The Effects of an Angry Customer E-Mail Regarding the Forums

IMO the MSDN Forums have been doing really well so far. The early success and feedback has been encouraging to the point that I believe the forums will ultimately be a welcome edition to official MS community offerings. 

I've been pretty stressed about this release for a long time now and I'm starting to get a more comfortable feeling. Gretchen will tell you that I've been confident, but nervous at the same time for a while now. The MSCom team has done a great job implementing what we wanted for the VS 2005 release and the customer reaction has been very positive no matter how I look at it. One angry detractor did deliver the following message to my inbox today and figured I'd share it with my reply here. 

It is a horrible decision Microsoft has made abandoning NNTP for online forums in regard to developers. What possessed you of this stupidity ? The reasons you officially give our specious and vague, and do not justify changing a method which a huge number of users and programmers use every day. Once again Microsoft going their own way will cause problems for an untold number of developers. Grow up and stop trying to do everything your own way, as flawed and troubling for others as it may be, just because you are Microsoft.

I've heard Scoble say it a lot... if you work at Microsoft... and you blog... you had better have thick skin. My own experience suggests that having an active blog at Microsoft for any length of time pretty much guarantees you your share of mails like this and it does effect you... at least it effects me. Not to get too touchy-feely, but I'm not some Borg drone that doesn't ever feel insulted. None of the MS Bloggers I've met are either. If you send us mail it ends up on the screen of a real person for better or worse. Please think about that before you press send. I'm not saying I've never offended anyone with my blog, IM, or e-mail but...

I do my best to respond to every mail I receive whether they offer constructive criticism or praise of the products we put our hearts and 110% into every day. I will continue to do so because I believe in open & honest communication with customers and non-customers alike. 

Thankfully this lone mail has been overshadowed by many more people sending me notes about how much they really love the forum system. Anyway, I did want to reply to some of the specific points in this mail. I'm not sure replying is the best thing in these situations, but I feel that I would only take more criticism if I didn't give detractors a voice and share my replies. 

1. We have not abandoned NNTP. There were Microsoft public developer newsgroups yesterday, there are Microsoft public developer newsgroups today, and there will be Microsoft public developer newsgroups tomorrow. I'm not sure what else I can say about this. If you are an MSDN subscriber and you like the guaranteed support responses in the public newsgroups... don't worry. We will continue to offer this benefit to users of the public newsgroups and are working on extending it to the MS Forums as well. When it comes to private NNTP support for the forums we felt it was so important that we're currently trialling it as an offline solution with our MVPs. 

2. Changing methodologies for Developers: I'm not sure what changes here. Again, we are not turning off the public developer newsgroups. In February there were over 1519 users that contributed over 6k posts in the microsoft.public.dotnet.csharp newsgroup. I'm sure the numbers for January, March, and April will look pretty similar.

If Forums where going to rapidly kill off public newsgroups it would have happened by now. There have been and will continue to be active developer web forums linked from MSDN on Gotdotnet, Devx, 4GuysFromRolla,, Angry Coder, C# Corner, CodeGuru, CodeProject, Dev City, DotNetJunkies, PanoramaBox, SQLJunkies, Wintellect, and Asp.Net to name a few. These sites, when combined, see millions of developers per month that visit their web forums for searching, replying, or asking new questions. I think the last site is most interesting...

The most active public .net group (just looking at Feb again) was microsoft.public.dotnet.framework.aspnet. Again, over 1500 people contributed over 8k messages to this public NNTP groups in February averaging over 270 posts per day! All this while the Asp.Net forums have existed for years with160k registered forum users that average over 400 posts per day! Did the existence of the Asp.Net forums change how Asp.Net users that prefer NNTP communicate? 

Not really. The monthly average of posts and reply rate has remained consistent in the newsgroup while the forums have grown over the last 4 years. Both groups are thriving no matter how you look at it. Is this a change for existing users or simply an expansion of communication tools to a set of developers that prefer forum technologies?

3. Are we "going our own way... because we are Microsoft" to cause harm? I think the stats I've shown and any others I could dig up would show that co-existence is possible. We are not redirecting public NNTP users to the forums. I've, in fact, seen several replies in the forums that link to Google newsgroup posts. This proves that communication between the two systems is possible (even if it happens via google) and this is a good thing. 

Based on on competitors community offerings to developers I'm inclined to say that restricting ourselves to public newsgroups only would have been going our own way and ignoring the untold number of developers who feel more comfortable participating in web forums. Now you get to choose!

Ok, that's all I've got to say for now. Feel free to send me mail or voice your constructive concerns below. I'm going to shift to focusing on the positive (the majority based on the mails I get) forum reaction and more of my thoughts on how things are going with my next couple of posts.