As promised… My first thoughts on some solutions to the problems I mentioned yesterday.
I chatted today with one of the guys behind some of the central Microsoft community efforts such as the MS public newsgroup site. We talked about how it was easy it was for people to just create a Microsoft.public newsgroup and keep the newsgroups as a central location for people to find information about any Microsoft product.
But time marches on and now people care about online reputations, trustworthiness, moderation, and the accessibility of http communications. Now teams at Microsoft have started creating what are currently very non-connected communities such as asp.net, Gotdotnet, The Spoke, windowsforms.net, channel9 etc. (I’ve only scratched the surface of the developer community space.) As a user I end up with a different reputation @ each location, there is not good way to search all of these related communities at one time, I don’t have a good way to find them all in the first place, and questions are no longer duplicated @ one site multiple times, but at all these sites multiple times over.
Check out http://discussions.info.apple.com/. If I want to talk about my iPod, GarageRock, and the Safari web browser I have a consistent experience and reputation. I’m not suggesting that they have nailed it, but they are kicking our butts.
I’ll preface my solutions on consistency by reminding people that I am simply one person involved in this effort and any of these solutions are going to require a great deal of internal support from different groups. Either that or I can hope Steve Ballmer reads my blog and “encourages” the internal support. J
Solving for consistency
Consistency Solution #1
Push one standard interface across Microsoft. Since its community powered the experience might as well be the asp.net forums. For those people stuck on NNTP we add an NNTP<-> forums bridge and each current product would have its “unmoderated group” and its “moderated” groups. We could also expose NNTP and RSS feeds for the moderated groups (for people that enjoy their client choices and google groups) and down the road create some standard that allows people to log into their local clients and post into the moderated forums. Slowly people would migrate to the moderated groups because they enjoy the environment better. Oh, and while we are at it, expose listserve support for these forums. J
Consistency Solution #2
Create a central data store that supports basic features and reputations for all Microsoft owned community sites. Leave it up to each site to decide what front end and additional features they want on top of the web services exposed by this store. Include unmoderated newsgroups in the store and enable the different sites to choose whether or not to support them.
Consistency Solution #3
All MS communities RSS everything in a standard way. They must register their feeds inside a standard central directory of feeds that come from Microsoft. Each site maintains their own datastore and UI. They only share reputation and a required central log-in between them. The page with the central directory exposes an “MS Feedster” search scoped at these registered communities. This solutions could also be implemented as a bunch of P2P web services that communicate between each site.
Consistency Solution #4
There is no consistency problem to solve. Things are great the way they are.
The NNTP Problem
As I discussed before, the public newsgroups are not going away any time soon. Sure, we could just tell people if they want to be involved in discussions @ Microsoft they have to jump over the cliff and go our way or the high way but I’d prefer a smoother transition where people decide over time that there are good reasons to give up the newsgroups because a better solution exists. It’s my belief that web forums are the way of the future. The only missing link is a standard protocol for web boards to expose themselves to each other and to a cached offline client. What looks promising today is some combination of RSS support with eventing notification and a standard commenting API for replied with pluggable log-in support.
Transition Plan #1
The user finds the MS VB Community forums through a web interface. They have a choice between “Moderated” and “Unmoderated” forum groups to post in. Through the web interface posting in either will require them to log in, but in the Unmoderated forums there is no concept of reputation or moderation. Through the UI push the user to post in the Moderated forums if their searches turned up nothing.
Transition Plan #2
Allow the VB user to read both the moderated (web forums) and unmoderated communities, but allow them only to post to the moderated community and give them instructions for using the unmoderated (newsgroup) community on another site or using their NNTP client.
Transition Plan #3
Push users off the cliff but work to develop public protocols for web-forum communication and create an offline client that allows people to read and post into the solution. It might be painful in the short term for users stuck on newsgroups, but they will still exist, they just won’t be the preferred community.
Transition Plan #4
Cross post the moderated content into the public newsgroups that exist today. Either don’t accept responses to the posts from NNTP or show them optionally in the web forum interface below the web forum responses. Don’t accept new threads started in the public newsgroups in the web forum interface.