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How Can Microsoft Build a Better Community? RRS feed

  • General discussion

  • For discussion from http://www.wxpnews.com/110419-Discuss-This-Weeks-WXPNews-Here

     

    Large companies these days are all about "community building." For example, Intel has developed its "Intel Communities" web site that hosts Intel blogs and community discussion forums and allows you to use social networking tools to follow friends' activities or even create your own social group. You can check it out at
    http://www.wxpnews.com/110419-Community-Building

    I often hear from Linux users who rave about the benefits of "the community." They tell me that they are imminently satisfied with the level of support they get through the informal and unofficial channels comprised of other users. I've even heard some claims that overall, Linux users are more satisfied with the technical support they receive from the community than Microsoft users are with tech support provided by the company.

    I do think we have to take that particular claim with a grain of salt, as in some ways it compares apples to oranges. The user base for Linux is a much smaller and far more homogenous group of people. Almost all of them are using Linux because they chose to do so, and most who choose to do so are long-time tech enthusiasts with more than average technical savvy. That means you're going to get fewer complaints about tech support simply because they need less of it, and are better able to understand and follow the instructions they get because they already understand computers. In addition, the fact that they're using Linux means they're fans of the OS and the open source way of doing things - including the "open" support system.

    Users of Windows, on the other hand, comprise a huge and diverse group of people. While there are many techies among them, there are also many people with very little technical skill, ability or knowledge. They have trouble following the instructions of support personnel or documentation and get frustrated when their efforts fail. Many of them don't really want to be using computers at all - they have to do so for work or because it's the only way they can accomplish certain tasks. They are not necessarily fans of the OS; they use Windows "because it was there." If they try Linux and don't like it, they generally don't stay around and complain about it - they go back to Windows. This is not to say that the Linux community support model is not a good one; in fact, it works great for the majority of the type of people who are motivated to use an alternative operating system. But that doesn't necessarily mean the same type of support model is the best one for all or most Windows users, either.

    However, Microsoft seems to have caught the "community bug.". They have recently been putting a lot of effort and resources into creating a more Linux- like online community. One example is the TechNet Wiki, where anyone can post articles on IT solutions utilizing Microsoft products, at
    http://www.wxpnews.com/110419-Community-Bug

    This is a big deal because in the past, getting an article published on TechNet was no small feat. I know this first hand, having written a number of them. The editorial process was grueling - it involved review by numerous Microsoft employees, each of whom requested/demanded changes ranging from a few simple rewordings to tearing apart the entire article and basically starting over from scratch. Once it made it past the technical review, it had to be reviewed by the legal department. Writers who contracted to do work for Microsoft had to be thoroughly vetted and had to carry insurance to cover any errors or omissions they might make.

    Getting published on the Wiki is a whole different story. There are some rules, of course - content must be technical in nature (not consumer- oriented), must deal with Microsoft products, must not be blatantly commercial or opinion-focused, and so forth. You can't post articles anonymously; you must join the Wiki and sign in to post a contribution. But there is no heinous review process and no long wait before you see your article appear on the site.

    Of course, there's another big difference between most of the work that I did for TechNet over the years and the Wiki: the latter is all "pro bono." Microsoft was (and still is, in some cases) a very well-paying venue for professional technical authors, and the drawn-out editorial and review process was just part of the job and something that you were willing (if not always happy) to put up with for the big bucks. "Community," though, is about doing things for free. It's about donating your time and knowledge and hard work because you want to help others. That's all great - but I think we have to be realistic and understand that you aren't going to get the same quality of work when the workers aren't being paid and the formal comprehensive review process isn't in place.

    The Wiki is only one example of Microsoft's "community outreach." Another example is Microsoft Answers, a different type of support site where users can ask specific questions about a variety of Microsoft products and technologies, which will then be answered by members of the community in a format like that used by countless forums across the web. Again, anyone who joins can answer the questions; you have no assurance of their level of technical expertise or even that the name they use is their correct name (in contrast to some experts sites where those who give answers are all well-known members of the IT professional community).

    Don't get me wrong. I think these community forums are a great supplement to the more traditional support avenues. I applaud Microsoft for wanting to get people outside the company involved in sharing their experiences and what they've learned using Microsoft's products. That "from the trenches" perspective is invaluable. I just hope they aren't planning to try to make the "community" the sole or primary source of support - whether due to a misbegotten idea that users want community support instead of authoritative documentation such as inline Help, formal product deployment guides, and well-researched and reviewed articles written by IT professionals with established expert credentials, or (as might be suggested by the more cynical among us) just as a way to save money.

    Even if the company doesn't intend to ditch the traditional resources in favor of community building, I think as they go about creating this new model, they need to realize there are a few caveats: - You're not Linux. Linux is free. People are far more forgiving of something that doesn't cost them anything. When people are paying for a product - especially when they're paying the big bucks that businesses pay for the server products - they expect more. They expect documentation that they can feel confident is accurate and complete. They don't want to have to wonder whether the person who posted it on a Wiki knows what he/she is talking about. - Microsoft's strength, and the reason so many people use it instead of Linux, is this expectation that they will get authoritative support. Microsoft can't win against Linux on price, because even if it's true that the overall cost of deploying Linux can be as much or more than using Microsoft products (due in large part to the necessity to pay third party consultants to set up and support it), perception is everything and the public perception is that Linux is free and Windows is expensive. - You can encourage community, you can even build a community, but you can't control it. The Linux community flourishes precisely because no one "owns" it.

    I think that last point might be the most important. I would caution those who are working diligently to create a flourishing community that 1) there is already a flourishing community of Microsoft enthusiasts out there and 2) if you try to take it over, you'll lose it. Microsoft, by the very nature of being a huge corporation, is going to have a tendency to want to control the community in which the company is making so many investments.

    This is evident in the fact that on the TechNet Wiki, the Wiki "owners" at Microsoft have the authority to lock down some of the content that they post, while "community members" don't have that control over their postings. I understand this desire for Microsoft to be able to ensure that those posts remain accurate and don't get changed up. The irony is that many potential contributors would like to have this same option. If I put something out there under my name, I don't want just any and everybody to have the ability to "correct" it or add to it. Some would argue that that's the nature of Wiki, but the fact that the Wiki software contains the option to allow authors to lock their content (or designate that only specified others can change it) proves that those who originally conceived of Wiki recognized that this could be a valid option.

    The intent behind allowing corrections and changes (better quality content) is good, and that sort of "nobody owns it, everybody contributes to it" idea is the very foundation of the open source world. The problem is that the TechNet Wiki is not true open source. It's still "owned" by Microsoft. And Microsoft is not an open source company; its business model is based on the premise that creators should own their creations.

    This whole push to create community seems to me a little like when the major political parties spend millions of dollars in an attempt to create "grassroots" campaigns. What I mean is this: true community, by its very nature, creates itself. Celebrities don't (or at least shouldn't) start their own fan clubs, and I'm not sure companies should be the ones to create the communities for their own products - although they absolutely should get involved in those communities and offer them as much help and encouragement as they can. Microsoft is a lumbering corporate giant, and when it embraces the community, it needs to be very careful not to be like the 800 pound gorilla who tries to show its affection for a flea by hugging it. I'm glad Microsoft wants to show the community some love. Just please don't squash it in the process.

    What do you think? Is the value of "community support" all it's cracked up to be? Will it work for Microsoft the way it has for Linux? Do you want to see community efforts take precedence, or should the traditional support venues remain intact? How can Microsoft build a better community - or should the company even be trying to do that? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forum at
    http://www.wxpnews.com/110419-Discuss-This-Weeks-WXPNews-Here

    Disclaimer: As many of you know, my husband is a Microsoft employee. The opinions expressed and the questions raised in this editorial are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect his views about this subject.



    'Til next week,
    Deb Shinder, Editor
    feedback@wxpnews.com


    tony soper
    Friday, April 29, 2011 2:02 PM

All replies

  • Hey,you're right!
    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 10:34 PM
  • Wow.

    First, I don't think that TechNet Wiki being owned by Microsoft is a problem. If it was more like Wikipedia, then it would be Wikipedia and I'd wonder why it exists. The fact that it's a Microsoft site is what gives it value... it's connected to the Microsoft pages, profiles, comments, and world.

    Second, the "lock-down" control isn't what it seems. For example, please go find all the articles that are "locked down" and then list them here. Go on. Do it. You might be surprised by the results.

    Third, I think TechNet Wiki is an important and innovative step toward community connection, but it's not the first and not the last.

    Fourth, sometimes when people see something new, they assume it's the only solution or that it's going to replace other things. I haven't seen any reason to think that in the case of TechNet Wiki. Have you?

     

    Good discussion Tony!


    Ed Price a.k.a User Ed, Microsoft Technical Writer (Blog, Twitter)
    Monday, May 23, 2011 6:23 PM
    Owner
  • I have a few more thoughts on how we can push community more...

     

    1) A blog system where community members can contribute.

    2) A facebook-like profile system where you can comment on peoples' pages, make friends, and share your activity (including attaching your blog feed, Twitter feed, etc.). The old Wiki profile had friends, favorited articles, and a more robust biography (these features aren't available now). The current profile is great because it combines all the different profiles (forums, blogs, annotations, Wiki, etc.), gives you a number of opportunities to unlock achievements and build your recognition points, and it also includes a popup system where you can hover over profile links to get more info on each person. So if we added more features, we'd want to find a way not to compromise the existing features.

    3) Wiki Co-Authoring system (where Microsoft employees write articles with other community members)

    4) Rewarding system that rewards top contributors more. I think the Top 5 contributors of the week on TechNet Wiki work, and highlighted blogs on TechCenter are good, the highlighted articles on TechNet Wiki home page are good, and the profile recognition points and achievements are good. However, we could automatically detect the most significant achievements and bring those forward to the home page and high-traffic pages to celebrate the community achievements more.

    5) The achievements and recognition points unlock abilities and rewards. So the way Stack Overflow works is when someone accomplishes more, they unlock admin abilities as they prove themselves. Other ideas are that these can unlock public acclaim on the sites (or blogs or tweets) or physical rewards (such as a book, sticker, or poster).

     

    Any other thoughts?

     

    Thanks!


    Ed Price a.k.a User Ed, Microsoft Technical Writer (Blog, Twitter)
    Monday, June 20, 2011 9:01 PM
    Owner
  • I have a few more thoughts on how we can push community more...

     

    1) A blog system where community members can contribute.

    2) A facebook-like profile system where you can comment on peoples' pages, make friends, and share your activity (including attaching your blog feed, Twitter feed, etc.). The old Wiki profile had friends, favorited articles, and a more robust biography (these features aren't available now). The current profile is great because it combines all the different profiles (forums, blogs, annotations, Wiki, etc.), gives you a number of opportunities to unlock achievements and build your recognition points, and it also includes a popup system where you can hover over profile links to get more info on each person. So if we added more features, we'd want to find a way not to compromise the existing features.

    3) Wiki Co-Authoring system (where Microsoft employees write articles with other community members)

    4) Rewarding system that rewards top contributors more. I think the Top 5 contributors of the week on TechNet Wiki work, and highlighted blogs on TechCenter are good, the highlighted articles on TechNet Wiki home page are good, and the profile recognition points and achievements are good. However, we could automatically detect the most significant achievements and bring those forward to the home page and high-traffic pages to celebrate the community achievements more.

    5) The achievements and recognition points unlock abilities and rewards. So the way Stack Overflow works is when someone accomplishes more, they unlock admin abilities as they prove themselves. Other ideas are that these can unlock public acclaim on the sites (or blogs or tweets) or physical rewards (such as a book, sticker, or poster).

     

    Any other thoughts?

     

    Thanks!


    Ed Price a.k.a User Ed, Microsoft Technical Writer (Blog, Twitter)


    Intersting thoughts Ed. Further to your ideas, I can think of the below:

    1. Add a video library which consists of presentations by layman users or end users working on Microsoft Products (Obviously we need to organise this first!). It could be similar to TED community where you have presentations given by people across the globe. This would incorporate Ideas and new features which can help Microsoft community to take a step further

    2. Have an Idea portal where in people award points on a particular idea. And a dashboard on the home page of Idea portal which describes every phase of that Idea

    3. Allow users to arrange conferences or meeting at their own respective state / city level. Once Microsoft recognise them to be useful to their community, we can arrange for MVP's speaking in those conferences

    That's all I can think of for now :)

     

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011 1:57 PM
  • Intersting thoughts Ed. Further to your ideas, I can think of the below:

    1. Add a video library which consists of presentations by layman users or end users working on Microsoft Products (Obviously we need to organise this first!). It could be similar to TED community where you have presentations given by people across the globe. This would incorporate Ideas and new features which can help Microsoft community to take a step further

    2. Have an Idea portal where in people award points on a particular idea. And a dashboard on the home page of Idea portal which describes every phase of that Idea

    3. Allow users to arrange conferences or meeting at their own respective state / city level. Once Microsoft recognise them to be useful to their community, we can arrange for MVP's speaking in those conferences

    That's all I can think of for now :)

     


    Great ideas! #1... Would that be like a TechNet/MSDN form of YouTube? I'm wondering if it would catch on when folks can just use YouTube and then forumlink to them or tweet or blog about them like they do now.

    #2... Another good one! Reminds me of Google Moderator (used mostly on YouTube). It allows folks to drop ideas and vote on the existing ideas. It works pretty well. The creator needs to make it clear that if they use the idea than the person who gave the idea gets credit in a specific way (usually just getting their user name mentioned in a YouTube video). So the "giver" of the ideas is giving the ideas in exchange for something very specific (user name in credits if it's picked, in the most common YouTube scenario).

    #3... I think this one is my favorite. Basically it's building a clear local path toward participating with MVPs and other experts in the community. What could you call a system like that?

     

    Thanks!

     


    Ed Price a.k.a User Ed, Microsoft Technical Writer (Blog, Twitter)
    Monday, June 27, 2011 6:11 PM
    Owner
  • Thanks for your reply Ed!

     

    #1 This would be a bit different from Youtube. It could be similar to Channel 9. So, you can imagine it as approved Youtube videos going in this library and getting acknowledged. Let me know if that makes sense

     

    #2 Completely agreed

    #3 I would call this collaboration (in a typical MS SharePoint terminology). So, this is a bottom up collaboration (so to say), it would start by individuals in their repective area to arrange a conference or meetings with other MS partners. Once it gains momentum, we can organise a Microsoft Saturday where-in speakers can come along to speak on various topics.

     

    regards,

    Satya

     

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011 3:44 PM
  • once in a interviewa HR did ask me about "do you have a stackoverflow account?"  and "i said, no I prefer codeproject" , the companies does not which technical comminity they should take as a referance but now I can see that after like a 1 year ms communities will be the base one.


    Please mark this post as answer if it solved your problem. Happy Programming! 
    Friday, July 22, 2011 9:23 PM
  • Thanks Esref!

     

    Does anyone else have any thoughts on what kind of community features they'd like to see on TechNet?


    Ed Price a.k.a User Ed, Microsoft Experience Program Manager (Blog, Twitter, Wiki)
    Friday, September 2, 2011 5:31 AM
    Owner
  • Thanks Esref!

     

    Does anyone else have any thoughts on what kind of community features they'd like to see on TechNet?


    Ed Price a.k.a User Ed, Microsoft Experience Program Manager (Blog, Twitter, Wiki)
    A way to send a direct message to a user.  I want to be able to send and receive comments from others, but not necessarily from my personal email.

    If you found this post helpful, please "Vote as Helpful". If it answered your question, remember to "Mark as Answer".

    Rich Prescott | MCITP, MCTS, MCP

    [Blog] Engineering Efficiency | [Twitter] @Rich_Prescott | [Powershell GUI] Client System Administration toolkit
    Sunday, September 4, 2011 4:30 AM
  • A way to send a direct message to a user.  I want to be able to send and receive comments from others, but not necessarily from my personal email.


    Very true! This is a sorely missing feature! Thanks Rich!
    Ed Price a.k.a User Ed, Microsoft Experience Program Manager (Blog, Twitter, Wiki)
    Friday, September 16, 2011 10:27 PM
    Owner
  • A way to send a direct message to a user.  I want to be able to send and receive comments from others, but not necessarily from my personal email.
    I second that. There should be a way we could send messages to another user directly! :)

    Kunal D Mehta - a Windows Server Enthusiast | My first TechNet Wiki Article
    Saturday, September 17, 2011 4:10 PM
  • Though it has been a while since I have been active on Technet, the Wiki is a great idea.  It allows other technology professionals and those hoping to learn about new technologies a place to interact.  What I am curious about is the application that runs the TechNet Wiki.  Would be awesome to setup a wiki using this application in house to provide documentation and other things.

    While I am sure this is proprietary, I am curious about this possibility.  Might anyone have insight about this?

    thanks


    Derek Schauland, MCSE, MCTS Active Directory | Microsoft MVP - File System Storage | Technology Addict


    • Edited by Derek Schauland Wednesday, February 8, 2012 4:25 PM Spelling...
    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 3:51 PM
  • Though it has been a while since I have been active on Technet, the Wiki is a great idea.  It allows other technology professionals and those hoping to learn about new technologies a place to interact.  What I am curious about is the application that runs the TechNet Wiki.  Would be awesome to setup a wiki using this application in house to provide documentation and other things.

    While I am sure this is proprietary, I am curious about this possibility.  Might anyone have insight about this?

    thanks


    Derek Schauland, MCSE, MCTS Active Directory | Microsoft MVP - File System Storage | Technology Addict


    You're right about it being proprietary to the vendor. However, SharePoint is working toward achieveing what you're describing.

    Thanks!


    Ed Price a.k.a User Ed, Microsoft Experience Program Manager (Blog, Twitter, Wiki)

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 9:16 PM
    Owner
  • Derek, the platform is Telligent. You can find more information about them at http://telligent.com/products/p/community.aspx

    tony soper

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 9:17 PM