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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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March 19, 2009 3:03 PM

Is March Madness on Demand, powered by Microsoft Silverlight, contributing to nationwide productivity drain?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Watching the NCAA men's college basketball tournament on the Web at work is great. The on-demand player that has built for March Madness on Demand, using Microsoft's Silverlight, is not perfect, but it's a great way to keep up with the tournament, live, while still "working."

I think the people behind the player might take a bit of pleasure in facilitating this "borrowing" of work time. There's a "Boss Button" on the player that brings up a spreadsheet. And the promo video that rolls when you launch the player exclaims something to the effect of, Forget that 2 o'clock meeting. There's a 2 o'clock tip off.

(Microsoft announced a test version of Silverlight 3 yesterday, by the way.)

But is the tournament, which is now easier than ever to watch at work thanks to the Silverlight app, really the productivity sink it's rumored to be? Staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas floated an estimate of $3.8 billion in lost productivity for the 2006 tournament, a figure that many people questioned (though many others did not) and Jack Shafer, writing at Slate, picked apart.

As Shafer wrote: "Challenger arrived at his $3.8 billion estimate based on an average wage of $18 an hour and 58 million college basketball fans spending 13.5 minutes online each of the 16 business days from March 13 through April 3, the day of the championship game."

This year, however, it's the economy, stupid. Writing in U.S. News & World Report earlier this week, John A. Challenger says the tournament won't be the distraction it was in better times and backs away from earlier "lighthearted attempts" to quantify the productivity impact.

"In this economy, employees are disinclined to do anything that might put their jobs at higher risk than they already are. Meanwhile, employers have bigger issues to address than whether a few workers are using work time to fill out brackets or sneaking peeks at games online. Companies would be better served by allowing this minor distraction during these anxiety-producing times. ...

"Of course, there really is no way to calculate the lost productivity, especially in today's technology-driven, Internet-connected workplace. The same technology that allows you to watch live, streaming videos of basketball games at your desk also allows you to complete projects from home, on a commuter train, or even from the poolside cabana while you are on vacation."

Yeah, but the fact that we're using the same technology has a productivity impact. I noticed some pretty sluggish performance on my Internet connection and PC in general while running the March Madness on Demand player earlier this afternoon. So not only was my attention distracted, but the other apps I was using were barely running, making "multitasking" tough. Eventually, everything hung up and I had to restart my PC.

There's some interesting insight on this question at TechRepublic, which took a look at "IT vs. March Madness 2008."

So what do you think? Are you letting that expense report sit unfinished to watch the Huskies finish off the Bulldogs?

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