Back in August 2005, I wrote a blog post in which I tried to answer the question, What is Community? Here's an excerpt from that post:
The greatest service a product team can do for its community is to impart as much of their knowledge of the product as possible. This happens in a variety of ways: documentation, seminars, Webcasts, blogs, conferences, books, magazines, technical articles, white papers, forum & newsgroup participation, chats, and the list goes on.
Source: Rob Caron : What is Community?
What I didn't articulate, but planned to in a follow-up post, was the need for the product team to transfer as much knowledge as possible early and often. Given the cyclic nature of product development at Microsoft, communication between product team and the community at large is like communicating with an astronaut orbiting the moon.
Historically, most of the product development occurs on the "dark side of the moon" when the mass of the moon blocks communication with the Earth. During this phase, the product team is heads-down in product development of the next release. As they emerge on the "light side", starting with CTPs and moving to beta releases, communication resumes and the product teams become chatty again. Then the cycle repeats and they "go dark" again.
In recent years, we've done a better job of maintaining communication, but its almost an inescapable fact that product teams are less active participants in the community on the "dark side". This is why it's imperative to transfer as much knowledge as possible during the time on the "light side" so that the community at large sustain itself.
This brings me to the point of this post. Last week, Josh Ledgard wrote a great blog post on this subject (Facilitate Knowledge Transfer in Online Communities) that I think you should read if you've read this far. It does a lot to build on my belief that "Shipping the knowledge is just as important as shipping the product." I especially like the chart he included.
They key to successful support communities is facilitating knowledge transfer between those with product expertise and a customer set who uses the product. Today the process of knowledge transfer from Microsoft to customers is slow because we create artificial barriers by not investing in, supporting, or measuring the success of community support channels.