habitat, Doctors without Borders) but not the charity Peter Drucker told Forbes was “by far the most effective organization in the U.S.”

The donation should have been the tip-off, because the interview ran 48 minutes. Most of the survey asked my opinion of seven high-tech companies: Adobe, Apple, Cisco, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, although some questions also “Linux” (or “Open Source”). However, the bulk of the interview — nearly half — was on comparing Google vs. Microsoft vs. IBM.

Having covered political surveys as a newspaper reporter, it only took 10 minutes to identify this as a Microsoft-sponsored survey. One hint was the three way comparison: Google and IBM are major rivals to Microsoft but not to each other. Other hints were the questions that matched Microsoft’s PR campaigns or potential Google criticisms.

I started taking notes about 5 minutes in. The major comparison questions between Google, Microsoft and IBM (in that order) are these questions:

  • [paraphrase] Has a technological vision
  • [paraphrase] Works well with hardware and software from other companies
  • [paraphrase] Is good for the US economy
  • Helps the us technology industry succeed
  • Gives customers control over the privacy of their information
  • Helps people and businesses realized their potential.
  • Is a responsible leader
  • Is committed to making charitable and social contributions in the US
  • Is a company I trust
  • Is a technologically innovative company
  • Offers products of the highest quality
  • Prices its products fairly in the US
  • Cares about its customers
  • Makes secure products
  • Is committed to being a leader in online safety
  • Is committed to making secure products
  • Its business practices meet the highest standards
  • Promotes opportunities for technology skills for underserved populations in the US (senior citizen, disabled)
  • Is an agile company
  • Is a dynamic company
  • Respects the individual property rights of individuals (for example, artists) and companies (e.g. publishers) for use for their content on the Internet
  • A company that has access to too much personal information
  • A company whose business practices are overly aggressive

In the second part, I was asked:

  • What company from the list I most associated with innovation [Apple, of course]
  • Any recent news I recall of IBM, Google and Microsoft
  • What firms would want with business partnership, and how good the 7 main companies are as partners.
  • What a company [like Microsoft] should do to reach out to the SV community
  • What technology-related public policy issue is most important [I said interoperability], which brought questions about what about interoperability was important, and asked to rate the 7 main companies on this.
  • I was asked to compare open source (“like Linux”) and proprietary code (“like SAP”) as to which one was better: ease of use, increasing global competitiveness of US companies, work well with products of other companies, security, quality, growing the local IT economy, innovation. [“Local” was ambiguous, but to me that implied the user’s country, e.g. India, China, etc.]
  • A series of questions about the role of IP as an incentive, the optimal strength of IP for various industries, and whether specific companies’ (RedHat, Sony, Siemens, Microsoft, Google, IBM) approach to IPR “fosters innovation and technology development in the US.”
  • Questions about Microsoft’s ads, and corporate citizenship
  • Questions about what news sources I follow — newspapers, websites, and bloggers
  • Questions confirming my political party and job title (which they had as “business school faculty”

Updated Nov. 14 (Thanks Tom) The list of bloggers must be some sort of badge of honor. The list that I was asked about was (in order) Eric Savitz, Thomas Hawk, Robert Scoble, David Sifry, Tom Foremski, Scott Beale, Kevin Rose, Michael Arrington, John Battelle, Om Malik, Fake Steve Jobs, Valley Wag, and Marc Andreessen. I’d only heard of the last four, although I didn’t know Andressen had a blog and only Malik’s blog has been useful to me in the past.

I’m not sure how I ended up in their sample, nor how they got my phone number. They called me on my GrandCentral number (which is on my most recent business card and my website). This is what Ipsos promises its clients:

It's about understanding and managing issues, and advancing reputations.

We've been doing just that for clients in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. Every day. …

We provide boutique-style customer service and work closely with our clients while often also undertaking research on a global scale. Clients receive forward-thinking solutions to data collection, innovative use of research technologies, and the strategic insight to evaluate and respond to ever-changing client demands. …

The essence of what we do is help our clients listen to what their audiences are saying, understand what they are thinking and anticipate what they have in mind. We know how best to determine and measure their views and opinions. But we go beyond delivering data. We analyze it, put it in context, and then let our clients know how they can best translate this understanding into efficient and effective policies, programs, communications strategies, and marketing initiatives.

I’m not sure what Microsoft is going to learn from its survey, other than perhaps quantitative measures of Google’s vulnerabilities like privacy and resentment of its march to Total World Domination.

1 comment:

Tom Chavez said...

One of the bloggers is Robert Scoble and his blog is at He used to be a Microsoft employee.