Last week one of the program managers, who works with a segment of customers that is very experienced and well established on the newsgroups, communicated some of the complaints that his key influencers (primarily MVPs) had when he broached the subject of moving their newsgroup to our web-based forum solution. I’ll refrain from any actual quotes, but let’s just say that the general reaction wasn’t positive. Common complaints with the forums included:
And more. And more. What we were hearing from our top customers—people who have been participating in Microsoft mailing lists and newsgroups for years and years, was that forums were just a bad idea. Worse yet, they saw our move to forums as another example of Redmond-based arrogance…we weren’t listening to our customers and just decided what was best for them.
We did a few things wrong here, and they all center around one key point: the new forums hosted on http://forums.microsoft.com are not newsgroup replacements, nor were they ever intended to be. You know, two flavors of the same ice cream? I like coffee, you like tea…that kind of thing. The real goal with the forums is to create another community channel for peer-to-peer support that reaches a huge segment of customers that we’ve never reached before—people who have never used Usenet, or didn’t like its experience. Our experience so far with the MSDN Forums shows that this group of customers was being largely neglected in the past. We have over 50,000 registered users on the MSDN site, posting over 2,500 questions a week. Last year at this time, this channel didn’t even exist. In the same time, the Microsoft newsgroups have declined in post volume around 8%...the exact same amount that they fell from 2004 to 2005. Meaning—the forums aren’t poaching users from the newsgroups. They are bringing brand-new people into the mix of a Microsoft community.
Why? Well, despite the fact that a lot of the complaints above are valid…there’s also quite a bit to like about our forums solution:
Obviously I’m biased towards the forums, but I really do believe that having the two channels living side-by-side helps us reach our entire customer base with peer-to-peer support. What do you think?
Edit (2/22/06, 1:30 PM): Josh Ledgard just reminded me of a great post he had on this same topic about a year ago. Funny...it looks like his post was provoked by some angry email as well... :) http://blogs.msdn.com/jledgard/archive/2005/04/17/409057.aspx