The Effects of an Angry Customer E-Mail Regarding the Forums


IMO the MSDN Forums have been doing really well so far.  The early success and feedback has been encouraging to the point that I believe the forums will ultimately be a welcome edition to official MS community offerings. 


I’ve been pretty stressed about this release for a long time now and I’m starting to get a more comfortable feeling.  Gretchen will tell you that I’ve been confident, but nervous at the same time for a while now.  The MSCom team has done a great job implementing what we wanted for the VS 2005 release and the customer reaction has been very positive no matter how I look at it.   One angry detractor did deliver the following message to my inbox today and figured I’d share it with my reply here. 



It is a horrible decision Microsoft has made abandoning NNTP for online forums in regard to developers. What possessed you of this stupidity ? The reasons you officially give our specious and vague, and do not justify changing a method which a huge number of users and programmers use every day. Once again Microsoft going their own way will cause problems for an untold number of developers. Grow up and stop trying to do everything your own way, as flawed and troubling for others as it may be, just because you are Microsoft.


I’ve heard Scoble say it a lot… if you work at Microsoft… and you blog… you had better have thick skin.  My own experience suggests that having an active blog at Microsoft for any length of time pretty much guarantees you your share of mails like this and it does effect you… at least it effects me.  Not to get too touchy-feely, but I’m not some Borg drone that doesn’t ever feel insulted.  None of the MS Bloggers I’ve met are either.  If you send us mail it ends up on the screen of a real person for better or worse.  Please think about that before you press send.  I’m not saying I’ve never offended anyone with my blog, IM, or e-mail but…


I do my best to respond to every mail I receive whether they offer constructive criticism or praise of the products we put our hearts and 110% into every day.  I will continue to do so because I believe in open & honest communication with customers and non-customers alike. 


Thankfully this lone mail has been overshadowed by many more people sending me notes about how much they really love the forum system.   Anyway, I did want to reply to some of the specific points in this mail.  I’m not sure replying is the best thing in these situations, but I feel that I would only take more criticism if I didn’t give detractors a voice and share my replies. 


1. We have not abandoned NNTP.  There were Microsoft public developer newsgroups yesterday, there are Microsoft public developer newsgroups today, and there will be Microsoft public developer newsgroups tomorrow.  I’m not sure what else I can say about this.  If you are an MSDN subscriber and you like the guaranteed support responses in the public newsgroups… don’t worry. We will continue to offer this benefit to users of the public newsgroups and are working on extending it to the MS Forums as well.  When it comes to private NNTP support for the forums we felt it was so important that we’re currently trialling it as an offline solution with our MVPs. 


2. Changing methodologies for Developers: I’m not sure what changes here. Again, we are not turning off the public developer newsgroups. In February there were over 1519 users that contributed over 6k posts in the microsoft.public.dotnet.csharp newsgroup.  I’m sure the numbers for January, March, and April will look pretty similar.


If Forums where going to rapidly kill off public newsgroups it would have happened by now. There have been and will continue to be active developer web forums linked from MSDN on Gotdotnet, Devx, 4GuysFromRolla, windowsforms.net, Angry Coder, C# Corner, CodeGuruCodeProject, Dev City, DotNetJunkies, PanoramaBox, SQLJunkies, Wintellect, and Asp.Net to name a few. These sites, when combined, see millions of developers per month that visit their web forums for searching, replying, or asking new questions.  I think the last site is most interesting…


The most active public .net group (just looking at Feb again) was microsoft.public.dotnet.framework.aspnet. Again, over 1500 people contributed over 8k messages to this public NNTP groups in February averaging over 270 posts per day! All this while the Asp.Net forums have existed for years with160k registered forum users that average over 400 posts per day!  Did the existence of the Asp.Net forums change how Asp.Net users that prefer NNTP communicate? 


Not really. The monthly average of posts and reply rate has remained consistent in the newsgroup while the forums have grown over the last 4 years.  Both groups are thriving no matter how you look at it.  Is this a change for existing users or simply an expansion of communication tools to a set of developers that prefer forum technologies?


3. Are we “going our own way… because we are Microsoft” to cause harm? I think the stats I’ve shown and any others I could dig up would show that co-existence is possible.  We are not redirecting public NNTP users to the forums. I’ve, in fact, seen several replies in the forums that link to Google newsgroup posts.  This proves that communication between the two systems is possible (even if it happens via google) and this is a good thing. 


Based on on competitors community offerings to developers I’m inclined to say that restricting ourselves to public newsgroups only would have been going our own way and ignoring the untold number of developers who feel more comfortable participating in web forums.  Now you get to choose!


Ok, that’s all I’ve got to say for now.  Feel free to send me mail or voice your constructive concerns below.  I’m going to shift to focusing on the positive (the majority based on the mails I get) forum reaction and more of my thoughts on how things are going with my next couple of posts.

Comments (27)

  1. michkap says:

    Perhaps this person does not remember the time that Micrsosoft did indeed trade one support mechanism for another — when they made the midnight move out of the CompuServe fora to get into the newsgroups.

    I remember David Lazar telling me he was struck by how much "smarter" the newsgroup posters seemed. I pointed out that the tools MS had provided for this rollout were really awful and most of the existing users did not know how to get to the new web based offerings.

    He thought posting a new FAQ on getting online might help. I asked him where did he plan to post that, and without realizing the irony suggested "online" of course. At least he was embarrassed when he realized the problem. 🙂

    Of course the CIS thing was for a totally different set of reasons, and a set of circumstances that will probably never happen again. So I doubt it would be a prolm here.

    So anyway, in this case I agree with you — no one is trading one solution for another; this is just another chance to connect. I say the more of those, the better!

  2. Tod says:

    Don’t sweat it Josh. You can’t please all of the people all of the time…and that’s a fact! I have to admit that I haven’t had much opportunity to peruse the forums yet, but I did register and take a quick peek after reading your announcement last week. They look good. I especially like how a thread is marked "Answer" so I don’t have to read through the whole thing only to find out it went off on a tangent or no one knew the answer.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. junfeng says:

    Be be honest Josh, I am disappointed that you will end the support of newsgroup for Whidbey. I track newsgroup far more easy than online forum. I monitor newsgroup constantly. But I haven’t read a single post in http://forums.microsoft.com/msdn.

    <quote>

    "Josh Ledgard (MS)" wrote in message news:e933izTPFHA.2292@cpmsftngsa05.privatenews.microsoft.com…

    > Hi all! Thanks for participating in these discussions throughout the Beta 1

    > release! These newsgroups will become read only in three weeks and be

    > deleted two weeks beyond that date. This window is an opportunity to close

    > down any existing conversations and copy out any information that is

    > relevant to you.

    >

    >

    >

    > We’ve set up a forum system to support customers for the Visual Studio 2005

    > Beta 2 release and beyond that is superior to these private newsgroups in

    > many ways. Unlike the private newsgroups that clear out content older than

    > 90 days the forum systems will ensure that information is archived and

    > easily searchable from the Visual Studio environment. You can find the new

    > support forums at the following address: http://forums.microsoft.com/msdn/.

    > Try it out and let us know what you think in the Site Feedback Forums.

    >

    >

    >

    > General .Net Development Q & A (CLR, Data Access, Networking, 64-bit, etc)

    > specifically can be found here:

    > http://forums.microsoft.com/msdn/default.aspx?ForumGroupID=12

    >

    >

    >

    > For reporting bugs about the Visual Studio 2005 product please continue to

    > use the MSDN product feedback center:

    > http://lab.msdn.microsoft.com/productfeedback

    >

    >

    >

    > I know that many of you are fans of reading messages offline through the OE

    > client and the forum world represents a departure from that. We have a

    > discussion taking place about forum NNTP capabilities here:

    > http://forums.microsoft.com/msdn/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=690

    >

    >

    >

    > Please direct any feedback about this transition directly to me.

    >

    > Thanks,

    >

    >

    >

    > Josh Ledgard

    >

    >

    >

  4. Ian Ringrose says:

    If a forum has a read only need group, it can be index by google with easy so I can find content match quicker. Also as google keeps all news group postings for ever, I do not get problems with forums that change all the page address, or since to exist after a few years.

    I can still find news group posting from 15 years ago, will ALL of today’s forum postings be at the some http address in 15 years time?

    (Blogs postings/comments have the same problem.)

    (In 15 years time I may have to maintain a system written with C# 1.1, so will need to be able to find the answers to common problems that are posted today.)

    New groups that anyone can post to are very hard to control, so I have no problems with a forum interface for posting.

  5. Brian Duffy says:

    I can’t stand web forums for seeking technical data. There are way too many of them, each one has a different interface, and there are no tools available to manage the data and store locally.

    As obnoxious as newsgroups can be, there are dozens of ways to index, archiveor search through a standard NNTP interface. That’s a big plus.

    Microsoft management is pretty progressive when it comes to employees posting in forums and on personal blogs… but who is to say that will remain the case? When C# 2012 Deluxe Enterprise Edition is released, who is to say that 2005’s forums will still be available?

  6. MSDNArchive says:

    junfeng: Those private newsgroups would have gone away not matter what we did. We never intended to keep the microsoft.private.whidbey newsgroups around past the beta phase of the product.

  7. MSDNArchive says:

    Ian: Regarding archiving of the forums. The current plan is to never delete an answered question (unless it is manually delete by a moderator) in the system and keep the links working.

    We are also considering read-only web service that would allow anyone to build and keep thier own archive of the data.

    I think the important bit is that the archived questions are always searchable.

  8. MSDNArchive says:

    Brian: NNTP may offer you indexing and local storage, but search is not as easy as it sounds. Tod pointed out a big flaw we’ve seen with newsgroup searches:

    "I especially like how a thread is marked "Answer" so I don’t have to read through the whole thing only to find out it went off on a tangent or no one knew the answer. "

    I’ve also wasted a lot of time on wild goose chases through threads that ended up being more of a discussion about why the problem exists rather than an explanation of how to work with the system and get your job done. The new system is much improved in that respect.

    How did you know about our secret plans for C# 2012 Deluxe Enterprise Edition??? Again, the information that is there today will be available in 2012. Have no fear.

    Regarding the different forum interfaces… This is one reason we’ve decided to centralize on a forum technique for MS use. Product teams had started popping up with all sorts of different forum implementations. Even in just the developer space. Not to give too much away, but pretty soon there may have been 10 different ENU MS sponsored developer forum systems. Each with a slightly different interface, different log-on, and not searchable across sites.

    What we’ve done here is start a move toward a standard web forum interface for Microsoft so customers can get used to one way of dealing with official MS web forums.

  9. Ian Ceicys says:

    Keep up the great work Josh. More ways to connect and get Microsoft support…I’m loving it. The new forums provide a refreshing facelift for getting support from VS and for .Net in general.

    Sure there will always be detractors but you did a great job in thoroughly responding.

  10. karl says:

    I think it’s a good idea to keep spreading helpful information in as many corners as possible. Frankly, I can’t stand the idea of users having too easy a time finding their answers for free. As we know, most people who ask a question go through the due diligence of looking for answers to their questions. I think the more sources we can give them to look, the better it’ll be for everyone. Have a question? Check google, then google groups, then asp.net forums, then your bookmarked site’s search, then MSDN and then the new forums. What could be simpler?

    Granted, we’ll never get a definitive source, but you’d think some effort could be made to consolidate information instead of dissipating it. It certainly isn’t the end of the world an d will undoubtedly benefit some individuals, but I think as a whole, it’s does more harm than good (less brainchilds more strategy!)

  11. MSDNArchive says:

    Karl: Lets look at the examples you listed.

    If you want to search everything google (or MSN Search it) from the main google page. You get forum results, newsgroup results (from sites that replicate the NNTP), samples, etc from all over the net. That’s what most developers do.

    If you want to be more specific about MS offerings… MSDN search will be searching the forums. It does today when you search from the VS help system.

    The "forums" search will include the Asp.Net site content and eventually any other technical MS hosted Q&A. It doesn’t today, but we aren’t blind to the fact that we need to enable the search scenario before we ship whidbey.

    The idea is to actually create less islands in the future and start to link them all into one archive of answers.

  12. karl says:

    Well, I certainly don’t think the situation is as dire as I claimed. It’s very nice to hear that there’s awareness of and plans to resolve the fragmentation.

    .Net information is very hard to find (thanks in no small part to the popularity of blogging as quasi-official information releases) and I find that google/msn, due to their generic-search nature, are severely limited by a user’s ability to ask the right technical question (which is a problem since users looking for help often can’t formulate a good question). Searches from help systems and MSDN should be more helpful, and while I can’t speak from the help system, MSDN search results presently tend to be less than stellar.

    In the end, my point is that people don’t need new places to ask questions, they need better facilities to find answers. The forums could/should serve as that…a single point of access to existing sources (newsgroup, forums) to both get and post information. I believe that’s part of the idea behind the CommunityServer stuff .

  13. Bill Kidder says:

    It’s not obvious how to tag an article.

    As customers, we’re primarily interested

    in getting the answer to a question,

    contributing an answer, extending a

    discussion, or making a suggestion.

    Maintaining someone else’s metadata falls

    way down near the bottom of the list.

    If you aren’t going to design things so

    customers supply metadata as a by-product

    of their primary activity, it’s not

    going to happen.

  14. MSDNArchive says:

    Bill: So far over 90% of the questions are tagged as having an answer, so the results would tend to disagree with you. I’m a little shocked by this to be honest.

    I do agree that this needs to be WAY more obivous that it currently is and fit better into the workflow. We are looking into ways of making it a by-product so, for example, if you post a reply there may be two post buttons. One could be "post as follow-up" another would be "post as answer". Then it fits more into the workflow.

    We could then send mail to the person who posted the question saying "an answer has been received… if this is not the answer click here"

  15. Hi Josh!

    I just want to say, that the new forum is *good*!!!

    Ok, I also see the fact that most people which are used to NNTP hate forums… but these people are mostly born before 1980… and therefor knowns about newsgroups (and maybe in europe also FIDO-NET!).

    BUT: Most people which are born after 1980 does not no anything about NNTP… Maybe they had heard of it, but never used it…

    From my point of view, the currently trend is to use Web-based forums.

    This might be bad for people who want to help and are trying to keep the overview inside the forum… this is a big problem…

    Therefor I am hoping that MS will provide a better access to the forum for such people which do not like the HTTP-based view.

    Thanks for your create work Josh!

    Greetings

    Jochen

  16. MSDNArchive says:

    Jochen… yes we are working on a solution to enable non-web based views into the forums through richer RSS. We are also working on things that will enable feature rich full offline clients for those that want to cover more ground in the forum space than the web interface replies.

    I can only agree that, as the current top poster, the web interface has its drawbacks for power users and I believe you’ll see some great alternatives in the next few months.

  17. Personally I believe forums are better. They’re managed by an actual entity, where as NNTP is managed by the users. Answers may come or they may not. At least with a forum you know answers will come and they will be tagged. Unanswered questions can easily be queried and dealt with as necessary. You can’t do statistics easily on NNTP posts. You have to actually read through it and decide for yourself, which is spotty at best. On top of that you have spam and because there’s no moderator, you can’t do a thing about it.

    Forums do mean you have to trust the moderators to do the right thing. You have to believe they will keep at least the questions and answers so that a decent FAQ or knowledgebase can be derived. I know I’ve had my fair share of moderator hell but not one single employee of Microsoft seems to have the zealous nature of these types of moderators. Microsoft wants to help it’s customers, it’s painfully clear. I don’t think they’ll be abandoning them any time soon, regardless of how the customers choose to communicate. I think it’s safe to assume that forums are a better platform to help it’s customers solve problems. You have a clear question and a clear answer with none of the clutter of NNTP. NNTP does have it’s uses but it’s clearly not as efficient but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used.

    Josh: I know how you "should" have a thick skin but it’s good to know things affect you. You’re human and it’s clearly noticable when you react. Personally I’d rather this affect you than you shrug it off because it means you’re listening to everything, regardless of opinion. That says a lot even if it’s painful to admit. I wish everyone that was given that kind of email took the time to respond as calmly and collected as you have. It’s easy to see why you are in your current position. You take ownership of what you’re producing yet aren’t too rigid to shun criticizm. As others said you can’t please everyone but it’s noble to see you try anyway.

  18. stuartd says:

    I’d rather have think skin than thick skin anyday 😀

  19. MSDNArchive says:

    Jeremy: Thanks for your comments and support! I agree, its impossible to please everyone.

    I’ve also updated a couple of random spelling mistakes.

  20. Tod says:

    It’s interesting how a person’s perspective defines their opinion. Obviously the person who sent the negative email prefers NNTP, but I would also venture to say that they’re being narrow-minded if they cannot see the advantages to the mutual existance of both mediums. I’ve subscribed to a few of the forums and have already learned a few new tricks! Good stuff!

    ~tod

  21. MSDNArchive says:

    Thanks Tod!

  22. Last week one of the program managers, who works with a segment of customers that is very experienced…