May 18, 2008

free cartoons as "social objects"


When I first started putting up cartoons onto gapingvoid in 2001, they were in a small, 400-pixel-wide format, just like the "Love Letter" cartoon you see above.

Then about 2 years ago, I started posting them in high-resolution, like the "Dinosaur" cartoon below [Click on the image and the high-res version will pop up].


This meant people could actually download the images and start using them for their own stuff. Like I said in my licensing terms,

Hey, if you want to put the work up on your website, blog, or stick it on paper, t-shirts, business cards, stickers, homemade greeting cards, Powerpoint slides, or whatever, as far as I'm concerned, as long as it's just for your own personal use, as long as you're not trying to make money off it directly, and you're giving me due attribution, I'm totally cool with the idea.

As a "Social Object", a cartoon that one can actually print out and hang on their cube wall, or put on a t-shirt, a business card etc is far more powerful and useful than say, YET ONE MORE IMAGE you can find on the internet and e-mail en masse to your friends.

i.e. The cartoon itself hasn't changed, but the interaction between it and the "End User" is suddenly far more meaningful.

So of course, the next layman's question is, "Yes, but... how do you monetize it?"

And of course, the answer is, "Indirectly".

For example, in October, 2006 I post the Microsoft Blue Monster cartoon. Within a few months Microsoft is somehow paying me a lot of money to do other drawings for them. Without the former, the latter would never have happened. And without the latter, Sun Microsystems would never have approached me. Everything feeds into everything else. Exactly.

In other words, I don't create the online cartoons as "products" to be sold. I create the cartoons as "Social Objects", i.e. "Sharing Devices" that help me to build relationships with.

As with all things, the REAL value comes from the human relationships that are built AROUND the social object, not the object in itself.

I'll quote my friend, Mark Earls one more time. This is from his second book, "Herd":

"Cova is surely right to suggest that much of modern consumer behaviour is social in nature. We do it not just in a social context (tangible and immediately present or over distances) but for social reasons -- that is the object or activity is the means for a group or tribe to form or interact. This also echoes a lot of what Douglas Atkin describes in his study of cult brands -- brands which have developed a cult status (like Apple, and Ford's bestselling pickup) seem to serve an underlying social need within each individual (just as religious cults do): a need to belong. The real draw is probably not the brand but... other people."
And I'll also ask my favorite question, one more time: If your product is not a "Social Object", how on earth do you manage to stay in business?

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May 8, 2008

"the blue monster is the future of marketing"


I haven't talked about The Blue Monster for a while.

The Blue Monster, as you will remember, is a cartoon-based "Social Object" that me and my Microsoft buddy, Steve Clayton, unleashed on the good but unsuspecting folk at Microsoft. For those unfamiliar with it, you can find the backstory here on Google.

One of the reasons I haven't talked about it much lately, is simply because there is no longer the need. To paraphrase Steve, "It's already out there, it's already working its magic. It has a life of its own and it no longer needs us."

Exactly. And as my friend, Tara Hunt so rightly pointed out, to push it too hard, especially with Microsoft management giving it a big thumbs-up, would somehow defeat the purpose. If overused, "Subversion as a marketing tool" can be counterproductive, especially if it comes from above.

In 2007, the conversation was all about "THE" Blue Monster. But in 2008, a new conversation seems to be emerging: "A" Blue Monster.

Let me explain:

I've been talking to some companies recently, talking about doing some new business with them. Without any doubt, the question I get asked the most is, "Can you make a Blue Monster for us?"

Obviously, when they're talking about "A" Blue Monster, they're not talking about a wee blue cartoon character with pointy horns, that hails from Redmond, Washington.

What they're talking about, of course, is a "Social Object", not necessarily a cartoon, designed to create what I loosely describe as "Marketing Disruption".

It's not unlike when you're talking about Seth Godin. When you say, "THE" Purple Cow, you're talking about his wonderful and seminal marketing book from a few years ago. But when you talk about "A" Purple Cow, you're just talking a about a product, any product, which from a marketing standpoint has been designed so well, it does not need any traditional marketing per se. It's so "remarkable" for what it is, people can't help but talk about it. And so the word spreads, almost by magic. Seth actually gives a really good example of exactly that here.

So what's the difference between a Purple Cow and a Blue Monster? Well, we could split hairs on that one forever, but for me, the main difference is Purple Cows have their "remarkability" baked into the product. Blue Monsters are more about the "Social", the interesting bit is the interactions that happen AROUND the product. That's what gave our little wine company the edge when marketing Stormhoek. The VAST majority of our conversation was not about the wine in the bottle. The conversation WAS ALL ABOUT the people drinking it. As we were fond of saying, "Wine is the ultimate social object. It's only interesting AFTER the cork is pulled."

So in conclusion, yes, something has recently evolved in my thinking. Though my relationship with Microsoft remains as strong as ever, "Blue Monster" now means something far bigger to me than just cartoons, gapingvoid, Microsoft, Redmond etc. The Blue Monster is all about the Social Object.

I have often said, I believe Social Objects are the future of marketing.

Let me modify that slightly: I believe the Blue Monster is the future of marketing.

[UPDATE:] Steve Clayton sent me the following message on Twitter:


I replied back:


[Afterthought:] Understanding the Blue Monster means understanding the need to be "bigger than yourself". Exactly.

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April 16, 2008

business is:

[This cartoon was commissioned by my client, Microsoft.]

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home vs office

[This cartoon was commissioned by my client, Microsoft.]

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[This cartoon was commissioned by my client, Microsoft.]

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without collaboration

[This cartoon was commissioned by my client, Microsoft.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:00 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack


[This cartoon was commissioned by my client, Microsoft.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

creativity etc.

[This cartoon was commissioned by my client, Microsoft.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:56 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 8, 2008

how does a software company make money, if all software is free?


On Page 122 of this month's Wired Magazine, I'm given a brief mention in the first paragraph of an article, "Open Source Software Made Developers Cool; Now It Can Make Them Rich", all to do with monetization of Open Source software. Here's the online version.

Last spring, marketer and blogger Hugh MacLeod posted a question on his site: If open source is such a phenomenon, where are all the open source billionaires? His audience wasn't amused. Open source software relies on a community of volunteer developers who tinker on, write for, or amend a program, then give it away free. MacLeod's site filled up with complaints that even to look for billionaires violated the spirit of the open source movement. "There have to be rewards," one commenter wrote, "but they don't have to be financial." Another simply recommended that MacLeod "shut the fuck up," adding: "You don't know what you're talking about."
I would agree with this charming "shut the fuck up" fellow that I know very little about software. I have never claimed to be that interested in it. What gets me working for Microsoft is that I've always been very interested in something else, namely, how people make a living. This is true for large companies, small companies, billionaires and "humble tradesmen" alike. This is why I can work with a large software company like Microsoft, or a small tailoring firm like English Cut, and find them both utterly fascinating. Everybody needs to get paid; that is the great constant in business.

Last summer, at a dinner party in London, I had the great pleasure of meeting Simon Phipps, the Head of Open Source at Sun Microsystems. What a great guy. Insanely smart. Enjoyed his company immensely. A lot of the conversation was off the record, but one of my main take-outs was that Simon passionately believes that "The Future Is Open Source".

Simon may be right, he may be wrong, he may be a little bit of both. The future always has a way of surprising us all. But for sake of argument, assuming that "The Future of Software is Open Source" is proved correct in time, perhaps this would be a good time for my client, Microsoft to ask the question: How does a software company make money, if all software is free?

The answer, of course, was hinted at in the aforementioned Wired article. With Open Source, people don't pay for the software per se; but they DO pay for the peripherals.

How can you build a business by giving away the store? The money comes from selling add-ons, service contracts, and hardware to go with the software.
It took me a while to figure this out, but what applies to Open Source, also applies to Microsoft.

When you buy a Microsoft product, you're not just getting ones and zeros. There's also a form of "social contract" implicit in the commercial transaction. You gave them money, this entitles you to certain expectations.

A few weeks ago, I met a young developer who worked in an IT department of a large insurance company. I asked him what kind of software did he use. Answer: About 75% Microsoft, 25% Open Source. I asked him why did he not use more Open Source? I thought IT people loved Open Source?

"If something goes wrong with Microsoft, I can phone Microsoft up and have it fixed. With Open Source, I have to rely on the community."

And the community, as much as we may love it, is unpredictable. It might care about your problem and want to fix it, then again, it may not. Anyone who has ever witnessed something online go "viral", good or bad, will know what I'm talking about.

The reason Microsoft is able to charge the money it does IS NOT JUST BECAUSE OF THE SOFTWARE. Like Open Source, the social contract can often matter far more than the ones and zeros.

[UPDATE:] After reading the comments below, a friend of mine sent me the following e-mail:

OMG open source people are funny. Is it always that easy to make them dance? :)

What strikes me as particularly entertaining is that, if their
product/service offerings ARE comparable or better than Big Business
offerings, perhaps if they turned their passion outwards instead of just
ranting and gushing to each other and at you, more of the world might know
about it and they might get more market traction and be greater catalysts
for competition and change within their industries.

Dear Open Source Community: It would appear that you suck at marketing.
Which makes it positively comedy gold that you are bitching at Hugh MacLeod
about the challenges and misconceptions you face... due to sucking at marketing. :)



My friend's snarky attitude notwithstanding, I'm wondering what marketing problems Open Source DOES have. I know techies like to consider themselves relatively immune to "All that marketing crap", however...

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March 16, 2008

cartooning gigs

[A riff on the Blue Monster cartoon. Recently commissioned by Microsoft etc.]

Recently I've been busying myself with a new series of cartoons I'm doing for Microsoft. The cartoon above is one of them.

Microsoft is awash with both [A] complicated products and [B] complicated ideas, so they often use my cartoons internally to communicate them in a more, shall we say, digestible form.

I'm also talking to other large companies about doing the same kind of thing with them. The work suits me. I like the challenge, I like the mental algebra, I like being able to interface with hardcore, real-world problems. And it can all be done in Alpine, Texas, Cumbria or wherever via the internet, without me having to book an airline ticket and hotel.

If this is something that would be useful for your company, feel free to drop me an e-mail.

[I'm still doing the public speaking and appearance gigs, of course. More info here. Thanks Again.]

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February 25, 2008

"doodling for profits"


There's a great little article on the Businessweek website about the power of doodling in the corporate world. Steve Clayton, The Blue Monster and myself all get a wee mention.

In the fall of 2006, a group of senior European executives at Microsoft entered a meeting expecting to see a PowerPoint presentation. Instead, Steve Clayton—then the chief technology officer for Microsoft's U.K. Partner Group—showed them a hand-drawn image of an impish blue creature bearing gnarled fangs and sporting the provocative caption "Microsoft: Change the world or go home." After a few initial gasps, recalls Clayton, the attendees engaged in a lively discussion around the current direction of the company and the brand. "People liked the way it changed the angle of conversation," Clayton says.
Rock on.

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February 6, 2008

cartoonist for hire

[Me drawing cartoons at the ODC event. People hand me their business cards, I draw on them on an EMO overhead projector, so people see them being drawn live on a big projector screen, a few feet away. Very cool.]

1. I'm writing this from San Francisco. Microsoft has sponsored me to come over and draw some cartoons for them at the Office Developer's Conference. I've had a blast so far.

I got the gig through Kris Fuehr, who hired me last year to come to Redmond, back when she was still working for Microsoft. She's since left the company, and started up a new enterprise. Based in Seattle, she's basically my Microsoft handler. So anyone from Microsoft who wants to hire me to draw cartoons should talk to her. Thanks.

I'm really open to the idea of doing more cartoon stuff with Microsoft, if they'll let me. The more I get to know the company, the more interesting I find it. Maybe not so much from a technological perspective [I'm not really much of a techie, truth be told], but more from a cultural perspective. The culture is so vast and complex, as are their challenges, positive and negative, I find it all extremely stimulating. Besides that, I generally like the people meet there. Smart, nice and driven is a good combo, if you ask me. So if any Microsoftees are reading this, please feel free to spread the word.

2. I'm also available for cartoon commissions for other companies, as well. Again, talk to Kris.

3. I'm also available as a public speaker. Again, talk to Kris.

4. I'm also talking to other companies re. other consulting gigs, all to do with "Marketing 2.0" and how "Social Object Theory" applies to their businesses. Again, talk to Kris.

5. "Have Laptop, Will Travel."

6. Thanks Again.

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February 5, 2008

off to california on saturday for the office developer's conference


This Saturday I'm putting on my traveler's hat and heading for San Jose, California, for the Microsoft Office Developer's Conference, 2008.

Here's a page on the reasons people attend:

-Take a deep dive into the real world product and deployment experience and guidance about the Microsoft Office System products and technologies since Office 2007 came to market.
-Expand your thinking by learning about Office Business Applications and how Office as an application development platform is revolutionizing the software development landscape.
-Learn key software architecture patterns for designing and building Office Business Applications.
I've been commissioned by Microsoft to basically walk around the place, talk to people, and draw cartoons. The doodling equivalent to Gonzo Journalism, I guess you could say.

From a personal standpoint, I like hanging with the Microsoft people. Because [A] they've got so much going on all the time and [B] they're very, very smart people, there's a lot for me to learn. I've already done the "Art" thing in spades. I like the totally contrasting, somewhat naive foray into tech.

There are rumors I might get to meet Bill Gates. That would be interesting.

Then I'm off to Texas for a week or two to visit my father, who I've not seen for a while. Then I'm in Las Vegas for Mix '08 in early March.

I'm really looking forward to being back on the road again, after a month or two off in Cumbria.

I seem to have two sides of my personality. One is the hyper-social side, where I get on a plane and meet and talk with lots of people, again and again.... then I burn out and head back to Cumbria, and play recluse for a while, and recharge my batteries.

James Joyce once said that a writer needs three things- Silence, Exile, and Cunning. I suppose my Cumbrian-Globetrotting mix is my way of achieving exactly that. Rock on.

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January 31, 2008

the blue monster game [update]

[Click on image to enlarge]

Like I hinted in November, The Blue Monster has turned up in a video game. Ryan Anderson from Fuel Industries in Canada sent me the following update:

Just wanted to let you know that Microsoft Technet promotional game with the Blue Monster cameo appearance is now live at He's part of the second mini-game called "Packet Invaders." You have to stop a security breach by blowing up the bad port requests and keeping the good ones. When the Blue Monster appears in the bottom right, you can click on him and he'll chomp across the screen and destroy any of the dangerous ports.

We've created a video showing him in action.

There's also a trailer for the game itself on MSN Video.

I hope you get a chance to play the rest of the game as well - there are a lot of hidden jokes and references throughout the levels. We had a lot of fun creating this, and I'm very happy that we were able to integrate the Blue Monster into it somehow. Hopefully next time, he'll get a bigger role.

Rock on.

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December 27, 2007

microsoft and chess pieces


I first learned how to play chess when I was about eight years old. I remember feeling quite frustrated, after my Uncle Donald had taken every one of my pieces except for my King, how the latter, as the last remaining of my pieces on the board, surrounded by Uncle Donald's rooks and knights closing in for the kill, seemed so utterly impotent in the face of impending doom. My King was able to move in any direction, yet he was so unable to save his poor self from the final kill. If the King was so important, why did he not have more compelling powers at his disposal? For a poor eight-year old, it all seemed terribly unfair.

Then about the three years ago I learned the history of chess pieces, and why they move the way they do. It answered a lot of my questions. I wrote a blog post about it.

5. The Queen. The Queen's entourage was always looked after by a small, elite, highly trained bodyguard. The imperative to protect the women and children was very strong. If trouble was afoot it needed to get the hell out of Dodge very quickly. Ergo the bodyguard was very mobile and very deadly. It needed to be.

6. The King, though powerful and free to choose any direction he wanted, was heavily laden with the apparatus of State. The King could not just drop everything and flee; he had the court, the treasury and the ministers weighing him down. So his movements were fairly limited.

The King, being the Head Honcho, could move in any direction he pleased. But because he had so much accumulated baggage, he couldn't move very far. Unlike my opponent's gallant rooks and knights surrounding him.

I often see parallels between the King chess piece, and a company I have not only have worked for in the past, but also have a great deal of affection for i.e. Microsoft. A market cap worth tens of billions, annual sales of tens of billions, a vast army of employees needing paid, a vast army of shareholders needing dividends, and and vast, vast, vast LEGION of smart, capable and equally ruthless folk who would like nothing better than to see them permanently fall on their faces. And how do they mange to keep all these wolves from the door? By arranging groups of ones and zeros into a particular order, and getting other people to pay for them. The logistics are are off the scale.

People often question my motives for working with Microsoft, which any cynic would say is not really that surprising. Quips of me being "Assimilated by The Borg", or me being a "Shameless Blog Whore" are often thrown my way. Of course, what these people don't realize [not that they've ever asked], is that I make a lot more money with my far less controversial small business projects- The money I've made from Microsoft in the last year would account for less than 10% of my total income. I could make a lot more money without Microsoft, I just choose not to.

Why? Because perhaps, just perhaps, the question, "How does a lone King stay alive, let alone win the game, when surrounded by so many opponent's bloodthirsty rooks and knights?" is a topic that I find fundamentally interesting. As would any sane person who has been operating in the real world for more than six months. This is partly what The Blue Monster is all about. Rock on.

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December 23, 2007

TV 2.0: Microsoft's next big idea


For the last couple of years, I've been asking the question, "What's Microsoft's next big idea?"

What comes after Windows, Office and paid software? What comes after Open Source reaching critical mass?

Most of the answers I got, from both inside and outside the company, were pretty vague. The certainly didn't feel all that convincing.

Then I went to Paris a few weeks ago and the pieces of the puzzle started to come together: "Madison Avenue, you work for Redmond Now."

And then today I saw this article on CNET: "Microsoft quietly combines TV efforts."

Suddenly I had a moment of clarity.

My geek friends and I spend a lot of time in front of our computers, sitting at our desks. So when we see the tech battles being fought, we see the desktop as the primary battlefield.

Suddenly it hits home. The next big tech war won't be fought on the desktop, like it was back in the 1980s. It'll be fought in the living room.

My guess is, whatever TV becomes in the next century, Microsoft wants to own it. Or at least, own a huge chunk of it. And that battle will be fought and won [or lost] sometime in the next decade.

Anybody got a better idea, let's hear it.

[UPDATE:] Microsoft's Steve Clayton just sent me a message on Twitter:

"@gapingvoid of course the fact that we began investing in the future of TV over 10 years ago will be lost on most"

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December 21, 2007

the blue monster express


There's a Blue Monster bus driving bloggers from Silicon Valley to C.E.S. in Vegas on January 5th. I'll be riding it, so will some other friends of mine. Robert Scoble has the skinny.

I wonder if, when Hugh Macleod started drawing little cartoons on the backs of business cards that he ever expected that one of them would be on the side of a bus? Can a bus be a “social object?” (That’s Hugh’s term for making something interesting enough to talk about. For instance, a bus? Not interesting. A blue monster express? Interesting!)

We’ll be driving this bus from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas on Saturday, January 5. We’ll have lots of streaming video and all that with tons of interesting bloggers and other people. Mogulus is helping Rocky and me produce a live video show from the bus too.

The bus will also be driving bloggers around CES during the show, especially between the main hall and the BlogHaus.

The bus was put together by Microsoft and the groovy cats at Podtech.

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November 28, 2007

nice one


Steve Clayton and The Blue Monster make it onto MSFT's Channel 10.

[UPDATE:] Attention Suit Geeks! One of my partners-in-crime, Savile Row tailor Thomas Mahon, has just set up his own Twitter page. Rock on.

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November 7, 2007

the new microsoft


[Cartoon added to The Blue Monster Series.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 2:23 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

the blue monster game

[Click on image to enlarge]

The Blue Monster has been turned into a game. Ryan Anderson from Fuel Industries in Canada sent me the following e-mail:

Hi Hugh,

We’re just entering the early stages of the development of the game that will include the Blue Monster, and I just wanted to show you how he was being integrated. The idea of the whole promo is to take IT people through a game that shows them the benefits of Technet, which is one of their key IT support services. Right now, the Blue Monster shows up in one of the mini-games, where the hero IT guy has to destroy bad packet requests on the network, identified by port without destroying the real requests (I’m told it’s fun if you’re a geek).

He flashes on the screen and eats all the bad packet requests and leaves the good ones. There’s not much of an explanation of who the Monster is, other than that he’s on your side. I would like to integrate it into the dialogue of the quest game (think Leisure Suit Larry meets The IT Crowd) just as an acknowledgement of it. Mostly, it’s just meant to be a little nod to those who know it, and perhaps we can link to an explanation of what the Blue Monster is… that much is not decided.

I’d love to hear what you think about it, from “cool.” to “I think this is stupid.” Also, if you wouldn’t mind sending me an email that just states clearly that you’re okay with Microsoft using the image in a game in this context, I’d really appreciate it. As I’m sure you’re aware, MS has a lot of lawyers who need things like that, and apparently our exchange on Facebook isn’t enough for them.

I’ve attached a screen capture of the Blue Monster in action… though he moves quickly so I couldn’t get a shot with his mouth open. This is not a final screen design, but it gives you the idea.

Let me know if you have any questions / comments, etc., and I’ll let you know about any changes or additions we make with BM.



I certainly don't think it's stupid. I think it's wonderful. Totally. The only thing i would say is I'd love to see a few Stormhoek bottles in there somehow. But I would say that. Heh.

[Note to MSFT lawyers:] Yeah, I'm totally cool with the Blue Monster being used in a Microsoft game. Just in case you had any doubts etc.

Thanks, Ryan. Rock on!

[PS: Yes, this is indeed a Social Object etc.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 3:48 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

re. rising above the clutter

[Click on image to enlarge/download/print etc. Licensing terms here.]

Like the Good Book says, "All is Vanity". From The Frontal Cortex:

The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was a fancy grand-cru. The other bottle was an ordinary vin du table. Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was "agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded," while the vin du table was "weak, short, light, flat and faulty". Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only 12 said the cheap wine was.
The one thing that separates human beings from other mammals is our capacity for metaphor i.e. the capacity to tell stories. These forty-odd "wine experts" were telling themselves a wine story. The molecules in the bottle didn't matter. What mattered was the narrative.

With hundreds and thousands of wine brands all telling the same story ["Our FAMILY has been making THIS kind of wine on THIS piece of LAND for THIS MANY generations yak ya yak..."] the only way we could get Stormhoek to rise above the clutter was to tell a different story altogether. Which in the end meant a rather unlikely cultural mash-up between a small South African vineyard and the US West Coast technology crowd, including Silicon Valley and Microsoft.

We've had some good results along the way, but the experiment is far from over yet...

[UPDATE] My Chicago friend, Vinny Warren left the following story in the comments below:

I worked in a bar in Ireland in my youth back in the 80s. There was a brewery sponsored inter-pub competition to see which bar could sell the most COLT 45 malt liquor which had just been introduced and was failing miserably. Malt Liquor in Ireland??

It was a very busy pub. So we switched the very popular Heineken taps over to the Colt 45 kegs towards closing time each night for a month.

We won the competition. The prize was a free trip to Spain.

And not a single punter ever complained about the taste of their Heineken!

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:55 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 6, 2007

steve clayton's new gig

[Click on image to enlarge/download/print etc. Licensing terms here.]

A couple for months ago at the Blue Monster Breakfast, I drew the cartoon above to illustrate Microsoft's new "Software + Services" schtick.

For reasons that were not 100% apparent to me at the time, my friend, Microsoft Partner Group CTO Steve Clayton seemed pretty keen to get his mitts on it. So what the hell, I let him take the original away with him.

Finally, all was revealed today. Congrats on the new gig, Steve.

[Completely Unrelated] Recent Twitter Post: "The gapingvoid biz model is based not around the cartoons, but around the people who read them. Big difference."

Posted by hugh macleod at 2:54 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 30, 2007

happy birthday blue monster


The Blue Monster just celebrated its one year anniversary. Microsoft's Steve Clayton reports:

It changed me if not Microsoft. It defines Hugh's Social Object concept. It defines much of how I think about Microsoft and has been the driving force in my desire to change perceptions that have built up over the years. Microsoft isn't perfect, but we're far from the evil that it's become all to easy to portray. Microsoft is made up of smart, passionate, funny and genuine people. I think Blue Monster has done a pretty good job of helping expose that, amongst other things. One year on I feel very good about that.
Rock on, Clayton.

[Update:] James Moody talks about how the Blue Monster affects his business:

I, myself, carry Blue Monster business cards from Street Cards and that has led to some interesting conversations with clients and prospective clients. Having the conversation has definitely led to more project closings (the good kind of closing) for me than not. The little guy has led more of my meetings into a "what do you think about this" type, than the "here’s what I can do, this is how much it will cost" type, which lets me connect more on a personal level with prospective clients. Once most people see how passionate I am about the software I’m recommending, it changes perceptions of the "big bad bully" on the block.

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October 27, 2007

"social objects": blue monster wine update


For reasons unknown to me, suddenly in the last week the orders for Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve have started flooding in, especially from Microsoftees in the USA. Rock on.

I'm getting on the case this week... if you've already contacted me about this, expect to be hearing from either me or my colleague, Tessa Soole in the next week or two. Thanks.

Some random thoughts:

1. I came up with the Blue Monster wine idea, as a exercise in creating a "Social Object". What the heck, Theory is all very well, but actual real-life commercial execution is a lot more fun and interesting. I'm just lucky to have the groovy cats at Stormhoek who let me try out these crazy ideas.

[My friend, Alison with a Blue Monster lithograph in her office.]

2. Earlier this year I created another Blue Monster social object, namely, the limited edition lithographs. I only made a thousand of them, and they went fast. As I didn't want to print more of them [that would've cheapened the first edition], I had to come up with something else, something that could scale beyond one thousand people. Since I'm in the wine business, and since I had already been making cartoon labels for Stormhoek wine, it wasn't too much of a stretch.

3. The Blue Monster wine is also part of the "Smarter Wine" conversation. The main thesis is that it's not the wine per se that is interesting, it's the conversations that happen around the wine that is interesting. And that is true for all social objects. People matter. Objects don't.

4. If the Blue Monster wine idea is interesting, it's because of a most unlikely mash-up between a small, obscure winery in South Africa, and the world's largest software company. But it's this very unlikelihood, this very unlikely swapping of Cultural DNA between two very different companies, that gives it its mojo.

5. Importing different Cultural DNA into an organization is a real balancing act. Too much of it makes it impossible for the company to focus. Too little and the company withers on the vine.

6. BL Ochman has a really good summation of the BM wine story here.

What’s important is that a lone blogger with a good idea was able to get a huge company to listen to him and to adopt one of his fairly radical ideas. It shows that social media is a viable force for change, for marketing, and for the new media than a lot of big companies may now finally begin to take seriously.
7. When thinking about applying social media to companies, "What social media tools should we use" should not be the first question. "How do we wish to talk to people differently" should be the first question. If you don't have an answer to this, quit your job and go find something else.

8. None of this stuff is rocket science. Most of it is glaringly obvious. And sadly for folks working in the social software industry, "The people who get it, don't need us. And the people who need us, don't get it." Which is why being a "blog consultant" or whatever is a lot less lucrative and rewarding than people often think.

9. I recently received the following e-mail:


As much as I like the Blue Monster, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? I mean, we both know that no matter how big the Blue Monster gets, Microsoft is still going to continue being "evil", and its software is still going to continue to suck. And no blogging cartoonist is ever going to change that.

Any thoughts?


Well, Dave, your low opinion of Microsoft notwithstanding, I'm not looking at this from the executive level. I'm coming at this from the perspective of a small-time cartoonist with a blog and an internet connection. And from where I'm standing, it seems to me that in a big company like Microsoft, even a small thing like the Blue Monster can create a lot of value for a lot of people. Not getting too carried away in the Expectation Department is what will keep things interesting.

10. No, I have no idea of where all this is going. All I care about these days is drawing cartoons, doing interesting things with interesting people, paying my bills, and keeping my sorry ass out of the hospital, the mental asylum, the morgue etc.

Posted by hugh macleod at 7:01 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

October 24, 2007

more thoughts on social objects


Anyone who has heard me speak publicly lately will know that I'm currently very focused on the "Social Object" idea, which I was turned onto by Jaiku's Jyri Engestrom. Here's some more thoughts on the subject, in no particular order.

1. The term, "Social Object" can be a bit heady for some people. So often I'll use the term, "Sharing Device" instead.

2. Social Networks are built around Social Objects, not vice versa. The latter act as "nodes". The nodes appear before the network does.

3. Granted, the network is more powerful than the node. But the network needs the node, like flowers need sunlight.

4. My overall marketing thesis invariably asks the question, "If your product is not a Social Object, why are you in business?"

5. Yesterday at the Darden talk I explained why geeks have become so important to marketing. My definition of a geek is, "Somebody who socializes via objects." When you think about it, we're all geeks. Because we're all enthusiastic about something outside ourselves. For me, it's marketing and cartooning. for others, it could be cellphones or Scotch Whisky or Apple computers or NASCAR or the Boston Red Sox or Bhuddism. All these act as Social Objects within a social network of people who care passionately about the stuff. Whatever industry you are in, there's somebody who is geeked out about your product category. They are using your product [or a competitor's product] as a Social Object. If you don't understand how the geeks are socializing- connecting to other people- via your product, then you don't actually have a marketing plan. Heck, you probably don't have a viable business plan.

6. The Apple iPhone is the best example of Social Object I can think of. At least, it is when I'm trying to explain it to somebody unfamiliar with the concept.

7. The Social Object idea is not rocket science.

8. How do you turn a product into a Social Object? Answer: Social Gestures. And lots of them.

9. Products, and the ideas that spawn them, go viral when people can share them like gifts. Example: gmail invites in the early days.

10. Social Object can be abstract, digital, molecular etc.

11. The interesting thing about the Social Object is the not the object itself, but the conversations that happen around them. The Blue Monster is a good example of this. It's not the cartoon that's interesting, it's the conversatuons that happen around it that's interesting.

12. Ditto with a bottle of wine.

13. Once I get talking about marketing, it's hard for me to go more than 3 minutes without saying the words, "Social Object".

14. The most important word on the internet is not "Search". The most important word on the internet is "Share". Sharing is the driver. Sharing is the DNA. We use Social Objects to share ourselves with other people. We're primates. we like to groom each other. It's in our nature.

15. I believe Social Objects are the future of marketing.

[Written in the departure lounge of Dulles International Airport]

Posted by hugh macleod at 5:17 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

October 17, 2007

blue monster india?

[Microsoft billboard in India. The tagline reads, "Come work for Microsoft. Come change the world." Click on image to enlarge etc.]

Thanks to Sunil for sending me this photo he took in India. As Sunil said in his e-mail:

I'd taken this picture a while ago, just got down to actually sending it to you. I suppose it's a sanitized/watered-down version of the Blue Monster for Microsoft India. It's a giant billboard right in the middle of Hyderabad (not there anymore, probably). Notice the Indian dude's faint goatee, the blue shirt and the phrase 'come change the world'. Pretty close, I'd think. Though the Blue Monster would have been way cooler.
So... is this Indian "Change the world" just a happy coincidence, or is the Blue Monster schtick actually starting to trickle inside official Microsoft culture? You tell me.

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:11 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

October 5, 2007

highly recommended reading:


James Cherkoff, who was in Paris with me earlier this week, has a really good write-up on Microsoft deciding to seriously enter the advertising game.

So what's the good news you may well be asking?

Well, Microsoft may be about to radically step up their aspirations in the world of advertising, but they have decided to play nice. They think that they their best chance of slicing off a large piece of the advertising pie - and preventing the whole market being run by Google - is to co-operate with the advertising industry not try and vaporise it. Ballmer and co have decided they need the people who understand the more subjective part of the marketing equation, otherwise known as branding, which even the most powerful algorithms can't get their processors around. Yet.

[Just added this post to the Blue Monster series.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:42 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 4, 2007

blue monster paris


A Microsoft friend just sent me this photo. Turns out the Blue Monster got a full five minutes of screen time in Paris the other day- at one of the few sessions that I missed. Heh.

[The chap presenting is the EMEA Vice President for MSN & Windows Live. EMEA = Europe, Middle East & Africa.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 8:53 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 30, 2007

stormhoek blue monster wine update

[Me and Microsoft's Steve Clayton enjoying the first ever opened bottle of Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve]

If anybody wants to get their hands on a bottle or two of Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve, this is how the lay of the land is looking:

1. You have to be a member of the "Friends of Blue Monster" Facebook page.

2. You have to live in the UK and the E.U. [Europe]. America will take a wee bit longer while we sort out the importer. We're hoping to have the first bottles ready to be shipped out by mid-October.

3. You have to be of legal drinking age, obviously.

4. They'll be available only by the half-case [6 bottles], not individually.

5. Sadly, Stormhoek is just a small wine company, and we can't afford to give them away. We will sell them at £45 per half-case [£7.50 a bottle]. Free shipping is included in the UK, but not Europe.

6. Though certain people inside Microsoft may like what we're doing, this is not a Microsoft gig. This is a Stormhoek gig.

7. Yes, red wine will also be available eventually. Working on it.

8. If you fancy a half-case, please drop us a line at Thanks.

9. And also, a big, huge, massive thanks you to all the groovy cats inside Microsoft who lent their support to making this happen. Rock on.

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:07 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 26, 2007

simon phipps [and hamish newlands]


In my recent "Thoughts on Microsoft" post, I wrote the following:

3. So what happens if the Simon Phipps's of the world are right? So what happens if the future of software is indeed Open Source? How will Microsoft keep its shareholders happy? What if this recent article is right, and the unavoidable future is free software, and paid software is an equally unavoidable thing of the past? What then? Who has the answers? Do the answers actually exist yet?

[N.B. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Simon Phipps this summer at a dinner party, and I found him delightful company. Though his job is working with Open Source at Sun Microsystems, he also had a lot of nice things to say about Microsoft. A true gentleman.]

I'm happy to report that Simon left the following comment on gapingvoid:
Thank-you for the kind words, Hugh. I've a long record of association, observation and then competition with Microsoft, and it's my conviction that they need to rapidly transition to a position of peace with the concept and community of open source since it is reaching its "tipping point" because of the emerging dominance of the non-US market for them.

I've spent three years trying to make Sun behave in ways that make the community-of-communities trust Sun; it seems to me this has not yet become a priority for Microsoft.

Also, unlike Alec, I wouldn't use the word "buddies" of Sun and Microsoft yet. I'd rather say they have moved to a position of communicating via market-standard co-opetition rather than via the courts.

[UPDATE:] My old high-school friend, SAP consultant Hamish Newlands leaves a thoughtful comment below:
Well, the real issue is exactly the one that the blue monster addresses. "Change the world or go home."

Now, the two really big cash cows in MS are Windows and Office. The rest is big money, but not in this context, the margins and revenue mainly come from those two areas.

Only, problem is that Office has been feature complete from many people's perspective since version 2000, and those who require the high end functions in later versions are really not that huge of a market. (Assertion, not fact, but it feels right to me, and I am SAP ERP consultant, so I think I have some feel for what corporations are doing in this area.) So, as software effectively does not wear out, you will keep using the old versions, certainly I do at home.

For Windows the situation is more complex, because the PC comes with the operating system installed, and you do not generally change it. But interesting enough, the latest version, Vista, has been a late, bloated and unpopular failure, to the extent that PC vendors are seeking to allow downgrades to XP, which is unprecedented. Add to that the recent monopoly judgements in Europe, and some of the suggested remedies, and you have some serious thinking to do about how to manage the breakdown of the network effect that keeps it all together.

Think of three things.

Open document formats are now being approved by ISO, allowing interoperability of document formats at last.

IBM is (re) entering the Office Suite market, with a version of Open Office. That says that they think it is a legitimate choice, and the suits will sit up and ask, "why am I paying hundreds of dollars if free is apparently good enough?"

Finally, if the EU continues on its way, MS will have God's own job to extend the footprint to do more interesting things. Design meetings with an IP lawyer at the table, anyone?

But changing the world has already been done in these areas, arguably, what is happening now is just turd polishing. (Someone once said of six sigma and total quality, "I don't care how lovingly you polish it, a turd is still a turd.)

Truly disruptive innovation does change the world, but I am not sure where MS is trying that these days. That's not to say that the company is not clever, motivated, hard-working or whatever, but the goals have not changed significantly for some time.

[UPDATE:] Hamish had a few afterthoughts himself, and published them on his blog: "SAP has Decided to Stop Polishing the Turd":

And that was the comment that got me thinking: I have been looking at Business byDesign in SAP, and have expressed some reservations about the fact that it is going to have to:
* Requires a totally (or at least substantially) different sales model for the SME market
* Requires different implementation and support approaches
* Potentially cannabalises and changes the business model of SAP.
At first I thought "neh, bad". Then I read Hugh's post, and thought, "Aha. Change the World or Go Home." I grok the intent now, SAP is stable, big, and we could profitably polish the turd for ever. Or we could disrupt the whole market, change it, and win that game instead, even if it is different from the one we have now. Oracle has already stated it is not going to try it, effectively, so we have new things to do, and new horizons to conquer, even if we do have to learn new tricks.

Took me a while, but I am on board now. Business ByDesign. Let's go.

Yeah, I'm sure there's a few people inside Microsoft who can really relate to Hamish's last point vis-a-vis their own stuff etc.

[UPDATE:] Software analayst, James Governor makes a good point in the comments, as well:

Never mind polishing a turd. Success comes when you allow your product babies to become children, and then young adults that eat their parents. R/3 ate R/2. SAP won. The rest is history.

Software companies are shackled by success.

[Cartoon inspired by Adriana, of course.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 8:15 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 21, 2007

thoughts on microsoft


[A view from the London Microsoft offices, taken earlier today. Westminster Cathedral in the background, McDonald's in the foreground. N.B. I first ate at this McDonald's when I was twelve years old, with my dad and my sister, the first time I ever visited London. We stayed in a hotel just up the street, so every time I'm in this neighborhood the memories come flooding back to me, for this is the first neighborhood in the city I became familiar with. Somehow visiting Microsoft today seemed to make everything come around full circle, from that Big Mac & Fries all those years ago.]

I was visiting some folk at Microsoft UK today, talking about all things to do with Blue Monsters and social objects. I even brought along a bottle of Blue Monster wine. Though I can't talk about what the meeting was about, here are some general thoughts I came away with, in no particular order:

1. "Agents of Calcification". This is a rather snarky term I recently coined to describe the folks in a big company- any big company, not necessarily Microsoft- whose role isn't to invent, make, or sell stuff, but to maintain and enhance the apparatus of bureaucracy, even at the expense of the business itself. Though these agents can serve a legitimate organizational purpose, when any company has too many of these people, you sadly end up with this cartoon [i.e. a "Big Lump o' Death"]. The bigger the company gets, the more energy anybody trying to get anything interesting done will have to spend, trying to navigate around these folk. These folk are why I never take on salaried positions at big companies- I've never been very good at handling them. Despite what Frederick Winslow Taylor may have said, people are not machines. Form NEVER follows function.

2. The Blue Monster came from a simple observation I made early on in my career as a Microsoft watcher: That most people I've met who work there could be making more money elsewhere, and taking a lot less grief from the general public and the media. So what motivates them? The answer to this, in spite of all the baggage that comes with it, is what makes the company so interesting for me.

3. So what happens if the Simon Phipps's of the world are right? So what happens if the future of software is indeed Open Source? How will Microsoft keep its shareholders happy? What if this recent article is right, and the unavoidable future is free software, and paid software is an equally unavoidable thing of the past? What then? Who has the answers? Do the answers actually exist yet? [N.B. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Simon Phipps this summer at a dinner party, and I found him delightful company. Though his job is working with Open Source at Sun Microsystems, he also had a lot of nice things to say about Microsoft. A true gentleman.]

4. Are people [both inside and outside the company] ready to start seeing Microsoft not primarily as a software company, but as a media company? And if Microsoft's business model turns away from paid software, towards advertising and free software, who will be the winners? Who will be the losers?

5. Calling Microsoft "Evil" is too easy. An adjective used by the incurious and intellectually lazy.

6. I find it re-assuring that most Microsofties I meet don't seem too phased by the fact that I use a MacBook, not a PC. As Bill Gates said recently, "We like Apple, they buy a lot of software from us."

7. A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with somebody very high up the global Digital Advertising foodchain. He was telling me about how once he was pitching for a ten million dollar account with a large international client. The client basically said, "I love the idea. Let's do it. But... can you scale it to a hundred million dollar spend?" My friend sadly had to confess that his idea did not scale that large. My takeaway: Advertising clients are lining up to give talented folk their money. The only problem is, this brave new world is still in its infancy, much the same way TV advertising was in its infancy fifty years ago. Unlike traditional advertising media, demand for services exceeds supply. There lies the opportunity, but even the smartest minds in the business are still having a hard time figuring it out.

8. Though Google may be a fierce competitor of my friends in Redmond, in many ways what they're doing actually makes Microsoft's job a whole lot easier. Google broke a lot of ice when it came to creating a viable mass market for advertisers [understatement]. Thanks to Google, people ARE willing to spend money on online advertising in a way they simply weren't before AdSense came along. If Microsoft [or any other company] can add something to the party, with ever more increasingly sophisticated offerings, they stand to gain on a massive scale. The clients are there, ready and willing to spend the big money. But now the onus is on Microsoft et al to provide a good enough reason.

9. As wonderful and interesting as "Web 2.0" has been to both me and a lot of my friends, the fact is, again, it's still early days. Again, even the smartest people I know in this space have little idea about what's going to happen next. Again, like TV advertising in the 1950s, we're basically making it up as we go along. But that's what makes it so exciting.

10. I still happily stand by what I said about Microsoft, late last year:

For too long, Microsoft has allowed other people- the media, the competition and their detractors, especially- to tell their story on their behalf, instead of doing a better job of it themselves.

We firmly believe that Microsoft must start articulating their story better- what they do, why they do it, and why it matters- if they're to remain happy and prosperous long-term.

Let me put it another way: The future of Microsoft, and how Microsoft talks to people in the future, are one and the same. Yes, Virginia, the future of Microsoft is "Conversation."

Posted by hugh macleod at 5:32 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

September 18, 2007

jyri on the blue monster


Jyri Engestrom, the anthropologist behind the "Social Object" theory, writes about the Blue Monster. Rock on.

Since its inception by cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, the cartoon has been adopted by microsofties as a symbol of the company's and its people's aspiration to innovate. I've heard Microsoft employees refer to it as the company's unofficial mascot.
[Bonus Link: Adriana has a really good post on Stormhoek Blue Monster. Very thoughtful, as usual, coming from her.]

My understanding is, some pockets at Microsoft COMPLETELY get the Blue Monster, and others don't. I suppose that's to be expected with a company of that size.

That being said, from what I can glean from my limited, outsider perspective, there seems to be a large constituency within the company which strongly believes that Microsoft's entire future rests on how well it talks to people outside the company. I happen to concur. "Porous Membrane", Baby!

Posted by hugh macleod at 8:40 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 17, 2007

stormhoek blue monster reserve

[Yon standard pack shot. Indeed.]

I mentioned previously that I would be announcing my "Next Big Project" sometime today, the 17th of September.The Financial Times beat me to it.. "Social Object", Baby:

Microsoft launches a tipple for techies

Tonight, a select group will gather in a bar in London’s Soho to quaff a crisp, South African white wine bottled in their honour.

The hand-picked guests toasting the new vintage are not, however, wine connoisseurs but techies. The gathering marks the launch of the Blue Monster Reserve label, created by winery Stormhoek for Microsoft and its employees.

Own-label wine and personalised bottles have become increasingly popular in the corporate world, particularly among investment banks, as gifts to clients and offered to guests of corporate events. The companies hope the corporate vintages will add an air of class and sophistication to their image.

But unlike customised wine bottles given by banks and law firms to clients, this label did not originate in Microsoft’s corporate communications headquarters.

Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist, blogger and marketing strategist for Stormhoek, created the Blue Monster image after getting to know Microsoft employees.

Mr MacLeod met these “Microsofties” through his day job. “We sponsored a series of ‘geek dinners’ for bloggers and techies in the US and the UK,” he said. “I met a lot of people from Microsoft through these dinners, and they all said the same thing: we want to change the world.”

[Print Version: Page 14 of the main section. Click on image to enlarge etc.]
That notion of a kinder, gentler Microsoft is at odds with its cut-throat corporate image. Critics have accused the software giant of abusing its dominant position and of stifling innovation in the industry. In 2003, the European Commission found Microsoft guilty of uncompetitive practices and levied a record €497m ($689m, £342m) fine. The result of its appeal against that decision is due on Monday.
The cartoon of a sharp-toothed blue creature and its tagline, “Microsoft – change the world or go home”, has now been adopted by some Microsoft employees and fans as a symbol of the company’s innovation.

“People see Microsoft as a big, bad corporate monster,” Mr MacLeod said. “Yet all the Microsofties I’ve spoken to say they just want to make great products and do good works. It was obvious that Microsoft had to get better at telling their story.”

“Wine is a social object, and so is the Blue Monster: they both inspire conversation,” he said. “And we thought the cartoon would look really cool on a bottle.”

Steve Clayton, chief technology officer at one of Microsoft’s UK affiliates and a nine-year veteran of the company, said Blue Monster reminded people that Microsoft “has a sense of fun and humour”.

Mr Clayton has been at the forefront of the Blue Monster movement: he uses the image on his business card and is the administrator of a “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook group.

“[Microsoft’s HQ] has been very supportive of us using the Microsoft name alongside the Blue Monster image,” Mr MacLeod said. It makes sense; they’ve been around for about 30 years and are trying to reinvent themselves to embrace a new generation.”

Blue Monster-branded bottles will be available only to Microsoft and its affiliates. “We have no intention of selling the product outside Microsoft,” said Jason Korman, Stormhoek’s chief executive. “The wine itself only went live last week, and already we’ve had massive interest from different parts of the company.”

[A bottle of Blue Monster Reserve sitting on my desk. Click on image to enlarge etc.]
Mr Clayton readily admits the Blue Monster movement, despite his involvement, is outside any influence from Microsoft: “[The cartoon] has encouraged a whole new series of conversations by people who are passionate about Microsoft, both internally and externally. Blue Monster is a community which has developed its own distinct identity.”

For Mr MacLeod, the Blue Monster represents a revolution of sorts. “We started an underground movement within Microsoft, and we knew one day the guys in suits would finally take notice. That moment has finally arrived.”

If so, it will be marked in true internet-era style: not with an act of anarchy but a clink of glasses.

[Blue Monster backstory here.] [Blue Monster blog archive here.]

The wine is not a commercially available product, just a wee "social object" for geek dinners and people inside the Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft's Steve Clayton and I are still working on the final details of how we're going to get the wine to people who want it, but for now, we're just limiting its availability to [1] people who belong to the "Friends of Blue Monster" Facebook group, and [2] geek dinners we're attending and/or sponsoring.

Personally, I like this idea because it directly connects to a lot of different things I'm interested in. "Social Objects", Microsoft, cartoons, Stormhoek, Marketing 2.0, corporate-reinvention, geek dinners etc etc.

Hopefully, other people will like it, too. Watch this space etc.

A special thanks to all the groovy cats inside Microsoft who lent their support to this project. Rock on.

[P.S. If anyone has any further questions, I can be reached by e-mail.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:12 AM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

August 29, 2007

software + services explained


This cartoon is now in Steve Clayton's collection. All to do with a conversation about Microsoft [Steve's employer] that we were having a few weeks ago.

Basically, with software companies, you have a balance of two axes: 1. How much of your offering is software vs. How much of your offering is services 2. How much of your offering resides in "the cloud", vs. How much of your offering resides on the desktop/handheld/personal object etc.

The ideal answer, of course, is that there's no right answer. In theory one should be able to change at moment's notice, and the software company should be able to accommodate said change at equally moment's notice. As Steve says,

Microsoft wants to be right there in the middle. The user gets to pick where they wanna be. I wonder if I can get Ray Ozzie to use this :)
[This cartoon has been added to the Blue Monster cartoon series etc.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 6:51 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

July 9, 2007

the virus spreads...


MSFT's Steve Clayton on the Blue Monster: "This is about Microsoft on our terms - open to all and owned by the world. Rock on."

[Meanwhile:] The groovy cats over at MSFT's On10 have pinged the Blue Monster story.

Bearing the tagline, "Microsoft: Change the world or go home," the Blue Monster represents the vision and the passion of the company's employees: so passionate about what they do, if they can't make the world a better place, they should go home. Maybe the monster is just what Microsoft needs to draw more attention to the fact that, despite the lawyers and stockholders, they, too, have passionate employees who feel like they are changing the world in a positive way.
The Blue Monster was referred to as "Microsoft's unofficial mascot." That made my day.

[UPDATE:] The Blue Monster finally makes it onto Techmeme. Thanks, Sarah! Very cool.

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:30 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 5, 2007

blue monster coffee morning, august 3rd


The "Friends of Blue Monster" are having their first coffee morning in London, on August 3rd. See here for details. Hope to see you then!

[UPDATE:] 30 people confirmed so far, with another 34 "Maybes". Rock on.

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 3, 2007

blue monster update


The "Friends of Blue Monster" Facebook page
now has 225 members, at time of writing.

Wow. That seems like a lot. Agree? Disagree?

Posted by hugh macleod at 3:47 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 1, 2007

scoble meets the blue monster


Heh. Robert Scoble has a Blue Monster sticker on his laptop. This pic was taken while he was waiting in line to get his new iPhone, so I'm told.

The sticker was given to him by Steve Clayton. Shel Israel got one, too. Steve tells me they were quite a hot commodity when he got them made, and his supply ran out very soon.

Robert's never mentioned The Blue Monster on his blog, as far as I'm aware. Not in any great detail, at least. Do I find that surprising? Not really. I can totally see how he'd much rather write more about his new job at PodTech, rather than about his old job at Microsoft. But I was delighted to see him joining the Facebook "Friends of Blue Monster" group.

I also notice the two Jaiku stickers. Very cool. "Social Object, Baby!"

Posted by hugh macleod at 4:29 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

the 1949 olivetti typewriter

[The 1949 Olivetti MP1 typewriter]

Of all the hundreds of lectures I attended in college many years ago, one stands out more than any other, one I remember more than any other.

It was a lecture on Industrial Design. More specifically, it was a lecture on the 1949 Olivetti MP1 typewriter.

Basically, what makes the Olivetti typewriter so iconic in the history of design are those smooth, sexy, curvy lines. What the lecturer referred to as "The Humanizing of the Machine".

What makes it interesting is that these sexy, curvy lines are, unlike say, Art Deco, completely functional, not decorative. Forms follows function, but in a feminine, non-masculine way.

Before Olivetti, nobody thought of industrial design in "feminine" terms. Now they do. Just look at Apple and the work of Jonathan Ive.

What got me thinking about this? Working with Microsoft got me thinking about this. I believe that if Microsoft wants to re-invent itself, if it wants to keep evolving, growing and prospering long-term, I keep thinking to myself, what Olivetti did to the typewriter, Microsoft has to do to itself.

Exactly. "The Humanizing of the Machine". Welcome to The Blue Monster.

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:33 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 29, 2007

the blue monster goes yahoo


The Blue Monster gets a mention on this rather amusing, quirky ad for Yahoo Answers. The virus spreads etc.

[Link:] Yahoo Answers' "Share What You Love" homepage. It appears the ad campaign was created by this French ad agency. Rock on.

Posted by hugh macleod at 3:37 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 28, 2007

blue monster in oz


The Blue Monster has made it to Australia. Microsoft's Steve Clayton explains.


[Also:] There's now a "Friends of The Blue Monster" Facebook page. 57 members so far. The virus spreads etc [UPDATE: Up to 110 members inside 24 hours!]

[UPDATE: ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, required reading for anyone who seriously follows Microsoft, is on the Friends list. Wow.].

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 28, 2007

silicon valley explained:


[Cartoon inspired by Paul Allen's recent post. Added to the Blue Monster Series etc.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 3:13 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 25, 2007

tara and the blue monster...


Heh. My buddy, Tara Hunt has her reservations about the Blue Monster.

Whether or not they are actually ‘changing the world or going home’ is up for deep debate and discussion, but when they showed up at the Web 2.0 Expo sporting this cartoon all over t-shirts and signage, I was taken aback. The PR people were standing at the door to the MS session, happily handing out their (men’s XL & XXL) tshirts to everyone coming into the session. A big smile, saying, “See? We’re hip. We’re listening,” across their face.
Fair enough. The interesting thing to me is, Tara seems to perceive the Blue Monster as a message originating from inside Microsoft, directed to the outside world. Wrong. It's a message that originated OUTSIDE Microsoft, directed internally. The fact that Microsoft is sending it back externally shows there's a two-way conversation starting. Which was the entire point of the exercise, after all.

I am reminded of a big A-HA! moment I had a few years ago when I first realized that the REAL story about Robert Scoble's blog [when he was still working at Microsoft] was not about how it was changing external perceptions about Microsoft ["Oh, what a lovely blog. I think I'll stop hating Microsoft from now on."], but how it was stirring things up inside the company.

Yes, I tend to view the Blue Monster in much the same way.

I see the Blue Monster less of a message, and more of a social object that starts a conversation. That's what keeps it interesting. As soon as the Microsoft brand police try to take it over and turn it into a straight external marketing message, it's over. Though yeah, Tara's post was a good warning of that scenario, I think by focusing just on the externals, and not really giving ANY thought to the internal dimension, she kind of missed the most important point.

And to take the Scoble analogy one step further. Well, as revolutionary as Scoble's blog seemed at the time he was at Microsoft, as wonderful as it was, he ultimately didn't change Microsoft from top to bottom, either. But that is not to say his blog was neither useful or valuable. It certainly was both to me.

[UPDATE:] Nice observation from JP Rangaswami:

If I’ve interpreted [Tara] correctly, she also alludes to another, equally important point: People want Microsoft to change. That is the essence of what made the Blue Monster such a hit, it was a way of people outside Microsoft telling people in Microsoft of the intense need for change, a point that Hugh makes eloquently.

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:15 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

May 18, 2007

15 new blogcard designs

There are fifteen new blogcard designs available, many taken from The Blue Monster Series.

Posted by hugh macleod at 3:24 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 17, 2007

all writing should be free


What working with Microsoft has taught me so far:

1. Saying "All software should be free" sounds as silly as saying "All writing should be free".

2. Saying "All software should be paid for" sounds as silly as saying "All writing should be paid for".

It depends who's doing the making. It depends who's doing the using. Everything is contextual. About half the work I do is free. The other half is paid for. Both feed the other. Contextually.

Conclusion: The Free vs. Proprietary software debate I've been following recently is a red herring. At least, it is when you're thinking about it in terms of either/or absolutes.

So I'm delighted to have found somebody a million times more informed than me, Microsoft's Bill Hilf talking about this stuff as well.

[UPDATE:] Ha! My old high school buddy, Hamish Newlands, who now works for SAP, pipes in about the Blue Monster:

Continuing the jolly religious theme, we have Hugh, my long time friend at GapingVoid getting into the big Microsoft Beast. Blue Monster indeed, and I am happy for Hugh that he may have another major gig coming up. So I have some words of advice, being used to this kind of organisation, in my life with SAP.

"Run Away, Run Away before they eat you! Behind you! Run faster!"

[UPDATE:] Seth Godin pipes in as well:

Some critics think [Hugh is] selling out. I don't. I think he's having a huge impact on an organization--from the outside--at the same time that he demonstrates how just about any large organization can rethink its role in the world. And he's doing it in front of all of us, without a net.

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:37 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

May 16, 2007

only talented people


[One of the cartoons I did for Seth Godin's new book, "The Dip".]

Zakamundo left the following comment here:

Hugh, you say "there are some seriously smart, good people working [at Microsoft] who yes, can still change the world for the better".

You may well be right. But the question that the recent court action poses, and the question that the comments on this thread suggests, and the question that even you appear defensive on, is this:

Can these people change Microsoft for the better?

Now it might be that Microsoft is great, and people don't realise it - then 'all' MS needs is a good and consistent marketing exercise. But it is a big corporation, and its intended audience (um, almost everyone?) will have perceptions with significant inertia. And thats assuming MSFT can stay on-message all the time - can they aspire to match the impact and values of Apple's marketing for instance?

Or it might be that Microsoft as a corporation is possessed by a corporate culture that generates external behavior that is jealous of others, patronising to its clients and bullying to those smaller. In which case the external audience's perceptions are rooted in reality, and the Blue Monster crowd have a problem on their hands.

I spent 15 years working in investment banking (derivatives trading) - full of hugely intelligent, focussed people. Some were great, and really did want to effect positive change from within. What I found fascinating, and somewhat depressing, was the longevity and all-pervasiveness of the corporate culture - different at each of the 3 institutions I worked for, but persistent at each one.

One example I can give : I too tried to change organisations from within, and was a major sponsor of the 'new' communication tools of wikis, chat and blogs at the most recent bank that employed me. Huge amounts of my management time and effort went into this, and yet each time I took my foot off the gas, the use of these tools would evaporate. There was a rather obvious lack of overt senior management support for the use and distribution of these tools, and that company is still stuck in the email age.

The way corporate life works is that change needs to come from the top down, as well as the bottom up. Feverish activity in the middle is at risk of being wasted. I think it is a pleasant diversion to dream of a better, fairer worlds, with corporate charters drawn up as a response to Cluetrain manifestoes, but my experience and observation is that it's just not how it works. Am more than happy to be proved or persuaded otherwise.

Sorry for the rant,


Here's my reply:

No worries about the rant. That's what the blogosphere is for ;-)

I disagree with you, though, at least partially. I think small changes can lead to big changes. Though exactly how is not always immediately obvious from the onset [And we have thousands of years of mythology- everything from Homer, to Jesus, to King Arthur, to Star Wars- telling us the exact same thing].

What I like about the Blue Monster [and what I've liked from the very beginning] is that nobody owns the conversation- Not me, not MSFT, not the anti-MSFT crowd, not the media. It has a life of its own- which is what keeps it interesting...

[This entry has been added to the Blue Monster series.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:23 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

May 15, 2007

random thought


[Part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

This cartoon came to me at about 4am this morning... I'm sure Kathy Sierra has said the same thing before, better than me etc...

[UPDATE:] From Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun:

All of which is to say - no amount of fear can stop the rise of free media, or free software (they are the same, after all). The community is vastly more innovative and powerful than a single company. And you will never turn back the clock on elementary school students and developing economies and aid agencies and fledgling universities - or the Fortune 500 - that have found value in the wisdom of the open source community. Open standards and open source software are literally changing the face of the planet - creating opportunity wherever the network can reach.
Free Ones. Free Zeros. It's all good etc.

[Note To Self:] My detractors think I'm pimping Microsoft. They are wrong. I'm pimping The Hughtrain. Heh.

Posted by hugh macleod at 3:04 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

May 14, 2007

question for the blue monster crowd: "who owns the soul of microsoft?"

[Click on image to enlarge/download print etc. Licensing terms here.]

I suppose the wonderful time I've had with some folk at Microsoft recently, versus the recent news that they're going to sic the lawyers on the Open Source crowd for patent infringement is kinda giving me conflicting emotions.

On one side of the Redmond coin, we've got the Blue Monster crowd. On the other, we have the lawyer crowd, at least as far as the bloggers are concerned, pulling a seriously fat rabbit out of the hat.

I don't know enough about the case to legally opine one way or the other. Whatever. People will use the news to re-affirm what they already believe. I'm more interested in the Blue Monster crowd, and what happens to them. I'm more interested in the long-term.

And to see the long-term, first you have to ask the following question: Who owns the soul of Microsoft? The people with the Blue Monster cartoon on their screensavers? Bill, Steve, Ray and the other guys living in the big houses? The lawyers? The shareholders? I know which answer I prefer, but ultimately, they have to answer it for themselves. And do it well.

For me personally, if the Blue Monster has one purpose, if I have one reason for working with Microsoft, it's to remind people that yes, Microsoft has a soul, even if they've never been particularly good at letting people see it. And yes, for all the baggage they have acquired over the years, there are some seriously smart, good people working there who yes, can still change the world for the better.

And the sooner they get better at telling people this, the happier I will be.

Posted by hugh macleod at 5:38 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

May 9, 2007

open source is a religion


[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

[Bonus link- William Hurley:] "Seven Reasons Why Microsoft Loves Open Source."

[UPDATE- From JP Rangaswami:]

I agree vehemently with one thing William says. In reason 6, he makes the point
Microsoft doesn’t fear open source; it fears what the competition can do with it.
This is true for all companies, and for all Because Effect infrastructure. By itself not to be feared (the With); yet feared for what your competitors can do with with (the Because Of).

The moral of the story is: As infrastructure moves from the "With" state to the "Because Of" state, make sure you move with it. Because if you don’t and your competitors do, you’re on the road to Toast.

[UPDATE- Jeff Atwood:]
As a software developer, you're doing yourself a disservice by pledging allegiance to anything other than yourself and your craft-- whether it's Microsoft or the principle of free software. Stop with the us vs. them mentality. Let go of the partisanship. We're all in this thing together.

Posted by hugh macleod at 7:48 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

May 6, 2007

in new york


I'm in Manhattan, stopping over in New York on my way back home from Seattle. Tonight I'm having dinner with my old friend, Mark Mann.

On Friday I spent the entire day at Microsoft, which was really amazing. All these insanely smart people everywhere. Wow.

The day had many highlights, but I think my favorite would have to be meeting Steve Ball. We had a really great conversation mostly about Robert Fripp, Love and Vista [Steve used to play in Robert's band]. Steve writes about it here. He played some really incredible guitar, and I drew on one of his business cards [see pic above]. It was a really pleasure and honor hanging out with him.

Another guy I really liked was Jason Matusow. He had some seriously interesting things to say about Open Source. Apparently he knows my friend, James Governor as well, who he spoke very highly of. Small world.

Thanks especially to Kris Fuehr, who made the whole day possible. It was great hanging out with you, finally. Also thank you for leaving the following comment in a recent gapingvoid entry:

Thomas, you may be right that GapingVoid is assimilating Microsoft.

I had the great honor of spending the entire day with Hugh yesterday. One of my colleagues at MS said after the meeting as he shook Hugh's hand: "Thanks Hugh, you really rocked my brain around". I think that sums it up. Hugh's probably on a plane to NYC now. What's fascinating is that Hugh just 'is'. He doesn't wear his agenda on his sleeve and, as you point out here, his curiosity and additive approach affords him great respect. He opened my eyes to a bunch of things. The ecosystem, the subtleties, the no zero-sum game, heck even music references.

Speaking of music--We met with Steve Ball which I'm sure Hugh will write about it. (I took video on our camera phones). A conversation with Steve is a sensory cornucpia. Steve is responsible for the way that Vista greets you each day. Poor Steve, a mountain of talent, he's trying to inch some of it into the millions of desktops and hampered by the need for Vista to be everything to everyone. (no electric guitars...wouldn't want to offend grandma!) Fascinating conversation between Hugh and Steve. They connected at so many levels conceptually, musically, socially, and there was this "jiffy pop" effect where they suddently were into a zone of thousand ping-pong phrases finishing each other's sentences, etc..

I have to say that the art Hugh practices requires a certain 'Master Po' quality to it. He has to help people realize things on their own by asking questions. You then have the chance to internalize them - own them as your own. Here, I am Grasshopper and while many times I understand what Hugh says, sometimes it takes me a few hours or days to really internalize it, but it eventually happens and Hugh is pretty patient. (I think)

Hugh's curiosity with Microsoft comes not from anything related to 'sell-out' (by any means) It's his interest in the re-invention. The simple models that Hugh was white-boarding with us yesterday were so deep and meaningful, but so simply expressed. I think this symbiotic relationship is far tipped in Microsoft's benefit vs. Hugh's so you should try some different words than 'sell-out'. Maybe 'point-out'?

Quick sidebar that made me chuckle (and it gives me a chance to try on some of what I've learned). Hugh and I used the hand-manipulatable Virtual Earth glass table). The demo lets you use your hands to zoom/pan/move the 3D map and Hugh asked if this was Google Earth.

Now, shutting off my cheerleading tendencies where I normally would say: "yes! It's Microsoft's Virtual Earth which is so cool in the following ways....."
Rather, I'm going to say: Microsoft does have a earth-to-street-level 2-D & 3-D mapping solution. The team who worked on it were asked to build features that would be more compelling and useful than anything currently available. You can try it an see if they succeeded in doing that Google and Microsoft each have areas of strengths in different cities. Many people are comparing different cities and discussing which they prefer and where. e.g. while Google has a 3d rendition of a stadium in San Francisco, Microsoft has a detailed view of the building in the Vegas strip. Which you pick may depend on which areas you focus on. You can see a side-by-side comparison at

A lot of people are infected with the HughTrain bug. Having him explain it in person has been even more enlightening. I think next time, we'll just reserve a room for 500+ and broaden the discussion. Next trip Hugh?

HINT: Hugh's masterplan? Every time the blue monster is exposed to techies through Microsoft or other channels, Stormhoek's name is embedded directly to its target market. Mwah, ha ha! Happy to oblige, Hugh. It's brilliant.


And the geek dinner that followed in Pike's Market afterwards was terrific, as well. Thanks to Eric for pulling that together.

I've had a really great trip this time round, I have to say. This whole Blue Monster thing seems to be taking on a life of its own. Steve and I have lots to talk about, when I get back to London.

[UPDATE:] The latest Blue Monster lithograph finally sold for £150 [approx $300 US] on e-Bay. Wow.

Posted by hugh macleod at 3:52 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 28, 2007

the echo chamber [revisited]


Is it just me, or would "The Echo Chamber" make a good cartoon for the Microsoft Blue Monster Series?

You know, "MS has got to get outside of the Echo Chamber, outside of Redmond increasingly more often if it wishes to stay relevant long-term" etc etc etc.

I've changed the line from the original red to black. I never liked the red, not sure why...

Meanwhile, the other night at the Girl Geek Dinner, Sarah Blow told me that before I arrived at the event, there was some conversation going on at one of the tables about gapingvoid "being assimilated by Microsoft".

I can see their point, but this is kind of short-term thinking to me. In the past, I've been assimilated by many things in the last few years- the cartoons, the suit business, the wine business, the advertising business, the marketing business, whatever takes my fancy at the time. Somehow the blog keeps ticking along, regardless.

My attitude is, as long as I keep drawing new cartoons, things will stay interesting. If I stop, things will peter out. The cartoons are the canary in the coal mine etc.

[Bonus Link:] It was great meeting David Terrar in the flesh, finally. Here's his take on the Girl Geek Dinner.

Posted by hugh macleod at 5:03 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

April 25, 2007

business is change


[Another old cartoon I'm adding to the Blue Monster Series. Especially after what Michael Neel said in the comments here:]

Microsoft will grow in the future buy continuing support of agile software methods and the tools to support those methods. Team System is awesome, and the first real software aimed at making my life easier (I'm the guy who writes software). .Net 3.0 offers great options like WPF that let me create apps *exactly* as the user interface designer wanted.

A key idea in agile methods is there is one and only one measure of software success: how the users like the program. The technologies that will be hot in the next decade will be the ones the support the agile mindset.

The comic - I get it totally. I go into a meeting and say "I don't give a crap about the OLAP details of your data warehouse, this 'dashboard' is ugly as hell." It's not the users that think I'm crazy - it's the other IT people.

BTW Hugh, if you figure out how to market tech without triggering the fire and brimstone you get in the comments... there is a job for you in the Middle East ;)

Thanks, Michael, though I'm not too worried about the "fire and brimstone". It seems to go with the territory... plus it's good to be kept on one's toes. But I do agree with your "agile mindset" idea. Perfect.

Secondly, all this vigorous Open-Source competition is good for Microsoft long-term. A good general never underestimates the enemy [Though I doubt Microsoft sees Open Source as its "enemy" per se, if this recent blog post from Microsoft's Sam Ramji is anything to go by]. One thing I learned from working with English Cut, there's a lot to be said for respecting and yes, even praising one's competition. From a marketing perspective, it works wonders.

[N.B. The cartoon originally appeared in The Hughtrain, back in 2004.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 4:10 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 23, 2007

skunk works


This is another old cartoon [2004] that I think would fit nicely into the Microsoft Blue Monster Series.

I was talking to somebody the other day from Microsoft, saying that the point of the cartoon series should not just be to articulate "The Selling Proposition" of Microsoft [The phrase, "Dancing around like a bunch of high school cheerleaders" came up more than once.].

I believe there are far more compelling conversations out there. What is software for? What is Microsoft for? Where does Microsoft fit within the entire ecosystem? How does Microsoft stay relevant long-term? Why does any of this matter in the first place? You tell me.

[First Rule of Marketing:] If you want to be interesting, don't talk about yourself. Amen.

Posted by hugh macleod at 9:34 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 22, 2007

changing the system [revisited]


[Part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

I originally posted this cartoon last year, but something told me it just HAD to be part of the Blue Monster Series...

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:15 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

April 21, 2007

every time i open my wallet


[Part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

blue monster 2.0


Heh. There's another "Blue Monster" in the tech world. This time in the guise of a laptop cover. Cute.

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:09 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

how to tell


[Part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 8:26 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

the problem with being in tech marketing


[Click on image to enlarge etc. Part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

[Bonus Link:] "I'd rather be Microsoft than Yahoo."

Posted by hugh macleod at 5:43 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 20, 2007

change my stats


[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series.]

I drew this one at a pub in Chiswick last week. Microsoft's Chris Parkes explains.

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 19, 2007



"Yeah, he looks kinda mean, but Microsoft needs its balls back."

-Nathan Weinberg on the Blue Monster.

Also, for Bill Hilf, General Manager of Platform Strategy, Microsoft:
"Shared growth works."
He was referring to the shared growth of both Microsoft and Open Source within the entire tech ecology etc.

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:02 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

April 17, 2007

blue monster at web 2.0 expo


The Blue Monster makes an appearance at Web 2.0 Expo, courtesy of the Microsoft Partner Group.

Oh, and nice to see Dennis' Blue Monster t-shirt finally arrived...

The virus spreads...

Posted by hugh macleod at 10:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 16, 2007

how well does open source currently meet the needs of shareholders and ceo's?


["Science Project": part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

This cartoon was an attempt by me to sum up the answer to a very simple question: If Open Source software is free, then why bother spending money on Microsoft Partner stuff?

I already know what Microsoft's detractors will say: "There's no reason whatsoever. $40 billion per year is totally wasted."

This, however is not a very satisfying answer, simply because it doesn't quite ring true. Otherwise there'd be a lot more famous Open Source billionaires out there, being written up in Forbes Magazine or wherever. And Bill Gates would've been ousted years ago.

I know very little about software, so my hunch is that the reason Microsoft is able to make money, is simply that running a large business with 2000 people on the payroll requires very different ways of going about it, than just hacking together something in your garage. Open Source may be free [at least at first], but how well does it scale? How well does Open Source currently meet the needs of shareholders and CEOs?

You tell me. Anybody who has more insight than me [pro or anti Microsoft, I don't care], please feel free to leave a comment, Thanks.

[Comment- Darcy Moen:]"Hugh, the question you need to answer is: Does software drive business development, or does need drive software development?"

Darcy, I think that is a question we all have yet to answer fully. I don't think anybody has cracked it 100% yet.

The way you framed your comment [read it in its entirety below] implies that the gap that separates what you aspire to do, and what you are actually doing with software is minimal. Even knowing what little I know about how IT works in the REAL world, I am not entirely convinced.

The "Microsoft vs Open Source" question doesn't interest me so much. The question, "What/How does Microsoft have to do/change if it wishes to survive the next thirty years" interests me greatly. And not just Microsoft, either...

[UPDATE:] "Why are the open source business people not ultra-rich yet?" Serious food for thought.

[UPDATED:] JP Rangaswami. "10 Reasons For Enterprise To Use Open Source."

[UPDATE:] Seth Godin. "It's not often that I disagree with Hugh, but this time, I do..."

[UPDATE:] Rick Segal. "Shareholders, CEOs, and (for the most part) Investors are generally clueless when it comes to the beginnings of your great idea. You take the tools (whatever they are), your vision, and your passion into the game. You create a solution and see if the dogs eat it. You don't worry about pleasing anyone, just fix the problem. If it was worth fixing, if the product/service you offer has value/meaning to people, you are there. Your shareholders and your investors will be happy after your customers are."

[Comment- James:] If Microsoft views me as a customer, then why do they go out of their way to get me the tools needed to drive sales on their behalf? Why am I always getting reminders about the free services they provide? I have yet to be approached by Microsoft to purchase software/products. Not once. Other companies flood me with product offerings that they want me to buy. Microsoft doesn't. They give me what I need to drive sales, which ultimately some ends in MS's coffers, but also puts some in mine as well. I've come out ahead in my Partnership with Microsoft to this point, I wouldn't say I'm a customer based on that. Customers end up on the negative side of the money equation, not ahead.

[AFTERTHOUGHT:] I am sad to report that Microsoft's Steve Clayton has gone on vacation this week, so we won't be having his wonderful contributions in the comments section for a while. But I'm hoping other MS folk and Partners will join in the discussion in his absence etc.]

[Bonus Link:] "10 things they didn't tell you about blogging." Fabulous.

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:06 AM | Comments (75) | TrackBack

April 12, 2007

lots of ideas


[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

Tim Kitchin of Glasshouse Partners left the following comment on my big "Microsoft Partner" entry:

Not that I have clue what you're going to do for Microsoft...but I sort of applaud MS for pushing out the 'ecosystem' word in favour of the old fashioned 'partner'.

On the other hand partner is a really clumsy word to describe the array of interdependencies and power imbalances which really exist out there.

A lot of richness gets lost when you clump 750,000 companies into one category like 'partners'.

If you can provoke some more structured conversations around mutual value-exchange, that would be a big step forward for them.

Here are some thoughts:

1. "Is "Partner" the best word possible? Maybe, maybe not. Then again, if I had a small, tech-orientated company- a small town consultancy in Vermont with only one or two employees, say, I imagine I would LOVE being thought of as a "partner"of Microsoft, as opposed to just a "middleman" or a "user". It would convey to my customers that, whatever others may think about me, at the end of the day, MS takes me seriously. Not a bad message to be sending out from Vermont.

2. "Microsoft Ecosystem Member." Not sure if that works too well, either.

3. What Microsoft does is so vast and complex, it's hard getting the big picture sometimes [Hint: they don't just make stuff for PCs]. The good news is, there's so much going on in the company, I'm not too worried about running out of cool, new stuff to write about.

4. This project I'm doing with Microsoft is not the result of some grand, evil scheme on my part. It started very small, only a couple of weeks ago. Somebody inside Microsoft asked me to draw some cartoons for the Partner Group. A couple of dozen rough sketches and e-mail exchanges later, I thought it would be more interesting to just post my efforts online, and see the conversation we were having privately mutate into something much bigger. Happily, they liked the idea and gave me an immediate greenlight. But I truly believe that this spirit of spontaneity is what will keep the project interesting in the long term. Rock on.

Posted by hugh macleod at 4:55 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

April 10, 2007

campaign tagline


[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

[One More Time:] "For too long, Microsoft has allowed other people- the media, the competition and their detractors, especially- to tell their story on their behalf, instead of doing a better job of it themselves.

We firmly believe that Microsoft must start articulating their story better- what they do, why they do it, and why it matters- if they're to remain happy and prosperous long-term."

[Bonus Link] From JP Rangaswami:

Think about it. What keeps the ecosystem going? Who is the pest? Who is the parasite? And is the plant healthy as a result?

Distribution channels are partners. Ecosystem members are partners. Customers are partners.

As we move from proprietary to open worlds, we are seeing another transition. The customer is becoming the partner. And not a day too soon.

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:56 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

i seem to prefer it


[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

One of the ideas I've been playing around with the Microsoft Partner Group is- the idea of "crossing the chasm".

i.e. Crossing the chasm between tinkering away with a neat new idea in your garage, vs taking the idea and turning it into a viable long-term business.

i.e. Crossing the chasm between "Idea" and "Execution". That is where the bodies pile up etc.

And maybe, just maybe, Microsoft is a better option for making this crossing than Linux. Maybe not in all instances, but maybe for the guy who they're trying to sell a package to, oh yes they are.

This cartoon was kinda me thinking along those lines...

Posted by hugh macleod at 10:52 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

so why am i working for microsoft?


Some people were surprised to find me suddenly on Microsoft's payroll. But I had my reasons for doing this:

1. The challenge. So far I had proved my marketing ideas to myself with two small companies, English Cut and Stormhoek. But would the ideas scale to a big company like Microsoft? Could the Hughtrain work on a macro level? I guess now is my chance to find out.

2. "Cultural Re-Invention" is a subject very dear to my heart. [See the cartoon above, drawn in 2004] It's very hard to run a company once it gets big. The grim reality of managing the politics and keeping the shareholders happy takes over from the reasons why the company was founded in the first place: to make great stuff. This explains why upper management gets paid so much- what they do is incredibly difficult. A few years ago I got the idea that if I could learn all about cultural re-invention, learn about getting one's corporate mojo back, and then apply what I knew to paying clients, it would be a pretty good business to be in. In the meantime, Microsoft seemed to have reached a crossroads, what with Bill Gates stepping down, competitors like Google etc appearing on the horizon in ever-greater strength and numbers, open-source becoming bigger and bigger, Web 2.0 becoming bigger and bigger etc. etc, so in terms of what I was doing, their situation genuinely interests me.

3. Robert Scoble changed my life. When I saw what Robert was doing with his blog, back when he was working at Microsoft, I had a big "A-Ha!" moment. THIS was how to tear at the membranes in the company culture that were holding things back. This was how to go about "Cultural Re-Invention". This, quite simply, was the future to me. Sadly [for me, at least, probably not so sadly for him] he flew the nest and went to go work in Startup-ville, for a great little company called Podtech. I felt a bit cheated, to be honest. It was like he had quit telling the story before we'd heard the ending. Of course, he had every right to do this, and his reasons for leaving were perfectly kosher, but still... I wasn't quite ready to see the experiment end. I suppose in the end, I decided the best way to keep the experiment going was to start my own version, myself.

4. This is just a natural extension to the conversations I was already having elsewhere. This whole thing, including the Blue Monster, all came about from an ongoing conversation Steve Clayton and I started when we first me at the London Girl Geek Dinner last autumn. This gig just seems like a natural continuation of it.

5. It's nice having something new to write about. Seriously. New adventures are always a good thing etc.

6. Who knows, maybe this will work. Microsoft is a multi-billion dollar company with offices all over the world. I'm just a guy with an internet connection, typing away from a basement flat in West London. I like the odds.

[Comment- Richard Stacey:]

One thing you should try and get Microsoft people to do is "STOP BEING SO APOLOGETIC". Whenever you put a Microsoft person on a platform - they always feel the need to apologise, or make awkward jokes. Do Yahoo people apologise for being from Yahoo? Likewise Google? Is this what the Blue Monster thing is about (could it become part of it)?

Posted by hugh macleod at 10:12 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

April 9, 2007

the network


[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

[Bonus Link:] Microsoft's Steve Clayton responds to the recent "Microsoft is Dead" meme.

Overall I think it's a well written post and has some very valid points. The main point is nobody fears Microsoft these days. GREAT - that's progress I think. Why should people fear Microsoft? That's what got us a bad name in the first place!
[P.S. I got the line, "The network is more powerful than the node" from Adriana.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:09 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 7, 2007

tiny ship


[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

If you look in the comments of the previous post, you'll see some really smart discussions about Microsoft going on.

Especially nice to see Robert Scoble [formerly of Microsoft] chiming in:

Steve: a lot of people inside Microsoft think what I did for three years [at Microsoft] was be an arrogant, egotistical asshat.

They missed the little secret sauce that I fell into by accident: these tools let you listen to customers and influentials and haters and respond.

I know of one cool team at Redmond that's about to bring out something small at Mix07. It's not a big thing that'll kill Amazon or Google. It's a small thing. But it'll get lots of hype.


Because they demonstrated they are listening to the conversation that's happening out there across tons of tech blogs.

That's what's magical about Microsoft letting average employees blog: it guarantees that a few will fall into the same secret sauce I did and will have to listen to people outside of Redmond for a few minutes a day.

It just was frustrating to me that I couldn't get the leadership to really listen too.

Microsoft's Steve Clayton [one of the guys responsible for getting me this gig] replied to Robert:
Robert - some good arguments. Big companies clearly find it harder to take risks and as you showed whilst at Microsoft, it's the people on the ground who take the risks (both personal and on behalf of the company). Hugh got hired by some risk takers at Corp, not by Bill and Co.

With respect to Amazon, Google and others a major difference is Microsoft's channel approach. Sure Microsoft will release something cool and innovative every now and then but more interesting is the channel of partners doing that on the Microsoft platform - people like Skinkers, Mydeo, Caspian, Horsesmouth, Dotnet, Thirteen23 and many more. That's a pretty serious business engine that most observers of Microsoft miss. As Hugh says, we need to make them the rock stars as they're a huge competitive advantage to Microsoft.

And of course, the unsinkable Dennis Howlett had something to say:
When the Blue Monster finally caves in and says: 'we're dicounting 90% on the commodity but you pay for the real extras' then I'll be a huge fan. As it is, Microsoft sucks calories from IT that it doesn't deserve. That's why it is pretty much shut out of recruitment in the Valley- where the innovators are working. Or at least that's what your company's innovation team leader tells me.

No amount of fun stuff that Hugh does will change that. This ain't consumery stuff that you can decide to take or not. This is serious business stuff with real $$/££/€€ at stake.

Hopefully people inside Microsoft are seeing this...

Posted by hugh macleod at 9:35 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 6, 2007

tech problems don't exist


[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

So, what does it feel like to be working for Microsoft?

Well, financially they're still a relatively small client of mine, so it's not like they own me outright [yet]. Unlike Robert Scoble [who no longer works there], I'm not on salary. But I'm pretty psyched to be involved with them professionally, even in a small capacity.

I am working with the Partner Group, which is also my friend, Steve Clayton's neck of the woods. Although granted, Steve works for the UK office, and I'm working for the Redmond office. But there's a lot of cross-fertilization going on between the two.

For me, it's not a bad place to get a good glimpse of the company. Why? Because here's a stat to get your head around:

Over 95% of all Microsoft revenues come from their partners.

A partner is basically a business, large or small, who uses MS stuff to make money. A large partner would be someone like Dell or Toshiba. A small partner would be the guy round the corner with the wee computer repair shop.

All in all, MS has 750,000 partners world wide, at different levels of engagement. For every dollar that Microsoft gets from their partners, over ten dollars is created within the Microsoft Partner ecosystem. So off the top of my head, using MS gives the partners an ROI of over ten-to-one. I can think of worse business models.

Basically the way things now stand, without their partners, Microsoft would be incapable of making money. So I think it's a good place for an outsider like me to get a better idea of where the company meets the real world. The real world of making money.

Back on the Blue Monster page, I wrote:

For too long, Microsoft has allowed other people- the media, the competition and their detractors, especially- to tell their story on their behalf, instead of doing a better job of it themselves.

We firmly believe that Microsoft must start articulating their story better- what they do, why they do it, and why it matters- if they're to remain happy and prosperous long-term.

Something to consider: Not only does Microsoft have to get better at telling their story [for obvious reasons], somehow MS has to get bet better at teaching their partners to tell the MS story.

i.e. From a marketing perspective, it's not what MS says to their partners that's important. It's what their partners are saying to their customers about MS that's important.

Or am I missing something?

[P.S. Any Microsoft employees or partners reading this, I would LOVE your feedback. Please feel free to leave comments or send an e-mail, Thanks.]

[Bonus Link:] The Blue Monster described as "Moonshine Marketing".

Posted by hugh macleod at 3:58 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

April 5, 2007

gapingvoid has been assimilated!


[ "Art Money". Part of the Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]

I'm pleased to announce that I have a new client. A small software concern in Redmond, Washington. An offshoot of the Blue Monster conversation we've been having.

So what has this cartoon got to do with software? I'll explain later. Watch this space.

Posted by hugh macleod at 4:36 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

October 30, 2006

the blue monster

[Landscape: click on image to enlarge etc.]

[UPDATE: To see all the cartoons in The Blue Monster Series, click here. To get the Blue Monster printed on a business card, go here.]

I just designed this poster for my buddies over at Microsoft [you know who you are]. Feel free to download the high-res version by clicking on the image, and print it out onto whatever- posters, t-shirts etc [My regular licensing terms are here].

I've been told by Stormhoek that if the poster gets enough traction within Microsoft and its extended family, we'll consider doing a signed, limited-edition lithograph of it as well. [UPDATE: The signed lithographs have arrived. Steve Clayton reports.]

[Portrait: click on image to enlarge etc.]

The headline works on a lot of different levels:

Microsoft telling its potential customers to change the world or go home.
Microsoft telling its employees to change the world or go home.
Microsoft employees telling their colleagues to change the world or go home.
Everybody else telling Microsoft to change the world or go home.
Everyone else telling their colleagues to change the world or go home.
And so forth.
Microsoft has seventy thousand-odd employees, a huge percentage them very determined to change the world, and often suceeding. And millions of customers with the same idea.

Basically, Microsoft is in the world-changing business. If they ever lose that, they might as well all go home.

I chose the monster image simply because I always thought there is something wonderfully demonic about wanting to change the world. It can be a force for the good, of course, if used wisely. It's certainly a very loaded part of the human condition, but I suppose that's what makes it compelling.

Anyway, Redmond, I hope you like. Feel free to drop me a line, if you have any feedback. Thanks.

[UPDATE: 24th January 24, 2007:]


[VIDEO:] Microsoft's Steve Clayton talks about the Blue Monster cartoon. My evil plan finally goes public! Rock on.

[Blue Monster video on YouTube.]

The Blue Monster was designed as a conversation starter. To paraphrase the ongoing dialogue between Steve and I:

For too long, Microsoft has allowed other people- the media, the competition and their detractors, especially- to tell their story on their behalf, instead of doing a better job of it themselves.

We firmly believe that Microsoft must start articulating their story better- what they do, why they do it, and why it matters- if they're to remain happy and prosperous long-term.

If they can do this, well, we don't expect people in their millions to magically start loving Microsoft overnight, but perhaps it might get people- including the people who work there- to start thinking differently. Small moves.

[Afterthought:] Granted, none of this is rocket science. But maybe that's Microsoft's main problem.

[Disclosure: gapingvoid is more evil than Microsoft. Just so you know.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:25 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack