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RealTime IT News

Will Scoble's Fans Go With Him?

Robert Scoble, Microsoft's rock star blogger and one of a few people who helped put a friendly face on a company often compared to the Borg from Star Trek, is leaving Microsoft to take a high-level position at a start-up podcasting firm.

Scoble reported on his blog that he is leaving his position as a technical evangelist at Microsoft to become vice president of media development for a startup firm called PodTech.net.

He's trading the rainy Pacific Northwest for the slightly-less rainy Silicon Valley. He will head up strategic initiatives at PodTech, doing a weekly Podcast show and, of course, maintain a blog. Scoble joins the firm in July.

As is usually the case in the blogosphere, news of his departure came from another blogger. Tom Foremski, who runs Silicon Valley Watcher, broke the news in a post that claimed the Microsoft evangelist was leaving as a result of increasing job dissatisfaction.

A Microsoft defender to the end, Scoble met the post with his own spin and vinegar.

Publicly, Scoble refuted such claims. "I wasn't, and am not, frustrated at Microsoft. I've never had more opportunities available to me. In fact, I am due to spend a day with ImagineCup contestants and Bill Gates later this month."

However, his reasons were also very personal. A native of the Silicon Valley, Scoble's mother passed away last month, and that lit a fire under him. "My family is all down here, my friends are all down here. My mom's death made me realize I need to get back in touch with that," he told internetnews.com. "My mom's death woke me up and made me realize it's time to get in touch with family, and not to just cruise."

If there was a limit, Scoble said it was that he had to be just a Microsoft evangelist. "At the end of the day, Microsoft is a platform company and everything in the business serves those platforms, so it would be hard for me to experiment with other platforms." That limits what you could do, he added.

For example, he doubted he could profile many third-party products, such as Rocketboom, the very popular video blogging software.

His proudest achievement is getting the blogging trend started at Microsoft, which now counts about 3,000 active bloggers. "If I helped that happen, that's the best thing. That'll outlast me, because now a company is talking to customers in a way it never did before."

People believed in Scoble the evangelist. Or, at least they read him. According to his own measurements. Scoble's Channel 9 saw 3.5 million unique visitors last month.

John Furrier, the founder and CEO of PodTech.net, recognized that Scoble was a rock star among bloggers but said he didn't hire Scoble for PR purposes.

"He has a shared vision of what I see in the future of media," said Furrier. "The vision is that word of mouth networks are forming and the blogging community is showing how easy it is to publish information. We see a whole new platform created by RSS that allows people to have a direct relationship with users."

Techcrunch blogger Michael Arrington echoed the sentiment of many when he wrote on his site: "This is a bigger blow to Microsoft than will be apparent at first. Robert was responsible for much of the positive press around Microsoft. He put a very human face on Microsoft, and did much to get people to take a new look at the long hated company. I'm not sure Microsoft could replace him, or if they will even try."

Nicholas Carlson contributed to this story.