Turning 50

It’s been an unusual week. On December 3 I turned 50. On Dec 8 I announced that I’m leaving InfoWorld and joining Microsoft. It’s not a coincidence. When I saw 50 looming, a couple of years ago, I started to get really clear about what I want to do with the next 25. I’ve been laying out the vision to anyone who will listen, and I’ll continue to do so here, but first things first. Yesterday’s announcement left a couple of questions unasked and unaswered, so without further ado:

Q: Are you relocating to Redmond?

A: No. I’ll continue to work from my home office in New Hampshire. At first I’ll be spending maybe one week in four in Redmond, because there’s a lot of connecting to do. In the long run I may wind up traveling almost that much, but I hope to locations elsewhere than Redmond as often as not.

In January, for example, I’ll be speaking at Techology, Knowledge, and Society in Cambridge UK. And in May, at GOVIS in New Zealand. As was true for my recent talks in Guadalajara and Ann Arbor, I don’t expect to encounter any Silicon Valley regulars at these events. I do expect to give and to receive important insights about how people everywhere can use infotech to further their occupational, educational, personal, social, and civic agendas.

Q: What will happen to your weblog.infoworld.com/udell archive?

A: I’ve experienced namespace disruption before, and am very keen to avoid it this time around. Fortunately it’s in InfoWorld’s best interest to preserve my blog archive. Worst case, the material will be rehosted because nobody else at InfoWorld uses Radio UserLand anymore. In that case, I’ve offered to help redirect the current namespace to a different one. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but I hope there won’t be a problem.

Q: Why would you work for them? Not since Standard Oil has such a brutal vicious rapacious thuggish company with such power existed.

A: That question, in private email from someone I deeply respect, reminded me that yesterday’s Q and A left some important things unsaid. In particular, although I mentioned Ray Ozzie and Kim Cameron and Jean Paoli and Jim Hugunin and JJ Allaire, I egregiously failed to mention such equally important folks as:

Tim Fahlberg, who wants to use screencasting to reinvent math education, and who was thrilled that I picked up on his mission and amplified it in InfoWorld, but who because of that only gained a tiny bit more of the exposure he deserves.

Dan Thomas, who’s pumping the operational data of city government out onto the web where, despite all my efforts so far, nobody except me sees that it’s there or imagines what to do with it.

Mike Frost, who’s building out a version of the energy web today instead of waiting for government to never do it.

To these stories I’ll add my own NHPR commentaries about online-map-enabled community work, rediscovery of the local library, and the social capital we can build when we work from home.

My proposal was to be an evangelist for the Net, to continue discovering and telling these kinds of stories, and to use them as the framework within which to explore and explain Microsoft’s current and emerging technologies.

When I met with Jeff Sandquist I had just finished this podcast with Jim Russell. It’s a story about migration and the mobility of intellectual capital, refracted through Jim’s experience with the Pittsburgh diaspora. Neither Microsoft’s nor any other vendor’s technologies are discussed. I’m certain that the ideas Jim lays out in this podcast will inspire new business models for social software, but it’s all rather speculative.

I explained to Jeff that it had taken me most of a day to interview Jim Russell, then edit our rambling two-hour discussion down to something more coherent. And I said: “Reality check, you’re OK with that?” He said yes. I do not regard that answer as evidence of thuggishness or rapaciousness. I regard it as a sign of enlightenment, and I am calibrating my expectations accordingly.

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29 thoughts on “Turning 50

  1. As happy as I am that you are joining Microsoft, I had a slight twinge of regret when I saw that you aren’t moving to Redmond. I spent the first six months of my time here working remotely, and learned that the culture at MS is very F2F-oriented … if you’re out of sight, you have to work hard not to be out of mind. Obviously things will be different for you than for someone like me down in a product unit, but I suggest you plan for a bit of extra effort when you are in Redmond to touch base with your contacts, seek out new ones, sniff out what’s happening but not written down, and so on. Likewise, if you want to effect change, you have to appreciate that decisions are made in a zillion little interactions, top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out. If you’re not there F2F, you should probably work all the harder to remind people what you think needs to be done, arm your colleague who are here with good arguments, etc.

    I don’t mean to be discouraging … You are obviously a special case, especially since you are able to communicate extremely effectively in writing, a skill that is still all too rare in geekdom and MS. Likewise, geographic distance will help keep you from getting sucked into the groupthink of whatever group you’re in. Microsoft collectively needs to be constantly reminded what the world looks like to people whose view isn’t fogged up by our typical drizzle or distracted by the scenery on the sunny days :-)

  2. I know this next step has been one you’ve thought about carefully for a long, long time, and I know it’s a good one for you.

    I know it will bring you closer to the kind of writing and research and collaboration you’ve dreamed of for years. I know it will enable you to share your insights and vision with a bigger world, and hopefully both you and the world will be better for it.

    I hope it brings you all the good returns you deserve, and I’m with you every step of the way.


  3. Well, when I had that birthday, harrumph-teen years ago, my mother sent me a birthday card that said “Fifty is Nifty.” It included a picture of me when I was a youngster with this round face and giant grin.

    Meanwhile, thanks to Luann’s comment, I got to show my wife, Vicki, the Lascaux jewelry and the beautifully clean web site there. Ohh, ahh, ohmigosh, and that was before she enlarged any of them. Now I know what I want to gift Vicki for our 11th anniversary this New Years Eve. (Fortunately, she doesn’t read blogs.)

    New Hampshire. I wouldn’t have guessed it.

    I still propose a big geek dinner on one of your relaxing weeks out here in Puget Sound country.

    Just thinking about what you are up to has me all squirmy and grinny. Have a great sabbatical.

  4. I think it is all about leverage.

    Great minds have always looked for best way to explore and promote ideas,
    for example Leonardo da Vinci and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    didn’t mind working for (evil?) emperors of its time…
    If they didn’t maybe they would not have achieved what they have achieved.

  5. Congrats. Just one thing, if you’re big on namespaces, why a hosted blog at wordpress? You could have just put one on your domain… Oh well :)

  6. Hi Jon,

    Glad to hear you will still be based out of home at Keene. You’ve been sort of an inspiration as the *canonical* ‘modern’ guy, keeping with all the goings on and playing with interesting stuff, being ahead of the curve at many times, while still staying in beatiful New Hampshire.

    And reading your columns and blog, we’ve reaped all the benefits :-)!

    Happy Birthday!

  7. Hi Jon,
    Congratulations on the new position. I’ll continue to look for your thoughts and insights. I greatly appreciate the wide range of interests your share through these posts. You are one of the best reads on the web. Keep up the good work… And thank you again for the library lookup tool…

    Best wishes…

  8. Is there any reason why you chose wordpress.com?

    Also, since WordPress does offer domain mapping, wouldn’t it be better long-term to choose something like blog.jonudell.net as your namespace?


    Though, as Bill de hÓra mentioned a while back, we’re all really just renting the domains we use:


    P.S. Dear WordPress (or whom ever), would it be possible to get a “Preview” for comments? It wouldn’t necessarily add extra load to the server as Mike Davidson comment system shows:


  9. Sam/Peter/David, you’re all quite right. Thanks for the push. It’s done and I’m waiting to do the cutover.

    I haven’t had occasion to fiddle with domain names in a long time. WordPress does a really nice job with the handoff. The configuration stuff at GoDaddy, though, wow, even if you know exactly what you’re looking for, it’s ridiculously hard to find it. What do regular people do? Avoid the whole mess, I suppose.

  10. Jon, don’t mistake the character of individuals within the organization (no matter how high they are in the org-chart) for the character of the organization itself. The DNA of a culture is justifiably notoriouly difficult to change.

    For example it took Jim Hugunin nearly a year by his account to navigate and negotiate the shoals of Legal to get a semi-reasonable license for the IronPython release.

  11. Good. New feed URL added to my aggregator (actually, it’s thanks to you that I first discovered blogs, way back when – thanks.)

    And if you fancy a drink while you’re over here in Cambridge, or want any local assistance, drop me an email.

  12. hi jon,

    I hope that you will have better success at MS than ward cunningham did. I understand that they had LOTS of expectation from him without him understanding those expectations.

    I hope that you will understand soon what expectations they have of you.


  13. contrary to michael champion’s position i am glad you’re not jumping all the way into the coolaid vat. i am excited for you. it would be great to meetup in england when you’re over in january, if possible

  14. When Scoble left Microsoft, I started composing a blog post about why you were the right person to fill the void that he left. You don’t have the same motivations, agenda, etc., but you’re the right person to connect Microsoft with the outside world right now (connect meaning both directions – informing the world about what’s going on inside Microsoft, and informing Microsoft about what’s going on in the world). Unfortunately, I never posted it because I thought it couldn’t happen.

    I like that you are extremely pragmatic, and focus on applying software towards solving problems for real people without any concern for other agendas. The fact that there are those at Microsoft who recognize the value of such a voice says a lot.

    I understand why you’re staying in NH. I was in Walpole for a wedding at Alyson’s Orchard back in October. Nice state you got there!

  15. Congrats and well done, both on the MS gig and turning 50! Glad to hear you are staying in NH.

  16. Notwithstanding Ray Ozzie and Kim Cameron and Jean Paoli and Jim Hugunin and JJ Allaire (who might all be very nice *people*); and notwithstanding all of those *and* Tim Fahlberg, Dan Thomas, Mike Frost, and Jeff Sandquist (none of whom I’d ever heard of before, but who might for all I know be at least as nice as the preceding bunch) — the COMPANY is still the most brutal vicious rapacious thuggish company with such power that has existed since Standard Oil.

    So the question remains: Why on Earth would you work for them? Why would anyone enter the service of this — yes, I am being serious — Evil Empire, and not expect to have to work for Evil?

  17. There are so many people here commenting stuff. I’m not trying to correct your mistakes, I’m just not agree with any single word

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