We've been thinking about how we should provide the best, most valuable content we can to large numbers of software vendors.  There are some channels through which Microsoft already does a fairly decent job of this: MSDN and the Professional Developer's Conference come readily to mind.  On an ongoing basis, though, we've been discussing how best to get highly valuable information to ISVs who will actually use it in a timely and compelling manner. (In the last week alone I've spent something like 20 hours talking this issue through with members of my team, some of my peers, and my management.)

One idea we've come up with (credit goes to Betsy Steele, the woman on my team who regularly works miracles for ISVs and runs the .NET Connected logo program in her spare time) is to create a series of “master classes” for ISVs.  The idea goes something like this: if you're an ISV and you're going to develop on one of our strategic new technologies, in exchange for pledging to develop an application that supports that technology, we'll provide you with free access to a set of live, interactive webcasts with key members of the development teams working on the technologies.  They could then describe the parts of the technologies they're working on that would be likely to affect you as software vendors, and you could ask questions, both via the LiveMeeting chat feature and on a call-in basis.  (That pledge to develop an application, incidentally, would also get you other things to improve your odds of succeeding, like free email tech support for issues related to the technology in question.)

That leads me to a whole series of questions, though.

  • Are webcasts a compelling medium?  Would you take an hour of your time to attend one, assuming it was participatory and not just somebody blathering on to a bunch of slides?
  • Who would you most want webcasts with?  The product architects?  The program managers who have spec'd out the features?  The product managers whose job it is to tell you what the product does and is for (and who could help you understand how to describe it to your customers)?  The developers who have worked on certain features?  The documentation folks who are documenting what the product actually does and how it can be used?  (This could have the added benefit of improving the documentation, of course.)  Someone else?
  • How many webcasts would you consider attending over the course of a year?  Who in your company would attend?  (Developers?  Architects?  Marketing folks?  Management?)
  • Have you ever attended a Microsoft webcast?  If not, what would make you consider trying it?  Would you rather we just stuck to white papers?
  • What is the earliest you would have any interest in starting development on a new technology like, say, the next version of SQL Server?  At beta 1, when it's newly stable?  At beta 2, when it's feature locked?  At RTM1?  At launch?  After everyone else has already figured out whether it works or not?

Thanks to the people who attended my webcast last week, by the way.  You were an unusually attentive group; nearly everyone stayed for the whole thing.  Of course, it probably helped that I wrapped it up in 34 minutes rather than the hour it was scheduled for.  You probably didn't have time to leave before it ended!