The Role of Microsoft Employees in our Forums

Recently, a forum moderator asked for some clarification from me in the moderators forum, and I’d like to respond to his question publicly.  His post was quite eloquent and long, but his question could be summed up with:

Why are there tons of Microsoft employees in certain technology forums and none in others?  Why are the product support technicians only in particular areas, while other forums suffer with even lower answer rates?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and try to answer this in the most transparent way I can.  Here’s the answer:

Role of Product Support Technicians

Yes, we have started a team in our product support group that is tasked to just help out on the forums.  Unfortunately, we only have the headcount and expertise on that team to cover the “major” technology areas–things like the programming languages (C#, VB) and UI technologies (ASP.NET, WinForms).  They are hiring for some of the other forums, but we can’t hire for every possible forum we are creating (we’re still nearly at one new forum a week!)

Developer Division Forums v. Others

Developer Division has a formal commitment around the health and quality of the forums.  I personally send out biweekly status mails and do whatever I can to try and bring teams that aren’t answering questions in the forums back into the fold.  Forums that aren’t owned by Developer Division teams don’t get that “stick” approach, and my team doesn’t always have enough cross-divisional muscle to make sure they are participating.  Sometimes they are great, sometimes they are not so great.  And, once again, the product support technicians are currently only concentrating on the Developer Division forums with the highest volume of questions right now.

Product Cycles

This is the hardest one.  Different teams go “heads-down” at different times as they push to make a release.  Sometimes things are sane, and teams have the bandwidth to spend a few minutes in the forums every day answering questions.  If things get a little bit nuts, well, they might not think about the forums for a few weeks.  It’s lousy, but it’s a reality that we’ve all dealt with from time to time–sometimes you’re so swamped that it’s everything you can do to just keep your head above water.

Comments (3)

  1. Peter Ritchie says:

    You may hate me for asking this; but the response to the trend of more traffic on web forums over newsgroups–will that include eventually moving the same MSDN subscription feature of Managed Newsgroups (where there is a dedicated MSFT employee/body monitoring posts by MSDN subscribers and ensuring they have an answer within 2 business days)?

  2. Nektar says:

    You should think carefully how to merge the existing newsgroups and the forums. Newsgroups still ofter better desktop software support and that is very useful for some of us. I don’t like the divide that exists now between the forums and the newsgroups. Please create a better newsgroups online reader and integrate them with the forums.

  3. MSDN Archive says:

    Nektar: Better how?  Integration is difficult given the different feature set support.. or lack of in most desktop readers.  

    Peter: See the last blog post I wrote on the subject:

    I’ll be transparent and say that forums are 5 times more popular with MSDN subscribers than the newsgroups are/where. The budget model that was worked out years ago for providing that level of support has to be thrown out the window.  What it means is that we have to present the subscriber team with a bill for 5x the amount they are paying now to subsidize the support costs.  That’s a negotiation that is going to take a while to enable.  It’s a pretty steep jump that happened in the last year with subscriber preference.  

    I would like to also consider adjusting the benefit since we know that we waste lots of money simply validating answers that you guys post that get validated anyway with helpful votes. So there is some sort of balance between every question getting a MSFT answer and escalating only the questions that need MSFT escalation…. and then making that experience worthwhile.