SharePoint’s NDA Policy: What Does the SPYam Community Think of the Secrecy?

A few months ago, I posted a longer rant about Microsoft’s secrecy policy is hurting the SharePoint community. Since then, I’ve received numerous Twitter and email comments (as well as a few comments on the article), but there never was a real debate about the issues.

With the new and absolutely brilliant SPYam community, we suddenly have a great platform on which to have these conversations, and it didn’t take long before the NDA policy came up as a topic of debate.

Before moving on, in order to get the context of the debate, I highly recommend you read the first article, and I’m going to assume you did. If you don’t, chances are very high that you won’t understand what this article is all about.

Updated Arguments

Since the original article got its fair share of attention, I got a couple of comments from well-known but not always vocal community members, and I thought I should sum a few of the comments.

One of them pointed out that Microsoft does not have a secrecy policy on many of their major products. For example, for Windows, where the “competitors will steal all our good ideas” argument is much more applicable, we got a public showing more than a year ago, and a developer preview almost a year ago (and more than a year before the expected release date). For SQL Server, we got tons of info too, and the ASP.NET MVC and Entity Framework teams are bragging about new and possibly upcoming features months in advance of anything being even beta.

A second comment related to the policy came in response to the argument “customers won’t buy if they’re waiting for the next version and know it’s going to be better”. The comment basically mentioned that this was exactly what Microsoft’s Software Assurance is all about. You pay for your software and have the latest version, regardless. Especially for a platform like SharePoint, where successful deployments and projects usually takes months of planning and development, whether you buy now or wait for an RTM is simply a question of how quickly you want to start your return on investment. In other words, it makes perfect sense for companies to buy SharePoint now, because there is a new version right around the corner.

Why are Office and SharePoint so special? Well, they sort under the Office division in Microsoft, so perhaps it’s Kurt DelBene’s fault. Perhaps it’s my fault, because I ‘leaked’ tons of information during the early days of SharePoint 2010. Perhaps it’s just that Microsoft really doesn’t have any real competition in the Office/SharePoint space and thus can do pretty much whatever they want to their customers and the community without fear.

I have no idea, but it seems that, among the Microsoft divisions, Office is particularly secretive and nobody seems to understand why.

So, What Does the Community Really Think?

When SPYam started, one of the first groups to start up was a SharePoint 15/2013 group, and it’s since grown to the most populated and second most active group (after a now-defunct real-time group that was a flood of Twitter-like interactions). Of course, that begged the question: should such discussions even happen, considering that some people in the community was under NDA?

The discussions weren’t isolated to that group, though, and a seemingly innocent question directed at me regarding the OAuth capabilities of SharePoint 15 quickly turned away from its original premise and into a debate about whether we should even entertain such topics.

Note: Please note that I’m summarizing the discussion as it’s relevant to the NDA. I’m trying to portray both sides of the debate here (although it wasn’t much said from one of the sides), and the entire conversation can be read on SPYam.

First, Joel Oleson pointed out that, according to the generally agreed-upon acceptable use policy, there should be no ‘rumors’ and ‘leaks’. In accordance to the policy, I then posted several references to MSDN and quoted a few passages from those references so that any further discussion on the topic would be in compliance, and Joel agreed.

Next, though, is when the discussion on OAuth completely stopped (not that it ever got started) when Mike Watson posted this comment:

After watching this from afar I still can’t understand why you care if anyone in this community discusses O15. Please explain to me the logic behind moderating such discussions. I’m not trying to be difficult just that this private community of SharePoint experts some in the TAP, some not, seems like the ideal place to discuss the next version. BTW… there’s not a member of this community that shouldn’t be in the know. The age old habbit of giving access to the chosen few then surprising everyone at beta with the new version needs to stop. It’s disruptive, creates bitterness, and holds back the broader SharePoint community.

…to which there was a couple of ‘I agree’ posts and Mark Wilson posting a comment that, honestly, I didn’t really understand.

@jmikewatson “there’s not a member of this community that shouldn’t be in the know”… ?? I don’t think I am then 🙂

Then followed a really surprising, at least to me, comment from Michael Gannotti:

Mark you are not alone (I have not seen any wave 15 outside of some NDA slides myself) I would err on side of Joels recommendation until things are publicly announced and gates lifted. Personally, and because I like being gainfully employed, if there are going to be conversations here that potentially break NDAs and such I will need to unjoin the group

This completely baffled me, and I also commented on this:

Let me see if I get this straight. You’re concerned that you may be punished because someone else breaks their NDA? Am I really the only one that sees this as fundamentally wrong and corrupt?
From someone in your position I’m rather surprised that you would even disclose such a fear. I would have expected you, or any other Microsoft employee, to rush to their defense saying something along the lines of “No, it’s really not that bad, Microsoft is a great place to work, and we’re not really afraid for our jobs when others do stupid things”.

Mike Watson again echoed those thoughts (actually, he said it first):

No offense Michael, but it was my assumption this was a Microsoft free zone. Even if it’s not, I would want people to feel free to discuss whatever SharePoint issue they want without fear of reprisal by Microsoft.

Is the secrecy police really so scary that people fear for their jobs if they even overhear a conversation on something from someone who is not under NDA? Apparently, Michael thinks so, and since that comment, he’s disappeared from the network, and now has a self-set title of ‘Former Member’

This to me says a great deal about how the secrecy policy is hurting the community. Those under NDA, like Michael, are unable to participate in a community because they fear someone may say something. In other words, what someone else says can cost you your job. Michael Gannotti is now lost to SPYam and the community suffers.

Skipping Gannotti’s issues, the conversation went back to the NDA in general, with Matthew Hughes posting these two comments:

So what we are saying here is that although I am not under any NDA, I am not allowed to talk about features that may or may not be in the next version of SharePoint because others in the group are under NDA? You don’t want to be in a position to do that but you quite clearly are and are happy to take that role.
Joel you have created a great community here but the moment you start policing it you lose the credibility you are so keen to protect.

If you are under NDA then you are bound by that agreement and being associated with those that have potentially broken the NDA has nothing to do with the person under NDA, no one is forcing you to comment, confirm or deny any of the things that are posted here. Very disappointed that this is a conversation that is even being entertained.

This is a good clarification of the legal aspects of the NDA; you cannot possibly be held to an agreement into which two other parties completely unrelated to you has entered. More on this in a moment.

Before we go the first comment in support of the NDA, Bruce Tuncertan posted:

Here is my $0.02:
Let everyone speak anything they want on a free platform without policing. If someone is under NDA it’s their problem to disclose the information or not. NDA can’t be controlled through this platform. Let freedom win!

Then, as mentioned, came the first, and more or less only comment in support of the NDA from Liam Cleary:

As someone who is under the NDA, I don’t see what the problem is. The only stipulation that the NDA has in stone is confirming, denying or talking about anything that has not been publicly released officially by Microsoft. Anything that has been leaked or is rumor falls into that category. For me I would love to talk about vNext but this stipulation is what stops those are under the NDA from speaking. Free speech has nothing to do with it, it is respect for the courtesy that MSFT has shown those that are. When the NDA is gone then who cars after that, why can’t we all just be patient???

I would have countered that comment with something along the lines of “we don’t need to respect something that hurts us for no apparent reason” and “patience is not always a virtue; especially when the community, the customers, and the platform suffers then action is warranted, not silent suffering”.

However, I didn’t get that far before Stacy Draper came up with the conclusion to the debate as he understood it:

Bottom line: bjorn is an idiot. You’d be better off seeking your information elsewhere. He’s been flat out wrong about stuff in the past just so that he can create some buzz around him.

I’m sure you’ll all agree that this is a perfectly natural conclusion and in no way hold this as an example of the level of comprehension of Mr. Draper.

Note: There were other comments from Mr. Draper that have now, as I believe has only happened once, been deleted. Most people understand the acceptable use policy.

From this point on, there was several comments that were against the NDA, such as this from Erica Toelle

I can see both sides of the argument here. I appreciate how @Joel Oleson (@joeloleson) doesn’t want misinformation spread: some people will take it as fact and utilize it not as intended, and that will cause problems and negativity. Also, I see the points of @Bjørn Furuknap and others: 1) If you are not under NDA then you have every right to say what’s on your mind. 2) If Microsoft wants to get in the business of punishing people for not following unwritten rules then the intelligent people expand »will simply move to another platform to solve the same business problems and Microsoft will be hurting themselves in the long run (cc: @Gannotti).
Any community such as this is going to have individuals with disparate goals (a good lesson for your SharePoint deployments). You can’t have a community use policy that says “thou shall only post thoughts that create true understanding” or “thou shall only post thoughts that create great discussion”. Community is grassroots, organic and unpredictable. Just let it be. Really, it will take care of itself. I trust everyone here to be goodwill oriented.

..and this, from Owen Allen:

I want to add my three comments to this thread, just to go on record.
1. The worst part is the name calling. Stop the public name calling.
2. I’m glad that someone like Bjørn is reading the protocol documentation and talking about things. The reason that there is the protocol documentation is important. I’m surprised that more people arent’t doing it.
3. Anyone who thinks they can police a community is high on something. It can’t be controlled. Don’t try to smother a community. It will not be useful or effective. We’re all professionals here and big boys and girls.
OK. Back to lurking…

OK, so this post is long enough, and although the conversation itself was even longer, I believe this captures the gist of it. Rick Taylor did compare my research and subsequent publication to that of protecting a child rapist, but that was more of an attack on me than on the NDA so I’m leaving it out.

I’m sure the debate won’t stop, though. Even when the first SharePoint 2013 beta comes out, the NDA is still in effect. We’ll know a lot more, and the NDA-clad community members will finally be able to blurt out their guts on what Microsoft officially says, but they are still bound by the NDA as long as they have agreed to it.

As such, the debate won’t stop. The secrecy won’t stop. The speculation, the need to know, the hurting of the community and the platform won’t stop either.

It won’t stop, until Microsoft stops hurting themselves and everyone.

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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.