tommorris.org

Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.


A tale of two blog posts: how to be as glassy as GitHub or as murky as Microsoft

So, the big news this week is that Microsoft bought GitHub for $7.5 billion. This has been welcomed, lamented and, well, meme-ified in about equal measure.

What I found quite interesting was the language of the two blog posts announcing the deal rather clearly demonstrate the contrast between the two companies and how they operate and are perceived. I should first be clear that I have a fairly high regard for Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO. He seems to be fairly thoughtful and deliberate in how he has run Microsoft and under his leadership, the company has made some rather big changes mostly for the better.

Those disclaimers duly made, Nadella’s post falls clearly into corporate jargon repeatedly. Every industry is being impacted by technology, and thus the workflows of developers will affect value creation, by empowering communities. If you spotted ideation, feel free to shout “bingo!”

There’s also some strange bits of Microsoftie waffle, like the “Intelligent Edge”. I had no idea what an “Intelligent Edge” is, so I read a post entitled “Advancing the future of society with AI and the intelligent edge” published on Microsoft’s blog by Frank X. Shaw, Corporate Vice President for Communications. I still have no idea what it is, except it involves drones and IoT devices and nifty machine learning algorithms that predict diseases. The fact that I’m unable to understand it after reading a blog post written by someone who has ‘Communication’ in their job title is rather telling.

(My best stab after reading it is when Microsoft talk about “intelligent edge”, what they mean is they want to make sure the computers that aren’t out there in the clouds—i.e. in a data centre—also have the facility to do vaguely intelligent things like doing machine learning and classification. As a concept, it seems to exist as a way to try and rhetorically rebalance back from the focus on the cloud.)

Anyway, I don’t mean to bash Microsoft, or Nadella, but merely to point out the difference in wording between the Nadella blog post and the post up on GitHub’s blog by Chris Wanstrath: “A bright future for GitHub”.

Microsoft’s post is full of generality and jargon, plus references to futuristic, unproven or speculative technologies like precision medicine and personalized banking. GitHub’s blog post is clear and specific: it tries to head off concerns about developer trust in Microsoft by pointing to clear examples of Microsoft’s contributions to projects like git-lfs, Electron and the open source release of VS Code. GitHub’s post talks in terms of human emotions like pride and excitement. There are some slight flaws with the GitHub post—mixing “as well as oil and water” is a metaphor well beyond the grave at this point, Minecraft probably wouldn’t be what I’d put at the top of my list of successful Microsoft acquisitions, and it repeats Microsoft’s impenetrable edge-iness: Code to Cloud and Code to Edge.

But in general, Wanstrath’s post is a reasonably good piece of writing and communicates the values of GitHub. It is short, uses straightforward language and communicates the message that both companies likely wished to send. As a GitHub user, Microsoft’s post is a clear example of the fear of big company takeovers of products one uses and broadly likes that many will have. Big companies like Microsoft, even those blessed with intelligent and technically sensible leaders like Nadella, communicate in this kind of strange mixture of jargon, marketese and speculative Big Picture diversions from the day-to-day reality that users care about. As a user, Wanstrath’s post reassures me that GitHub are looking after my interests while Nadella’s post mostly tells me about the continuing dysfunctions of big companies like Microsoft.

If you have anything to do with communicating with technical people or about technical products, both of these posts are worth reading for showing a very clear example of the values of clarity and precision vs. jargon-riddled haziness.