Microsoft marketing: welcome to the social, sort of.

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Update, only a very few hours later: wait until you’ve read the rest of the post before you click through here, but it just gets worse and worse.

As Microsoft marketing oopsies go this barely even registers, but it hits a number of interesting points on its path to cringiness so it’s worth a little attention. Yesterday I happened across the “What People Are Saying About Windows 7” page, located at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/social/, which looks something like this:

Go ahead, visit the page. Then reload the page. Then reload it again. Notice anything? Yes, that ostensibly real time flow of what people are saying starts with the same tweet each time, and as of the time of this writing that tweet was five seven hours old. If you want to head over to the Twitter search page and confirm that people have said things about Windows 7 since then, feel free…we both know what you’re going to find, don’t we?

Now I know, some of you may be inclined to say “oh, come on, it’s marketing for fuck’s sake, don’t you have anything better to complain about?” But here’s the thing: it’s half-assed, lazy, me-too marketing, and that’s totally worth complaining about, especially in a case like Microsoft’s, where this sort of marketing appears to be an institutionalized habit.

Starting with the smallest point first, the presentation is pointlessly godawful. While the UX conventions for presenting tweets aren’t set in stone, pretty much everybody else in the world presents a vertical scrolling list, newest at the top, with tweets shown in their entirety. It’s relatively simple, and it makes sense.

Showing partial tweets marching across and then down the screen at a pretty zippy default speed makes them extremely difficult to read. It also makes me absolutely certain that during one of the many, many meetings dedicated to designing this page someone stated that having actual real time Tweets “really wasn’t necessary,” because the point of the page is to “dynamically illustrate how much buzz there is around Windows 7.”

Next, in order for this to work, there’s some poor soul at Microsoft sitting there with the task of periodically going through and either approving or [shudder] manually entering information about the tweets that are approved for display on the site. Awesome, right? We’re all about finding jobs for people these days.

But why? Why is all this happening? As with the search engines, Microsoft is under no obligation to display all the tweets that reference “Windows 7” or “Win 7,” so filtering is no big deal. A five minute buffer with a filter on blatant obscenity would probably clear out about 90% of the anti-Windows 7 tweets and be entirely defensible. If you then added tools for the aforementioned poor soul at Microsoft to ban specific Twitter users, words and phrases, and URLs, then the spam and snarky anti-MS screenshot potential of the site drops to nearly zero…while making it a lot closer to “what people are saying about Windows 7” and easier to manage to boot.

It’s mind boggling. Microsoft has decided to go with a “we’re the operating system of the real people” [i.e. not those effete Apple snobs] and “you can have it your way” [i.e. you can buy cheap crap hardware in any configuration you like if you want to] spin on their recent marketing, but there are few companies that put bigger asterisks and more legal disclaimers next to the words “social” and “open.”

At least Apple is up front about it. Apple knows exactly how you should view and use their products, and if you have differing ideas on that it’s very nice and you can file them right here in this circular file, thank you very much, and just leave your check there on the table on your way out.

To the company’s credit, I guess, Microsoft recognizes that there’s good opposing territory just waiting to be claimed on the marketing front, but they’re so astonishingly terrified of what actual people might say, so convinced that every product release is a delicate flower that will wilt under the slightest adversity, that time after time they wade through so many filters, approvals, disclaimers, and “representative user profiles” that they end up with stick figure caricatures mouthing platitudes.