Or maybe it's eight is enough or 58 billion is enough? :-)

 

In a recent thread which was really aimed at one or two particular people out there, but I figured I'd make the conversation public and put it out for all to read :-) I suggested that rather than complaining about what some (okay maybe only a few) people are seeing as a flailing (or failing) Tablet PC effort and community, I'd entertain constructive feedback, not that I could action upon it, but rather to see what people are really suggesting needs to be done.

 

Many said "blog" and I asked "blog what"?  Lora said just get people started doing it.  Some private emails also suggested things along the same lines and started to answer what things people would want to hear about or what people should do.  It's good feedback for the Tablet team and I'm hoping that they do something with it.

 

To be honest I only started the post to make a point to someone and look at where it got me :-)  Not that I mind, but after all it's an interesting intellectual discussion which maybe someone else will pick up and run with.  Either that or if I get a new job maybe I'll one day have this as input.

 

Okay, all that said, in addition to Lora's response to blog what, I got one really good response from Layne:

 

I'm not in the loop, not an evangelist, not an MVP, not even loyal to Microsoft. Heck, I've used Linux since 1995 but I'm attracted to the Tablet PC. It is a fantastic computer. The SP2 is nice.

 

However, I am amazed at the exclusitivity of your community and the general lack of discourse and discussion. It seems Some people just tell you guys what you want to hear. They are afraid of you and I doubt they are being honest. So, expand your horizons and your reach because you MS guys need new blood and a fresh perspective. You need some 'No Guys' on your team.

 

Here is a shocker. Take what you believe and turn it upside down. Let me help twist an idea or message that seems constant in the blogs and talks of the past 10 months. As painful as it may be to read, don't get all worried about these next few paragraphs. Instead, digest it and gain some nourishment from it. Toss out the waste. Just think about it and use it as a means to generate more ideas.

 

****** Random thoughts *****

To be blunt, some people laugh at the constant requests for help. Who are you kidding? Microsoft has billions. It doesn't play well with some people and you need another tactic, a positive message. You look weak. Plus, you don't need an evangelist. You need a person to lead your efforts because if you had a leader then you wouldn't he asking the same questions for 2 years!

 

Let's expand this and really get some heat going. Why doesn't everyone at MS use a Tablet PC? What message does that send? Maybe no one there believes in it. This idea is fed more when the request for help is seen constantly. If that isn't the case then prove it in action and not words.

 

One more twist, if you are really helpless then Microsoft is in deep trouble.

 

Business is really quite easy. Get product into the market. Kill the whining and talk to the manufacturers. Give them incentives. Make deals. Push the product by bundling deals. You figure it out. It is your job. If you can't do the job then quit.

 

*****

 

I know that seems hard to face but it is vital to a viable business to consider all angles. Move forward. Take these words and twist them. Work with them to develop a positive message. Advertise Your Weakness as if it is a Strength. Now go get 'em tiger.

 

Enough Said.

 

The reason I love this comment is that Layne is speaking his mind without the any intentional malice etc.  And he points to a couple of very good insights and a few that I think are somewhat misinformed.  First of all, the Tablet PC team as far as I know (remember I don't really have any day to day insights into that team) does have a team of people who are responsible for marketing the product, but this is in a very traditional marketing role or at least as traditional as it can be for a software company.  The people in that group don't blog as far as I know and I don't think that they're responsible for “community efforts” other than events.  I'm not really sure what their exact charter is, but fostering an individual level community as what happens here doesn't appear to be in center of their focus.  I have a lot of respect for that team, it's just that they have some very specific tasks and goals to accomplish and this may not be among them. 

 

That said, a leader for outreach communities would be great.  That means that someone would have that goal as a specific goal to accomplish and would have some resources available to do it [1].  And of course MS has so much money in the bank that we should be able to hire someone to do that, right?  Wrong.  Product teams at Microsoft are traditionally understaffed.  I don't think I've ever worked on a team where we had more people than we need or even simply the right number of people.  Often times there have been critical things that we haven't been able to research or test simply because we didn't have enough people to do what would be considered the appropriate course of action.  So there are times when I've worked extremely long hours or weeks on end just to stay up on the things that we could do.  So couldn't we just use some money to hire a vendor or contractor to do it?  Nope.  While in the past that has been possible, the company is really trying to tighten it's belt and be more fiscally responsible to it's shareholders.  That means that getting that extra cash to get individuals to do outside work is just that much harder.  I've talked about field trials in past threads, but never how much it cost to do these.  Believe me, it's a lot of money.  Right now if I wanted to do another field trial this year for a particular purpose, I wouldn't be able to do something that I'd be proud to blog about.  It would have to be something that's extremely scaled down and cut every conceivable corner even to just consider getting the funding.  Dollars are that tight.  Plus would you really want a contractor or outside vendor running your community relationships in this kind of way?  I think you'd want someone internally to do it.  Also as an aside let's not forget microsoft.com/tabletpc and all the MVPs, they're all doing a great job -- there's definitely a community out there, but not necessarily the Utopian vibrant community that some envision.  [1] And then there are paid evangelists for Windows, maybe they should own the community effort here?  Any takers :-)

 

Is Microsoft helpless as Layne indicates we might be given what I've just said?  Maybe.  At the fundamental level each product group at Microsoft is like a small start up company, clawing it's way for existence in a larger corporation and begging like crazy for a small hand-out from the two giant mainstays in the company.  Is this a healthy ecosystem from an industrial organizational stand-point?  No.  But at the same time the senior leadership a Microsoft recognize this and other issues that I've already mentioned and they're actively working hard to help us to reshape our own culture and processes in order to transform the company in some fundamental ways.

 

Why doesn't everyone at Microsoft use a tablet?  Hmm.. good question.  If you want to order an approved laptop class computer at Microsoft, it's a tablet.  So if you're getting something new you have to go out of your way to get something that isn't a tablet.  But there are also plenty of people who need something different than either because they're evaluating something or because they have a need that the tablet doesn't address yet.  Are there people who are down on tablets at Microsoft?  Sure.  Are there people who are in love with Linux at Microsoft?  Sure.  We're a bunch of individuals and everyone has their own opinions, and negative impressions and opinions get magnified a lot more than all the positive ones. 

 

So at the end of the day, what does this mean.  To me it means that the Tablet team needs to make sure it produces something really cool and usable for Longhorn as well as working on how to sell in more Tablets in the meantime.   In addition, maybe they need to utilize all the passionate people out there in the community better and task someone to become the community liaison that puts together a coherent strategy in order to accomplish that.

 

Comments are welcome, but I'm moving on to another topic next... “How to do user research on products that might make the leap from niche to mainstream?”  But this will be several days out as I'm heading with the family on vacation.