Living in Your World and Listening to Theirs


One thing I started noticing about Microsoft blogs (and yes, there are expectations) is that we do a pretty good job of giving customers our information, but not as good a job of highlighting good customer contributions. The result is that it feels like a one way street and less of a conversation with our customers.


Part of the problem, IMO, is that a lot of people tend to post and respond in their own space, but don't branch out beyond that. I sent this around internally a while ago.  I'm not sure how many people listened, but I felt it had a positive response.  I think the practices below apply to anyone blogging for or on behalf of a company.  Let me know if I missed anything.  I also distributed it with an OPML of all the “customer blogs” that I read on a daily basis. 


Excuse the “Internal MS Tone” here.  Pretend I'm just using MS as a case study. 🙂







If you think the number of Microsoft people getting on board the blog train is big, just imaging the explosion of blogs created by all of our customers.  Your customers are out there posting opinions for everyone to see about your features, decisions made, releases issued, and strategies taken. If you are not already… you should be listening.  This contains information and general tips for people who want to form a deeper connection with our customers than simply reading and responding in newsgroup land.


How to Listen to Blogs


Being a relatively new standard there is not yet a default blog reader installed with your copy of windows.  L  Sure, you can read most blogs on the web, but if you want to read more than 2-3 of them in an efficient way you should install a blog reading client so you can take advantage of all those “RSS” xml feeds:


 I personally use Rss Bandit.  It’s a free, .Net based, open source reader whose founder Dare (RSS) is a PM on the SQL team.  The UI has a very “Visual Studio” feel to it that I find comforting.



  • If you are someone who lives and breaths Outlook then you’ll probably want to give NewsGator the free trial. 
  • I’ve also seen some people use sharpreader, which is another free/donation supported standalone app.
  • If you don’t like installing software and insist on a web browser then you should subscribe and read feeds from an aggregation site like bloglines

Finding More Customer Feeds


Now that you have a blog reader installed it’s time to subscribe to feeds.  Sure you can keep up with the latest happenings from Microsoft by subscribing to your team mates blogs and the general blogs.msdn.com (RSS) site, but it would be more interesting to listen to customers right?


Weblogs.asp.net (RSS) hosts around 400 customer blogs.  There are several C#, VB, and C++ bloggers there as well. I subscribe to this, scan the headlines for posts that interest me (fun to do while waiting for a build to install right?), and if a particular blogger interests me I subscribe directly to their feed so I don’t lose their stuff in the noise.  Don’t be fooled, they are not all talking about Asp.Net.



The PDCBloggers site has a Whidbey (rss) specific feed as well as a good customer list. There are already some posts about experiences with the Tech Preview bits.


I’m personally subscribed to over 500 customers. With RSS bandit it only takes me about 30 minutes a day to scan and read interesting posts. Feel free to be more selective an focused in your reading than my shotgun approach. 🙂 I’ve found a lot of the customer feeds I subscribe to by tracking who is reading and commenting in my blog and the blogs I already read from the sources above.   


What are bloggers saying about my feature?


Let’s pretend I want to know what the blog world is saying about VSIP.  Neither google, nor Microsoft offer a blog specific search yet.  But there are still some great options. 


Feedster



  1. Go to http://www.feedster.com and search for VSIP.  You could just click on the search results, but then you’d be missing out on the best part…
  2. Click on the “2.0 RSS” button at the top of the results. 
  3. Take this URL (sample) and subscribe to it as a feed in your favorite blog reader
  4. Now you’ll know whenever there is a new blog written about VSIP!!! (The feedster index is large, but not all encompassing.)
  5. NOTE: You can use the preferences tab to increase the result set to 99.

Technorati


Another good blog specific search engine that can arrange blogs by “authority”.  With this you can find out what “Important” web loggers are saying about your features.  You can subscribe to three sets of search results here for free if you sign up. 


Google


While google doesn’t yet offer cool subscription based searches or blog specific searches it does pretty well searching the blog world if you simply add “blog” to your query.  You get some good results if you search for “VSIP Blog” for example.



Now that I’ve found some good customer feeds…


Read, learn from, link to, and respond to your customers if you’d like to offer comments on their views or feel they had something constructive to say about what you work on. 


If you are already “blog smart” and I missed something cool feel free to let me know. If you have any questions about the information here feel free to ask.


Thanks,


josh


http://blogs.msdn.com/jledgard (RSS)

Comments (10)

  1. senkwe says:

    I thought Dare was on the XML team not SQL.

  2. jledgard says:

    He does work on XML, but he is technically on a SQL pragmatically.

  3. Another reason to use bloglines – you might want to read from multiple locations. It’s not just a question of being comfortable installing software…

  4. josh ledgard says:

    I think newsgator has some synching as well, but RSSBandit lets me sync to an FTP server between clients. Otherwise… I do agree.

  5. John Dowdell says:

    "I think the practices below apply to anyone blogging for or on behalf of a company. Let me know if I missed anything. I also distributed it with an OPML of all the “customer blogs” that I read on a daily basis."

    One thing staffers at Macromedia use is a shared serverside aggregator of *customer* blogs:

    http://www.macromedia.com/go/weblogs

    It displays abstracts so people can quickly scan and pull deeper info on demand. The default page is for staff, but the topic sections are mostly what customers say they find important. The buy-in costs for staffers are very, very low to efficiently read customer comments… just click a link.

    Regards,

    John Dowdell

    Macromedia Support

  6. jledgard says:

    That’s pretty cool John. Since I sent the mail that’s actaully one of the conversations I’ve started. You can imagine there may be

    http://blogs.msdn.com/csharp/team

    http://blogs.msdn.com/csharp/customers

    right next to each other.

  7. Nathan says:

    You might like to try Sauce Reader. It is built on .NET, has an Outlook 2003 style UI and includes integrated weblog posting support.

    http://www.synop.com/Products/SauceReader/

    cheers, Nathan

  8. For the last year or two, I’ve been switching from reader to reader. While each one had features that I loved, they all seemed to fall short on one thing or another and I was never really 100% pleased with any of them. I went from SharpReader, to RSSBandit, to NewsGator, to SharpReader again, to FeedDemon, back to SharpReader, back again to NewsGator, and then Sauce Reader. Just as I was about to start building my own aggregator, I decided to give RSSBandit another try (after reading how Josh Le

  9. Mark Levison says:

    Great idea – I add only that some of your customers blog at http://dotnetjunkies.com and http://sqljunkies.com. I’m sure there a host of other blogging sites.

  10. jledgard says:

    That’s a good point. I could have created a much larger list in the mail. In the OPML I sent out though a lot of those where included.

    After johns comments there has been some discussion over having one aggregation service for .net blogs that mixes our teams/customers next to each other to make this even easier.

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