Bear and the berries


I talked to a Really Smart GuyTM at Microsoft yesterday about community and Microsoft’s efforts in the community.

The question I was trying to get answered was–is Microsoft approaching community in the right way?  Would a Microsoft employee’s time in the community be best spent connecting directly with the customer via blogs or newsgroup postings, or would it be better for a Microsoft employee to establish a closer working relationship with the top external people in the community–MVP’s and other top question answerer type people in the community?  The idea is that if I spent say two hours of my time with an MVP or other leader in the community that is already answering a lot of questions and helping a lot of people, I can have my two hours greatly leveraged as that community leader goes out and spreads any information I’ve given him or her to the broader community.

The analogy he came up with was a bear and the berries analogy.  MVPs and other top question answering people are the bears of the community.  They go along picking the berries off the bushes, answering questions and resolving issues, and the ecosystem is happy.  But if a Microsoft person comes in and starts picking all those berries off the bushes instead, the bear is unhappy and moves to a different ecosystem.  If instead, I point the bear at the right bushes but let him go harvest those bushes, the bear is happy and stays in the ecosystem.

What do you think?  Are Microsoft people in their desire to participate in the community actually hurting existing ecosystems?


Comments (11)

  1. I think this issue varies per MVP. Some MVPs may feel that indeed their toes are being stepped on, while others see it as a huge help to them.

    Take me for example in the WMP newsgroups. I am the _only_ MVP who posts there. So I see a few hundred posts a day. Seeing as I can not always make time to reply to every post it’s nice to have someone from MS to come and pick up the slack from posts I skipped or whatever.

    On the other hand I have seen a few MVPs who would like to reply to the posts in there own way. They don’t seem to imply that the MS employee is wrong in any way, but they just like to know that their opinion/suggestion is getting out there.

    Either way MS employees should get involved with the community, and they should learn what the MVPs who are helping support there product what. Whether it’s direct postings in the newsgroups or if they would just like to bounce idea/suggestions off of the employees via there Lead.

  2. Mike Walsh says:

    I’m on the same track as Chris. I’m the only MVP (and there are few others too) still posting in the STS newsgroup as most people have moved on to WSS, so I’m happy for what help I can get – despite feeling that it’s "my" newsgroup because I’ve been answering questions there (and often alone) for so long.

    But I am strongly in favour of the Microsoft people who do take part in the newsgoups following the norms of the newsgroups. So or instance I’ve contacted the MSDN support people to try to ensure that their people answering questions in the public newsgroups do not use the same style they use in the private support newsgroups they normally are responsible for.

    So no

    "thank you for asking a question in the newsgroup"

    "my reasearch shows" or "I will research this for you"

    closing "have a nice day" (every time)

    no summarizing of previous messages in the thread (there was once a MS guy who said nothing more than "as Fred said xxxxx, as Jim said …. and as Bert said xxxx" and added nothing himself!)

    and finally

    no asking if the user would say whether his problems had been solved by the feedback he had received so far etc. etc.

    What I do really like seeing are Microsoft people with good contacts in the development team who therefore have better sources of information than normal visitors or MVPs do and who do not feel the need to have a mass of disclaimer lines when they post suggestions. Or Microsoft people prepared to use their internal channels to find out things like what changes were made in the latest version of the Admin Guide. Also Microsoft people who will not first look to see if the poster is a member of MSDN/TechNet supported groups before posting a reply.

    (And as Chris says, Microsoft people should read the public newsgroups (and know about public FAQs etc.) even if they don’t post to them. I met a support guy from Premium Support once who seemed almost proud to say that he didn’t follow the public newsgroups as he had his own sources.)

  3. Eric Lippert says:

    I think that your analogy’s entire point rests upon an important assumption which has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction. Namely:

    > But if a Microsoft person comes in and starts picking all those berries off the bushes instead, THE BEAR IS UNHAPPY and moves to a different ecosystem.

    Bears need berries to live, but people don’t need to answer questions to live. This is a bad analogy. Why should the "bear" be unhappy in this case?

    I answer a LOT of questions from users, both internal and external, and let me tell you, I am THRILLED when someone picks off the easy ones for me, PROVIDED that they do a good job. That leaves me with more time to tackle harder problems. (I am particularly thrilled when people don’t have to get me involved at all — google is a wonderful thing!)

    The main problem that I have had with other people in a question-answering ecosystem is the "little knowledge is a dangerous thing" problem. Occasionally someone will pose a question and someone who almost, but not quite has the right answer will attempt to give an authoritative answer. That then uses up way more of my time because now not only do I have to answer the original question, I have to explain the subtle way that the other guy was wrong. (Particularly egregious are VB experts who try to answer VBScript questions, Java experts who try to answer JScript questions, etc. I appreciate the thought, really I do, but please, if you start an answer with "I’m not sure, but…" you might want to wait a bit and see if someone who is sure picks it up.)

    A better analogy would be people picking apples. If I’m an expert apple picker, I want other people getting the low-hanging fruit for me, and I want as much help as I can get picking the high-hanging fruit, because there is PLENTY of that to go around.

    Also, it’s not like this is a competition. Presumably the MVPs and Microsoft support the community for the same reasons — because we all want a healthy community where people get their questions answered and issues resolved as effeciently as possible.

    Or, perhaps I’m wrong — perhaps MVPs support their communities for entirely different reasons. If that’s the case then it behooves us to find out what those reasons are, and make sure that they continue. Why do MVPs support their communities? What’s the drive?

  4. Eric Carter says:

    > Perhaps MVPs support their communities for entirely different reasons.

    So I’m not an MVP so I can’t really answer this question very well. Hopefully some MVPs will chime in and let us know the real answer. But I’ll take a stab at it anyway 🙂

    I think some of the motivations include

    – There is certainly a reward in helping someone out that needs help.

    – There is a reward to the esteem of an MVP when they are able to be seen as the expert in the community.

    – There is reward to the earnings of an MVP when their expert status drives people to the business the MVP is involved in. My understanding is that many MVPs do consulting and other such roles–therefore it benefits the MVP to be seen as the subject matter expert as it drives business to that MVP.

    So the question becomes does a lot of direct Microsoft involvement in the community lessen any of these rewards for the MVP or other top question answerers in the community?

  5. Eric Carter says:

    To be clear–I’m not proposing that Microsoft people aren’t involved in the question-answering ecosystem. I’m just wondering if maybe the way they get involved is by teaching and interacting one on one with key people in their communities. For example, would it be more effective for you to spend two hours every week blogging about script issues, or two hours of 1:1 time with an MVP in the script area every week?

  6. >> So I’m not an MVP so I can’t really answer this question very well. Hopefully some MVPs will chime in and let us know the real answer.

    For me…

    -I love to help people, and WMP is a great program. So put the two togther and i have become a Digital Media MVP.

    -I relation to helping other people…i became an MVP b/c of posting in the WMP newsgroups in which Zach Robinson (Dev. Lead of WM Team) was doing all of the work himself in his free time. So not only am i helping other WMP users, but I’m also helping Zach get more free time since i know he had been in there so long supporting the group himself.

    -Another reason is that i learn soooo much. Everyday you find something you didn’t know. I starting posting in the WinXP groups and all of the MVP’s and other are very knowledgeable and just by reading the posts you learn a get deal. The next step was just to apply what you have picked up.

    -I’m 18 and one day i would love to work for MS. Always been a dream of mine. So what better way to get your foot in the door then helping MS’s customer’s. Never really thought i would be an MVP, just something i started being with the large amount of free time i have. (Only have 4 class’ in high school, so i get out at 1PM)

    >> So the question becomes does a lot of direct Microsoft involvement in the community lessen any of these rewards for the MVP or other top question answerers in the community?

    Again, i think it’s MVP/Poster specific in what they would like to see from Microsoft’s involvement. It’s not about how many posts you reply to, or how much time you spend doing it. It’s about (for me atleast) helping others who need/what it. Assuming Microsoft’s involvement is helpful it would not matter to me at all.

    >> I’m just wondering if maybe the way they get involved is by teaching and interacting one on one with key people in their communities.

    Great idea, it would just change the way "direct" is used. "Direct" to the customer, or "direct" via a representive. But i still think that some MVP’s would go for it, and yet some would like to see someone with [MS]/[MSFT] after there name posting on a big issue in the newsgroups. A lot of the hard a**’s in the newsgroups get tired of the same MVP posts about an issue. Get someone with [MS] after there name to shead a bit more light on the issue and it can make a big difference in how the customer feels about the support. Most of them (At least in the WMP groups) don’t userstand the "peer support" concept and want more for free (of course)

    >> For example, would it be more effective for you to spend two hours every week blogging about script issues, or two hours of 1:1 time with an MVP in the script area every week?

    I think it still is MVP/topic Specific. Microsoft people should be in contact with the MVP asking what they want. "Effective" is going to depend on the MVPs viewpoints on the matter. It’s not effective for an employee to think something while at the same time others have different views on the issue. I think communication is where it is at.

  7. > Would a Microsoft employee’s time in the community be best spent connecting directly with the customer via blogs or newsgroup postings, or would it be better for a Microsoft employee to establish a closer working relationship with the top external people in the community–MVP’s and other top question answerer type people in the community?<

    Although there’s never enough time to fit everything in, I’d appreciate *both*.

    I think MS employees would benefit from seeing the kinds of questions that come up in the newsgroups, even if they didn’t post answers. It’s hard to get a good view of customers’ concerns from a statistical summary, or even from asking MVPs what kinds of things they see regularly. You have to jump in every once in a while and have a look for yourself.

    There are some questions that can’t be answered with authority unless you know what the code is doing, and usually even the MVPs can only guess what that is… Just don’t get bogged down in the ten-thousandth repetition of "I lost my product ID and now I can’t reinstall." 🙂

    On the other side, most MVPs would take what they learn in an hour or two of conversation with a developer or PM and spread it to dozens or hundreds of people. Sometimes it would be "what does the product really do?" and sometimes it would be "when can we expect feature x?" or "why is that bug still around after three versions?" Of course, some things would have to be under NDA, but we can handle that.

  8. Peter Torr says:

    Blogs vs. Newsgroups vs. 1:1 time with an MVP are all different ways of working in the community, and they are all valuable.

    I can blog about stuff I think is cool (like the latest fashions in tin-foil hats) and that nobody would ever think to ask about. And I could do the same thing 1:1 with an MVP, or answer some of their general questions about the product, etc.

    But newsgroups are *very* targeted — people post on usenet because they have this one very specific problem and they typically want to know the shortest possible answer without any theory or background — just the facts, ma’am.

    So even though you could help increase the overall awareness of the product, etc. by talking to MVPs, there are still going to be posts in newsgroups that relate to obscure bugs or esoteric design details that only the product group would know about.

  9. Tarjei T. Jensen says:

    I don’t think he is right, but MS people should not really involve themselves too much in the newsgroups. They should monitor the groups and use the observations as as inputs to the design process.

    What sort of problems do we (the users) have?

    Can something be done to reduce the problems people have?

    Is the documentation done right? Is it readable? Can people learn from it?

    My point of view is tainted by trying to do Word VBA and VB Script programming. I’m not happy with the Microsoft documentation, but VERY happy with the help I’ve been getting from the MVPs and the Scripting Guys.

    Another point for Microsoft would be: more "finished what you have started" and less "new fancy ways of doing what we have done before".

    BTW. It is quite possible that MVPs use their newsgroup work as advertising. It might be an effective way of drumming up business.

    greetings,

  10. I, too, believe that all three avenues have their important aspects. I started as an MVP during the CompuServe days, when MS employees were always present, monitoring the forums and picking up on the tough questions. This was great, because we were always learning something new that we hadn’t discovered, yet, and wasn’t documented (publicly). We took this tidbits and ran with them: answering similar questions as they came up, and deducting things from them that helped us better understand the product, and solve new problems.

    Yes, I think MS people should not only monitor the newgroups, to see what’s being asked. They should also jump in where they KNOW an answer, and no one else seems to. Everyone would profit.

    As to the blogs: I’ve just discovered them, and I’m learning a lot. This series on VSTO 2.0 is especially useful for me 🙂