Last year at this time, I was wrapping up a Masters program over at good ole Case Western Reserve University in “Engineering and Management”…a program that was really geared around Technology Entrepreneurship.  In the program, they spent quite a bit of time talking about how to make new products successful.  The underlying principle in every class I took was the same:  no matter how “cool” your technology is, it won’t sell unless it solves a real problem that somebody has better than what they already use to solve that problem.

I think many tech companies often lose site of this principle—we often create “cool” things and hope that customers will agree, run out, buy the “cool” thing, and figure out how they are going to use it.  Those cool things often are very, very cool, and they usually flop.  The most successful inventions solve real problems or improve on the current solutions to those problems.  I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but the overwhelming reaction to the Origami devices that have recently hit the market is:  “Wow!  Those look really cool…I wish I knew why I need to buy one.”

To tie this back in with something I work with everyday, it’s important to me to remember exactly what we are trying to accomplish with the MSDN Forums project.  Sometimes I get pretty hyped up about “cool” features.  Reputation systems, avatars, pretty interfaces, AJAXed-up web pages, fancy RSS feeds, glossy offline clients, and slick search are the technologies I’d like to see for the forums.  I get excited about them.  “Wouldn’t it be cool?” is an impossible thing for a program manager not to say.  But, what problem do all of those glossy features, those pieces of technology, solve?

I’ve written it down before, not on this blog, but I think it’s good to type over and over again.  Developers using Visual Studio and .NET need fast and accurate answers to their questions.  If the feature doesn’t help solve that problem, it’s not worth the time implementing it.  Now, going back to my technology list, I really do believe that those pieces of technology will help solve the problem above.  It’s always important to keep in mind.  My reputation system solves the problem that people will be incentivized to answer more questions to gain status in the forums—in the end, getting more of our customers answers to their questions.

As for Origami…maybe somebody will let me know what the problem was that it solves—outside of the fact that this Tablet PC I’m typing on is way too big to use on this Seattle Metro Bus… :)