Harnessing the online community – a strategic opportunity that Microsoft is missing

I have been in technology and marketing for quite a while and (believe it or not) am a big Microsoft fan.

I have used Microsoft products for quite a while and believe that the company is strategically positioned for growth and leadership in a number of areas. Whether they actually take advantage of that positioning is another issue all together.

Anyway, the other day i was thinking about the various sources of Microsoft news on the web and the names that come to mind are all the usual suspects:

  • Ed Bott
  • Paul Thurrott
  • Mary Jo Foley
  • Tom Warren
  • Onuora Amobi etc etc

the names go on..

They all have one thing in common – They don’t work for Microsoft.

It’s an interesting strategy that Microsoft (and other software vendors) follow in terms of information dissemination.

Here’s the cycle –

  1. Microsoft begin working on a new software product – say an OS
  2. Techies and bloggers (millions of them) get interested
  3. Microsoft becomes secretive about the new OS
  4. Interest rises to a fever pitch online
  5. That interest translates into the desire for leaks
  6. STRONG desire for leaks
  7. Microsoft remains secretive
  8. Leaks begin and screenshots are disseminated from random sites at random times
  9. Screenshots become leaked builds and keys
  10. By the time beta is released, most Techies know what to expect
  11. Beta is (hopefully) successful
  12. OS is released
  13. Hopefully OS is successful
  14. Begin cycle again – Microsoft begin working on a new software product – say an OS

It’s a wild and unstructured process that is adversarial and in my opinion inefficient.

Ironically during this cycle, tech resources look to ZDNet and Engadget and large tech sites for the newest information on Microsoft products.

They usually dont go to Microsoft.com (see line 7 above), there’s usually no point.

When I put my online marketing hat on, i see a tremendous opportunity for Microsoft to change this dynamic and actually leverage this thirst and interest for their products.

Here’s what I would do.

Build my.Microsoft.com

When you go to my.microsoft.com this is what you get.

my.microsoft.com
my.microsoft.com

Here’s what I would do.

I would make this a beautiful web 2.0 online portal that offered personalization features through Windows Live accounts.

Online Portal
Online Portal

It would have the following:

  • Access to mail
  • Access to Products
  • Access to Newsfeeds
  • Access to demos and materials
  • User Forums
  • Chat

and all the standard portal features.

Here’s the critical difference.

I would also provide ongoing access to prebeta builds through a thin client.

Here’s what Microsoft have to remember.. BUILDS LEAK BECAUSE OF THE PENT UP THIRST FOR INFORMATION – LEAKS WILL HAPPEN ANYWAY.

I’m not saying that MSFT should give away the code for free but why not:

  • Control what builds are shown
  • Control when they are shown (schedule them)
  • Capture feedback in the forums (instant feedback)
  • Catch bugs earlier then Beta
  • Find out new perspectives on features that may not be obvious to Dev team as a result of Group think (eg. Ribbon Circles = Ugly)

This would be a win-win.

A thin client would not only ensure secure access to the builds BUT would immediately satisfy 90% of the demand out there for leaks.

Why download a potentially virus ridden torrent of Windows 8 Build 7959 when Microsoft is showing build 7994 in 3 days?

There’s a lot of energy and excitement all over the web in websites like mine because Microsoft haven’t given these people a home.

I believe that forums and sites like MDL forums should be a Microsoft property. Those techies can strip a build open like a vulture eating a carcass. It would be awesome if all that brainpower and all those observations were actually being captured and used by Microsoft.

With the power and cost of web technology these days, such a portal would take 3 months to build and could even be monetized with ads to become a profit center (God knows we use ads).

Ironically, a well designed site like that might put sites like mine out of business in the long run but I can guarantee that it would also ensure better products.

Oh well, I can only dream.

what do you guys think?

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  • Tom Wilkinson

    Smart idea… I would be down for that…

  • Jeff Belking

    They would never do that dude…it makes too much sense..

  • xinu

    Very nice article!