Freewheeling bloggers can boost your product—or destroy it. Either way, they’ve become a force business can’t afford to ignore.

Early in the evening of Dec. 1, Microsoft revealed that it planned to take over the world of blogs—the five-million-plus web journals that have exploded on the Internet in the past few years. The company’s weapon would be a new service called MSN Spaces, online software that allows people to easily create and maintain blogs. It didn’t take long for the blogging world to do what it does best: swarm around a new piece of information; push, prod, and poke at it; and leave it either stronger or a bloody mess. The next day, at the widely read Boing Boing blog, co-editor Xeni Jardin opted to do the latter.

She titled her critique of MSN Spaces “7 Dirty Blogs” and hilariously sent up the fickle censoring filters Microsoft appeared to have built in. MSN Spaces prohibited her from starting a blog called Pornography and the Law or another entitled Corporate Whore Chronicles; yet World of Poop passed, as did the educational Smoking Crack: A How-To Guide for Teens. Within the first hour of Jardin’s post, five blogs had linked to it, including the site of widely read San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor. By the end of the day there were dozens of blogs pointing readers to “7 Dirty Blogs,” a proliferation of links that over the next few weeks topped 300. There were Italian blogs and Chinese blogs and blogs in Greek, German, and Portuguese. There were blogs with names like Tie-Dyed Brain Waves, Stubborn Like a Mule, and LibertyBlog. Each added its own tweak. “Ooooh, that’s what I want: a blog that doesn’t allow me to speak my mind,” wrote a blogger called Kung Pow Pig. The conversation had clearly gotten out of Microsoft’s hands.

Typically Microsoft would have taken the hits and kept powering forward. That is the Microsoft way. For years such behavior has done little but make people feel defenseless against the company. But this time Microsoft deployed one of its most important voices to talk back: not Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer, but Robert Scoble.

Scoble has been at Microsoft only 19 months and has neither a high-ranking title (he’s a “software evangelist” who works with outside programmers) nor such corporate perks as a window in his office. What Scoble does have is a blog of his own, Scobleizer, on which he weighs in daily with opinions about happenings in the tech world—especially the inner world of Microsoft.

More here.