Inside the Insiders: Kip Kniskern of LiveSide

Inside the Insiders is a series of interviews with some of the most recognized and outspoken Microsoft influentials, journalists and enthusiasts I know. I plan to go around interviewing as many of these peers as possible to find out more about their background, life outside of Microsoft and their darkest Unix fetishes. At least thatโ€™s what I tell them. Little did they know their answers will help me annihilate them and my other competitors.

Scared of a backlash, Kip now only shows affection for the butterfly indoors.

How Microsoft will beat Google is a question on everybody’s minds, and as soon Microsoft has the answer we’ll hear it on LiveSide. LiveSide is not only the resource for many technology pundits who have a hard time digesting the Microsoft online strategy some call Windows Live, but even Microsoft employees themselves. Kip Kniskern is one of the three “sneaky geniuses” who collectively knows more Live products and services than probably exists. Started on the 3rd day in January 2006, LiveSide has grown to one of the most popular Microsoft blogs with more an impressive track record for scoops and early beta insights.

Who are you and what do you do?

Hi, I’m a purely amateur computer enthusiast who got into this by trying to get into as many Microsoft betas as I could, just to see what was going on. I subscribe to about 600 blogs. Before becoming involved with LiveSide, I didn’t even use IM, and now I talk with people every day from the US, Australia, China, Germany, the UK, and Canada.

I try to make some sense of what has been a wild ride with MSN morphing into Windows Live, and where it’s gone from there. I try not to let Long Zheng bore me too much.

How did you get involved with LiveSide?

All of the founders of LiveSide (Chris Overd, Harrison Hoffman, and Matthew Weyer) were involved in the same MSN betas I was. At the MVP Summit in Sept-Oct 2005, some of us talked about starting a blog about MSN, and then in November, Windows Live was announced. LiveSide went live on January 3rd 2006, and I joined a couple of days later. Chris and Harrison weren’t MVPs at the time.

We all got to know each other from the various betas, and from a couple of MSN Butterfly Tours. The “butterflys” (never really liked that term :P) were a group of testers from the MSN Premium 9 beta that they tried to keep together for future betas. Really with Chris in the UK, Matthew in Illinois, Harrison in Florida, and I in Seattle we didn’t really know each other much at all. It wasn’t until after getting LiveSide going that we got to know each other, really.

Why haven’t you used IM before? What was your first-time like, did it feel good?

I spent most of my time up until then trying to uninstall Messenger. Then I began to use it and (this was Messenger 7-something) it crashed like all the time. I was less than impressed, basically came into it kicking and screaming. I guess the same could be said for Twitter etc now. Now it never crashes, but I have to wait like forever for someone to ask me an interview question.

LiveSide obviously has a lot of scoops on everything Live, how do you guys do it? Do you get a lot of tip-offs? Do you check every Live site every day? What is your secret sauce?

Most of what we get is from spending far too much time just hammering away. When Chris found Windows Live Folders up and running, he had been hitting the site for weeks, I think. Obviously we know some people, but really the vast majority of the stuff we’ve posted we’ve found by just diligent digging away. It’s always fun to find a blog post that’s a little over-enthusiastic, or a wide open link to a help file on a site that’s otherwise locked down. We love tips (tips@liveside.net), just as much to know that there are others as enthusiastic as us about finding out more about Windows Live.

We wished we could steal stuff from IStartedSomething, but all Long writes about anymore is Vista SP1.

How does Microsoft and specifically Live employees think about your nosy investigative reporting?

We hear both sides. Some of our biggest fans are at Microsoft. ‘Softies have told us they come to us to find out what’s going on. We’ve stepped on a few toes along the way, too, so that can’t be fun – nothing like finding out your secret project isn’t secret anymore. I think in general Live employees just wished they could talk more about their projects. We see the pain in their eyes when they want to talk about something cool but they just can’t.

You live pretty close to Redmond don’t you? Do you often stroll in to peek at Live, or invited to meetings?

Nah. I take my dog to the dog park in Redmond, but that’s as close as it gets.

What motivates you to write about Windows Live? The money? The girls?

Definitely not the money, we’re paying for the privilege of doing this (thanks for nothing, FM). I think it’s a combination of being really excited about some seriously cool new stuff, and that feeling you get when you watch a train wreck.

As the Live team is (more) open about their projects with team blogs and what not, do you find it harder to get the scoops?

Really I think it’s the other way around. Teams, and especially individual bloggers, are a lot more careful about what they say than they used to be. Probably dug our own grave on that one – by posting every mistake ever made in a blog, now they’re more careful ๐Ÿ˜›

Someone like yourself must sign a lot of legal mumbo jumbo. How do you feel towards NDAs?

NDAs are an important and necessary tool. The ones we’ve signed for betas we’ve been very careful about, because they are important. The MVP NDA is much more of a blanket, it prohibits you from talking publically about anything you hear from any one from Microsoft, including their “agents”. While this is convenient for Microsoft, and certainly has its place during something like the MVP Summit.

It has been problematic as an independent source of news about Microsoft. On the one hand we have been very enthusiastic about Windows Live. On the other, we’ve received information from sources that have nothing to do with betas or the MVP program, and yet we can’t use that.

What does Kip do in his ‘real’ life?

My real life? I have one of those? I take my dog camping, work in a private home as a cook, and try to stay away from computers, at least for a little while.

Visa or MasterCard?

As in, you want to pay me off with a credit card? ๐Ÿ˜› Oh, you want me to choose. Both, of course.

Sorry, the answer we were looking for was “neither” or “American Express”. Thank you for playing, you leave without any prizes but we hope you had fun participating.

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