It has become a bit of a disappointing trend in recent years that whenever [big company] does anything with [small company], total outrage about their motivations ensues.
Examples? Sparrow, Skype, Yammer, Instagram, Nest, WhatsApp and, most recently, Oculus Rift. All of whom were acquired by either Facebook, Google or Microsoft. Every time, people go nuts when they hear the news as if some travesty has occured.
We received some similar push-back just because Microsoft sponsored Ghost after our Kickstarter Campaign.
Do Me a Favour
Put a pin in your conspiracy theories for just one moment, and let's talk about this rationally.
It's very easy to read intention into anything and everything that a company does. Sometimes we talk about them like they're autonomous robots trying to take over the world of their own accord. We treat them as though every little thing they do is planned, calculated and - if their market cap is high enough - "evil".
When Microsoft decided to back Ghost, the response ranged from...
"Now that you have Microsoft's official backing, can I have my money back? ... What do you need money from individuals for anyway? You're either independent or you're not, you can't be both."
"With Yahoo! pushing ahead with plans for their recent Tumblr acquisition, the timing for a truly disruptive force in the blogging world is perfect. Microsoft isn’t afraid to step into the ring with other big competitors"
So basically the only options were 1. We'd sold out completely, or 2. Microsoft were using Ghost as a springboard to compete with Yahoo!
It's easy to come up with these sorts of ideas when you didn't see what went on behind the scenes. Rabid speculation.
Can I tell you what really happened?
I've been friends for a number of years with several of the developer evangelists at Microsoft in the UK. I met them while contributing to WordPress when they were doing an outreach program to get Microsoft involved with more Open Source projects. Other developers in attendance included representatives from Drupal, Joomla and Umbraco.
I went into that meeting as skeptical as any other internet troll. What I learned within the space of an hour, that I hadn't truly recognised before, is that a company is an organism of people. You know... humans?
While there may be bad parts in a large company, there are almost always also good parts and, can I tell you something? Microsoft's UK developer evangelist team are the goodest part of the good parts. There is no agenda in me saying this. Go and talk to them and find out for yourself. They recognise problems from the past, they are infinitely excited about modern web standards and the future.
They - much more than you - want old versions of IE to be dead and buried. Can you imagine having hundreds of people every day attack you for old versions of a piece of software which you didn't even personally create? They really want to improve, and they're working hard on it.
You imagine them to be suits interested only in bureaucracy and market share with no idea of how the "real web" works outside of Redmond. That analysis is misguided. They are humans, just like you and I, who are incredibly motivated to build a great company for all the right reasons. They get it. And many of them are smarter than you or I.
After meeting this team for the first time in 2011 - and let me stress that by "team" I mean about 4 people inside a company of over 100,000 people - I was deeply impressed, and kept in touch with them ever since.
When the Ghost Kickstarter campaign rolled around, it was pretty obvious that it would be a good idea to give these same people - who I had met during a Microsoft Open Source outreach program - a call to see if they would be interested in supporting. So I did.
Here's how the sponsorship actually happened:
I contacted one of the developer evangelists who I knew to ask if they'd be interested in supporting. He said it looked like a great idea, but this was something that would take a significant amount of time to pass around the company. This was day 1 of the Kickstarter Campaign.
About a month and a half of emails later, we had an agreement. Microsoft had signed off on the sponsorship as a part of Internet Explorer's marketing budget. It would be good exposure for them, and a significant financial boost for us.
The full terms of the sponsorship were incredibly simple: We add an IE logo to our "partners" section on Ghost.org - we help their team develop a Ghost App for Modern.IE - we help them convert one Microsoft blog to using Ghost - and we use a more diverse selection of devices for some of our marketing images (basically, show Ghost running on a Microsoft Surface Pro2 as well as any other devices).
In total there were about 4 people involved in this entire deal. Maybe 5, the head of the department at IE who had to sign off on it, but we never actually spoke to her directly.
So... did we sell out on all (or any?) of our principles or goals for Ghost by taking sponsorship from Microsoft? No.
Did Microsoft do this as a strategic corporate move to compete with Yahoo!/Tumblr? You have to be fucking kidding - 99,996 Microsoft employees don't know or care that Ghost even exists.
Microsoft did something good. They helped us. That's it.
You may not agree with everything that large corporations do, but take a second before jumping the gun and declaring the moral bankcrupcy of anyone who works with them. You don't have the full picture. You don't know the terms. You don't know the human beings behind the deal who represent the corporate logos.
Not every acquisition or sponsorship works out well, but could we take a second to actually look at some track records? Microsoft, Google and Facebook haven't (yet) ruined any of the companies I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Perhaps they deserve a bit of credit, once in a while, when they get something right.
I don't think Facebook acquiring Oculus Rift is a bad thing, I think it's quite exciting. And I'm sorry, Kickstarter backers, but no they didn't sell you out. You backed a for-profit company with a great product. The entire point of a for-profit company is to make as much money for its shareholders as possible, either with a sale or a public offering. It's called capitalism. You may not like it - I don't - but it's not morally reprehensible in any way.
Behind every company is a passionate, excited, and (I believe) overtly good group of humans. Humans who do great things, humans who make mistakes, humans who have feelings like everyone else. Cut them some slack. You may not know the details of what's really going on. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's wrong OR evil. Stop with the insane conspiracy theories.
If you think you can create something better, then let's see it. If you think it's too hard to compete - consider that I founded a not for profit, crowd-funded, open source, distributed company with a goal of creating yet-another-blogging-platform. If that can work, your thing probably can too.
Use your idealism as a force for good.