What's an MVP? What does 'MVP' really mean?

A couple of days ago, the community learned that Jamie Cansdale, creator of Testdriven.NET wasn't re-nominated for the MVP title. As an explanation from Microsoft, he received a vague email that in the past year, he apparently didn't do enough for the community to get the award, and also apparently violated some MVP code of conduct. Well, I'm an MVP as well, and after asking around, it appears that this MVP code of conduct is a simple list of rules which looks very much like the one Microsoft uses for their newsgroups.

We already learned that Paul Wilson wasn't renewed as well. This gets some people thinking, and one of them is Scott Bellware, who wrote a piece about asking everyone to nominate Jamie and Paul again for MVP. His motivation is the following:

Jamie's work continues to forward the cause of sustainable software development in the Microsoft world even in the face of substantial opposition from Microsoft itself - even if that opposition is unwitting.
and about Paul:
His continued absence from the MVP program would be a terrific loss considering the extraordinary contribution that he's made to the community through his innovative tools and his direct participation.

I don't want to debate this motivation, they're both fine developers. The thing is that the MVP award isn't meant to reward people who wrote a great piece of software or wrote a book which is read by a lot of people in the community, it's meant to reward people who spend their free time to help others and build the community. For example, a user group leader in a country, who perhaps is very talented and succesful in organizing meetings, has more chance to get the MVP reward than a great developer who expresses his/her talent during his/her day job.

Paul Wilson already mentioned in his post where he announced he wasn't an MVP anymore, that the frequency of his community participation was, according to himself, below what could be expected from an MVP, due to personal and work-related circumstances, and he fully agreed with the decision that he shouldn't be an MVP anymore.

I think that's a great and praiseworthy point of view and I respect him for that. What Paul said shows that he truly understands what the MVP title stands for: you have to do noticable things for the community in non-work related (otherwise trainers and speakers have advantages over people who spend their free time helping the community) fashion, and if that, for whatever reason, is below par because you didn't have enough time for example, the award shouldn't be for you, simply because it would otherwise mitigate the award's power.

The award is given to people on a yearly basis. This means that MVPs or non-MVPs are considered equal after a year and if a person has done enough, s/he gets the award, if not, you don't. So you don't lose the award when you're an MVP in say 2005 but you aren't in 2006, you simply didn't get the award in 2006. It doesn't matter for the award of 2006 what you've done in 2004, it matters what you've done in the full year prior to the date the award is handed out (Microsoft uses 4 dates during the year to hand out MVP awards).

Community Icons

But, what if you're a Community Icon, like Jamie and Paul are? Shouldn't these people get the award? According to Scott and a lot of others, yes, they should. While I can understand this position, I don't think the MVP award is the award they should get, if there should be an award for being a Community Icon in the first place. Because the MVP award is an award given out on a yearly basis, it's IMHO inappropriate to use achievements from the past as well as day-job related activity to determine if a person should get the award.

A Community Icon already got an award: recognition by the community that s/he is a Community Icon and when that person speaks the community listens.

In the light of what Paul said, do I think I'll get renewed next year April? No, I don't think I'll get renewed, because my newsgroup post frequency is below of what it was when I got rewarded in the past few years and the blogposts are less frequent, I didn't hold any presentations / talks for user groups nor did I participate in any community efforts like the Ask the Experts booth at Teched. Because the award is given out for doing remarkable community work, doing less than that isn't good enough to get the award, as simple as that, and fully understandable.

It's another thing if you cross borders drawn by Microsoft Marketing, because you want to deliver a free toolkit for the community, as rumours say Jamie has. If you don't get rewarded because some political game is played, even though the community work is outstanding and meets the criteria, it's unacceptable. It's still unclear why Jamie exactly didn't get the award. If it is a political game played by Microsoft, it's a blow for the MVP award and the title gets less powerful.

Which would be a shame because it is meant for volunteers who spent their precious time to help the community. Not rewarding such a person is thus making the MVP title a nice tag but nothing more. But again, I don't know what really happened so I can't say if Jamie falls into that category. Let's wait how this pans out and what Microsoft has to say about this.


  • Very nice post Frans -- I agree with it entirely.

  • Paul will always be a MVP in my book.

  • Hey, I wrote my book in my free time, and the "income" from it wasn't income at all. I'd guess that few authors in the ASP.NET space in particular make a whole load of cash writing books.

    Let's face it, the criteria for MVP has been screwed up for a long time. It has no clear point in terms of scope or the type of interaction. I've worked very closely and helped out a half-dozen or so people over the last year, wrote a book I didn't make any money from, give away an OK app, I have pretty good access to MS managers around ASP.NET, etc. Does that make me special? Probably not, but I think I do a good job of helping people out regardless of whether or not I'm popular.

    It doesn't help that you get guys posting in forums with their "I'm an MVP and you will listen" attitude. Who wants to be associated with that?

    There are only a handful of people I generally respect in this community, and some of them even work for Microsoft (opening up and letting them blog has been awesome). MVP is silly. If you want to reward people, send them a nice card and a free copy of VSTS and be done with it.

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