Your first five minutes with OneNote

Being a new type of application has its downsides. On the one hand the field is open and we can define a whole new experience for using a PC. On the other hand, most people who see us for the first time just look at us and say "huh?" and move on. Grr.

We anticipated this problem from the start, which is why we built the little tutorial that comes with OneNote and launches when you first start OneNote 2003. (You can see it in "Help/Microsoft Office OneNote Tour" if you have 2003). That didn't really solve the problem so in SP1 we improved the original lame tutorial and added the "Helpful Tips" section, as well as got more aggressive with providing some pre-made sections and folders so people could see how and what to use the OneNote for. This seems to have helped somewhat, but there are still lot of people who just aren't willing to invest even 5 minutes to see how a new tool could help them. My Dad long maintained that "that internet thing" didn’t have any use to him, so we're going to be realistic about OneNote :-)

With 2007 we are going at this even more aggressively and also more methodically. We've been trying to narrow down exactly what people think after they start OneNote. The first step is understanding what sort of headspace they are in. They may have downloaded the trial version - in that case they already know something about the application and must have some kind of interest, but the variation is pretty great. They may have heard about it from a friend who was super-positive about OneNote, or they may have just ran into a mention of it somewhere on the net. They may have bought a computer that came with OneNote, and stumbled across it (or maybe they bought the computer because it had OneNote "for free" - we're not too worried about those people understanding our value). They might have bought one of the new versions of Office 2007 that includes OneNote and wondered what this new thing is. There are lots of ways people can end up staring at OneNote when it launches. In any case, we set ourselves a goal that within 5 minutes we should be able to get people excited enough to buy into at least trying OneNote for awhile to actually do work or school or home stuff. If we can do that we are pretty confident we can "keep them". Anything to avoid the shrug and the Close box.

To that end we've designed a new OOBE (Out Of Box Experience). When you start OneNote we'll ask you to choose a notebook type (Student, consultant, lawyer, etc) and that choice will go a long way toward helping us provide a customized experience. The notebook you choose will open with pre-set sections that should make sense to you. Students will see a note book designed to take a semester's worth of notes in various classes, do some shared projects, plus a little fun stuff. Lawyers will see something appropriate, and so on. Maybe even note flags will be customized. We'll see.

OneNote 2007 also comes with a guide notebook (since we support multiple notebooks now). The "OneNote Guide" notebook is a semi-interactive guide written in OneNote itself. That means you get to use the features of OneNote as you learn a bit about how it works and what to use it for. For example, we could talk for a long time about how you can click anywhere on a page in OneNote and type and still not convey what the usefulness of that is or the experience, or we can just have a big arrow and say, "click anywhere, for example here!" We know that many people have a low tolerance for reading explanations and want to cut away to actually try things, so the whole guide is oriented towards trying things. Note flag summaries are much more interesting if you have already got a bunch of note flags on a page for example. The guide also can be tuned for different "audiences". So if you are a student, there is a "for students" section that explains how OneNote can be useful to you as a student. It shows different features than it would show to a lawyer, for example. Not just features either - it talks about situations where OneNote can help.

We’ve been running some "focus groups" recently to fine tune the guide. Each time we have 6-10 regular ol' people come in and sit in a room where we tell them that they’ve just discovered this new application and ask them to start OneNote. Then we just sit back and wait.

With the first focus group we succeeded at our first major goal, which was to explain what OneNote is. We found that without the guide a lot of people couldn’t see the difference between OneNote and a word processor, since the blank page and the fact that you can type and make text bold seemed too familiar. So the guide first tries to introduce the concept of a notebook with organization. It introduces notebooks, sections, and pages, and that went pretty well. We didn’t do too well with our next two goals though, which were to show people what OneNote could do and why it mattered to them.

We made some modifications to the guide to give example scenarios of how you would use OneNote. We also torqued the language around to talk about problems the user might be having and how to use OneNote to solve them, not just what OneNote can do. We took advantage of new features in OneNote to design the guide while simultaneously showing people how useful it can be. For example we have a "Table of Contents" page where lists of links are organized spatially on the page in clusters related to task or activities. We chose this layout specifically to drive home that this isn’t a word processor with a linear organization on the page. These links point off to other pages in the Guide notebook so people learn that a OneNote notebook is sort of like a mini website you can easily make to manage your information. We added a "more cool features" section so people could dive off and gravitate toward what interested them since we had a theory that each person adopts a product not because of the aggregate of its functionality but mainly because it does one or two things they really like, so by offering a smörgåsbord we could get a "bite" on one or more features and they would be sold.

Our second set of focus groups went much better. We asked people to rate the value of the product and their likelihood of using it further and the scores went way up (with a lot of people giving us 5 out of 5 on the ratings). We're still working the whole OOBE though, since it isn't firing on all cylinders for all people yet. Feedback from beta 2 will help a lot.

I would love for you all to share your impressions of OneNote in the first five minutes (if you remember). Also please share what friends or colleagues said about their five minutes, especially if they did not choose to start using OneNote right away.