Next at Microsoft has been up and running for 125 days now – a little more than 4 months and 100 stories posted. The inaugural post was back on Dec. 1, 2010 when I promised to offer a director’s cut of Microsoft. It’s been an interesting ride and as I sit here enjoying the sun and winding down my friday, I thought it'd be a good idea to share some thoughts on the experience so far and offer a look ahead.
Launching: Kicking off a new blog turned out to be much harder than I thought. With my old blog, Geek in Disguise, I could publish pretty much what I wanted, when I wanted. With Next at Microsoft (aka Next), my hobby had turned into a day job so I at least had to look like I was taking things seriously. That means researching stories in more detail, figuring out the right time to tell a certain story, gathering up digital assets, creating images and the small matter of how to measure if the site was achieving what we set out to accomplish. Basically, it all got a bit more professional. Thus far, I think the site is doing an okay job. More on that below in terms of stats and where I think there is room for improvement. The other aspect of a site launch was the design. A group of us debated for several weeks about a previous site design that was spectacular - but I felt was overkill for what we needed. Dismantling the work of others is always tough so that took longer than I expected. Still, I think we made the right decision to focus on content rather than design.
Progress to date: I’m pretty happy with where we are at this stage. Aside from your comments and the occasional email I get, stats are the best way for me to learn about you, the people reading Next. Here’s what I’ve come to learn so far
We average around 2,000 page views a day – and climbing. As expected, there are fewer visitors at the weekend and it's interesting to see that traffic is rising for almost every post on the site which is a good sign. PSFK has begun to syndicate our content, other prominent bloggers and sites like GeekWire and MSNBC are noticing our stories and kindly linking to us. All goodness. About 50% of our traffic is coming from the U.S. with the U.K. and rest of Europe taking the bulk of the other 50% - and it’s great to see regular visitors reading from Vietnam, Indonesia, Ukraine and South Africa. That's interesting to watch – as is the keyword activity from search engines that bring people to the site. 3D projectors, machine learning and, thankfully, the phrase “next at microsoft” are all popular search terms. The single biggest referrer of traffic is Twitter. Anecdotally, the feedback has been constructive and mostly positive. The main theme from you has been to make the posts more personal. OK, I can do that. (More on that down below.) Of course, the comments box is always open, as is my email (stevecla AT microsoft.com).
Lessons learned: I wish I had a photographer on staff or at least remembered to carry my own camera more often. I see a lot of things around Microsoft that help show a little more of who we are. Sometimes I snap things on my phone - and then forget to post them (duh). Other times I question whether there’s any value to publishing the photos, as I’m not sure if you would be interested in, for example, prototype mice and keyboards, how the Xbox buildings look or the latest posters displayed across the place. I am going to publish more images, as I think it helps paint a clearer picture of the real Microsoft. For the moment, here’s a bunch of typical, fun shots…and in the next few weeks I'll have an embedded photographer with me so expect the quantity and quality of images to go up.
[if you have questions on any of the images, ask in the comments section below]
Lessons learned…cont:. I wish we had more engagement on the site in terms of comments but the content doesn’t always lend itself to that and I see a shift of the discussion to Twitter. Still, there’s work to be done to encourage your participation. One final lesson has been our web address. In deciding to work on the Technet blog platform, we’re stuck with a less than user-friendly URL. However, you can always get to this site from microsoft.com/next - a far easier address to remember as you share with friends. Hint hint
Where we go Next: I’ve been thinking a lot about curation vs. original content. Looking back, the focus on designning and launching the site led to a content imbalance that is only now starting to be addressed. I’d always wanted much more original content – stuff like Machine Learning for Dummies and What can a washing machine teach us about NUI? Both of those posts have turned out to be popular compared to more news-oriented items or curated news from other places. While there’s still room for great curated content (things such as Windows Phone videos or coverage of events like MIX), I’m finding that with a little more time post-launch, the balance should shift to more original stories. And that’s what you should expect on Next over the coming months – more original content, more personal insights and hopefully some more photography.
You’ll also see the site focus on key topics I promised from the outset – specifically people and places. Within the next month we’ll have one week dedicated to each subject and some great behind-the-scenes tours of places like our model shop, the Microsoft Home and even ummm, my desk (yes, there’s a story there too). As for the people, I've met a lot of folks from across the company and I'll bring them to next with profiles and expand the Tools of the Trade style posts. In particular, I'm keen to shine a light on some of the design talent inside Microsoft. We're not synonomous with design, which I understand, but there are some amazing designers here doing fine work and I'd like you to meet them.
Through all of that I hope to bring you more of my perspective on things from inside Microsoft – to expose some of the soul of this massive place. I’m living a dream in this job and hope that comes across…more on that in a post next week.
For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed Next at Microsoft in our first 125 days, and hope you choose to stick around to see where this goes. We’ve only just begun.
I agree - more original stories, more photos, and a mix of related news... Congrats on 100!
This is a full time job? Is it worth so much work for so few readers/pageviews?
@A reader - there's a lot more to it than just the blog :) - and we hope to build our readership over time rather than overnight.
@mrs.galore - thanks, appreciate your support ;)
Congrats! I enjoy reading this blog, perhaps even more than Geek in Disguise, and I'd love to get more details on Microsoft Research projects, stuff that's not available from anywhere else. What better way to show what's next at Microsoft? ;)
Steve, could you sneak into the Research division and try to snap some shots of any development on Microsoft Courier. ;D
@MariusOiaga thanks, appreciate the feedback and you'll definitely expect to see more MSR stuff, both from Redmond and other MSR locations.
@Not an apple spy - I'm in Microsoft Research far too often these days to be able to sneak in and spy around. In fact I was there on Friday and saw some very cool stuff that should be able to talk about next week.
I love your Blog... Period