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Tune in to Channel 9

If you fly United Airlines, you can hear what's going on in the cockpit by turning the radio dial to Channel 9. Now if you want to get inside the head of Microsoft you can tune to Channel 9 on the MSDN Web site (see In fact, it was the community atmosphere engendered by the airline's eavesdropping channel that got five Microsoft evangelists thinking: "What if we created a Channel 9 for Microsoft?" according to Channel 9 team leader Lenn Pryor.
So, soon after witnessing the many productive interactions between Microsoft staff and customers at a recent Professional Developers Conference, the five team members grabbed some low-cost digital video cameras and started taping people. The team thought video would be a good choice so viewers could get to know Microsoft employees and actually see what they are working on.
Right away some interesting, previously unpublished stories began to emerge. One of the first was Bill Hill talking about the role that reading played in his life and why he believes that it's wrong to put two spaces after a period (he runs the advanced reading group at Microsoft—they developed the ClearType technology and created many of the fonts you see on screen). Channel 9 has many other fascinating interviews as well, including one with the inventor of the laser printer (Gary Starkweather) and one with the creator of wiki (Ward Cunningham). The Channel 9 video team has also interviewed Anders Hejlsberg, the senior architect behind the C# language, and Christopher Brumme, one of the architects of the common language runtime.
The Web site invites open interaction and discussion between Microsoft employees and external software developers around the world. Deep involvement in the community is a priority for Microsoft, and Channel 9 is an extension of the effort to reach out and connect with developers by using the latest technology.
The importance of this unique community has aroused the interest of the media, and Channel 9 has received a fair amount of press. It's been featured in The New York Post, CNET, InfoWorld, ZDNet, eWEEK, ClickZ, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and others. The site already has thousands of registered users.
In addition to the longer interviews, Channel 9 features short video interviews with key technical leaders from Microsoft product groups on a variety of relevant topics. In many cases, direct input from the Channel 9 community at large drives content decisions for the site. Plus, customers themselves are now creating content and conversations. For instance, there's a wiki where a customer can enter his or her favorite feature requests for the next version of Microsoft Internet Explorer.
In addition to wiki, Channel 9 community members interact through forums, blogs, and discussions, allowing deep, real-time interaction on any of the many different conversation threads active at a given time.
Channel 9 is an experiment in community outreach and engagement. "There is no doubt much of this is uncharted territory for us," said Pryor. "But we are committed to our developers and to being a productive part of the community. We believe Channel 9 is one way we can help Microsoft be an even better community participant than we have been in the past and continue to help developers succeed on the Microsoft platform."
Channel 9 aims to distinguish itself from other developer sites in a number of ways:
  • Forums have a social computing twist. Everyone posting gets their own avatar or picture so they can build their own identity on the site. In the forums, which range from general rants about the technology industry to highly technical questions and answers, you'll find lots of interesting people posting questions, answers, tips, and techniques.
  • Employees are urged to post photos from cell phones. Visitors to Channel 9 can see a bit of life inside Microsoft through the moblog, which has pictures that employees post from their own cameras.
  • Channel 9 is one of the most advanced generators of RSS feeds. Every registered user has an RSS feed and every thread is its own RSS feed. Visitors to Channel 9 can subscribe to videos, moblogs, and wiki-generated information. You can use your favorite RSS news aggregator like NewsGator, SharpReader, or RSS Bandit to subscribe.
So how did a United Airlines service become the inspiration for Channel 9? Well, back in the days before he worked for Microsoft, Lenn Pryor was afraid to fly, so his company arranged for a pilot to give him a ride to the airport. At the end of the ride, the pilot turned to him and said, "If you ever get freaked out on the plane, just turn on Channel 9." If Channel 9 can conquer the fear of flying, just imagine what it can do for your fear of versioning conflicts.

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