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Webex - Web 2.0 and Product Design

Summary of our Webex 14//12008 9:40am EDT Australia

Web Apps are Growing Quickly

These milestones taken from Google's History page show how far we have come in just a short amount of time.

Web applications are coming into their own. GMail is now Googles center piece (after Web Search).
For many of us it's now an essential tool in our lives. But was only released a few years ago.
  • 1997 - Domain is registered
  • 1999 - Google Web Search out of beta
  • 2004 – Gmail (invitation only)
  • 2005 - Google Maps and Google Earth
  • 2006 - YouTube
  • 2006 - Google Docs & Spreadsheets
  • 2007 - Gmail (available to all users)
  • 2007 (Feb) – Google Apps for business
  • 2008 (Feb) – Google Sites (wiki)
  • 2008 (July) – Street View
  • 2008 (Sept) – Google Chrome

Are Google Apps useful to us?

  • Many of our customers already have Google or Gmail accounts.  They are familiar with how Google apps works.
  • On the other hand Forums are becoming common place. Standardizing on software look and feel. They all have -- RSS Feeds; Global Search; Ratings; Notification of changes etc.
    General notes on Google here: Notes on Google Apps

Google Apps

  • Google applications are free to use.
    • Google Mail
    • Google Groups (Forums)
    • Google Site (Wiki)
    • Google GTalk (Text & voice chat)
  • Google provide the HW / SW / Bandwidth / Staff / Spam filter etc.  A huge savings to business and non-business.
  • Actually Googles Apps is what they call their bussiness solution where you bring your own domain and Google link all their apps to that domain name.
    • A free service.
    • If you want phone / email support then you pay $50 per domain user per year.
      Domain users are like first class citizens of the domain (have an email on the domain and can create Wiki sites etc).
      • Contributors are no extra charge.
    • Studies seem to show that paying $50 / staff person / year, is much cheaper than running your own large IT department and server farms, and is more reliable.
    • More than 1 Million businesses use Google Apps ("Paying" customers).
    • Google Groups are not yet part of this Google Apps.
  • Google garentee 99.9% update. Google GMail is proof of their reliability.
  • New features appear regularly as Google move forward.

Google Groups

  • For Customer product forums (peer-to-peer support)?
  • Discussions + Simple Wiki + File sharing. Search across the entire group.
  • Note on the topic of file sharing :-
    • Microsoft Live now offer 5GB of space (max file size 50MB) on there free SkyDrive accounts.
    • Google allow 25MB file attachments on GMail.
    • So sharing large files for free is becoming less of a problem these days.

Google Site (Wiki)

  • This site you are in now is a Google Site.
    • Easy to edit and manage.
    • Search across all pages.
  • Fantasic but lacking a few key features. Google are working on it.
    • No RSS feeds. (So no notfication of changes for non-members)
    • No public subscriptions (Managers need to add new members by hand. Could be improved.)
    • No public comments (currently only members can post comments to wiki pages)

Accessing Community from our Apps

We want to allow customers to access product forums and blogs from our software applications.
  1. Shift+F1 links to a Page in a Google Group (Each SW page has a corresponding web page).
    Customers can vew pages but not edit. Customers can post into the discussion group area.
  2. A limited RSS Feed reader built into the applications to access our blog.
    - Links to the product Blog associated with the SW application.
    - Click to view the blog in your browser.
    - Icon flashes when new posts are detected.

More notes on our latest UI designs here: UI/UA Design

Follow the Leader

We talked about Microsoft showing leadership in this area.

MSDN (MS Developer Network) – Community wiki

  • MSDN now allow customers to annotate their developer help. MS developers call it an embedded wiki. Anyone can add text.
  • They started small and slowly opened it up to partners and now to general community. No real problem with spammers.
  • For legal reasons community content and MS content (which gets shipped on DVD) are visually set apart by coloring the community area green.
  • As you can imagine the size of the MSDN web site has increased dramatically.
    If my figures are correct - In 2006 2 million pages; In 2008 they are now approaching Wikipedia in size (40 million pages).

Feed back on the web is an invaluable tool. It allows a "Continuous Improvement Cycle" where Microsoft can review community input and update documentation and product in the next update/revision cycle.

So this slide shows that feed back comes from many sources. And allows a cycle of continuous improvement.

Application design – No Dead Ends

Another one of Microsoft's catch cries is "No Dead Ends".
Customer experience is frustration if they get stuck and can't solve the problem.

So here the Microsoft help team remind us that it all starts with a well designed Software User Interface.
The UA (User Assistance) esscation path should not leave the user at a dead end.

Notice that community is in there before support? The aim is to free up support and let the customer try and
fix their problem by using the product FAQ pages, Forums, Wikis and the like.

Continuous Publishing Model

Windows and Office help are now On the web (Online) (although Offline help is still an option).
This allows MS to continously make improvements to the help documentation (and the application) via good customer feedback.
This cycle of gathering feedback and re-publishing they call their "Continuous Publishing Model"

Full article:

A MS Story

Recently the MVPs talked to the Microsoft MSN Web department, which published over 40,000 web pages. Each author in the team was given several thousand web pages to maintain. By examining the web stats, they found that only 70% of the pages were never read. They removed all these pages and never received a single complaint. Next, they reorganized the FAQ page order so that popular pages were moved to the top of the list, and support calls were reduced by 13%.

Summing up

  • Google Groups (forums) are worth looking at. Free and reliable.
  • The web offers opportunities to form tighter feedback loops with customers
    • More satisfied customers get answers quicker (less frustration).
    • Research shows that forming early customer relationships (in the dev life cycle) means loyal enthusiastic customers. Who then tell others of your product.
  • The Microsoft experience can teach us much.
  • Software applications should link our customers to web apps as seamlessly as possible.
    • We need to design smarter sofware that helps connects us with customers, and customers with each other.