Microsoft’s Mistakes. You too can learn from them.

microsoft (Part 2 of 2) The other day I briefly highlighted what I saw as the ‘Good parts’ and ‘Good starts’ within Windows Live Events to clearly distinguish where I feel the product has missed a golden opportunity; and highlight some broader takeaways that should be applied to the current and next generation of online web products and services.

Not so good parts…

Overall, I found the user experience pretty good, as long as I didn’t have to interact with the page and its components and features. In some cases I found the negatives to be in the simple user interaction and experience design, in others it was the sense of being mislead by the user interface to expect bigger and better functionality from my click.

Where’s the pop?

The User Interface didn’t POP. By pop, I am not referring to those annoying ads that everyone loves to hate, but to the responsiveness and feeling that goes along with the interaction of the user interface. Here, with Windows Live Events, I found the interface experience, my user experience, to be slow, sluggish, and, at times, sleep inducing.

When I log into my account and select an event that I want to update or invite people to… let me do it QUICKLY and painlessly. I want to login (pop), click (pop), invite (pop), and go (pop). The interface rendering times, the additional pages that were being loaded again and again, can all benefit from a major overhaul. Empower me, your potential user, to do what I want to do with my event…efficiently, productively.

Microsoft, did you ever hear of Ajax or dynamic page elements? My advice to you is to make the event overview and its management a single page, a page that loads the ‘dashboard’ view once and dynamically allows me to enter new information or be updated while I am looking at my event. Don’t force me to navigate back and forth, again and again, to manipulate my details and invite people. All those extra pages, all that extra loading, all that interruption in my workflow of planning and managing and ENJOYING my event just slows me down, ruins any potential happiness I may get from some of the features, and makes me want to look elsewhere for a UI that will be fast, responsive, and fun to interact with.

The sluggishness I found to be present within the UI goes beyond the unnecessary extra page loading that occurs, but is also found in the initial page downloading and rendering. I am not, as of the posting of this article, sure what is going on under the hood or what sort of processes at Microsoft are resulting in this bloated feeling that appears to be all too common to Microsoft products, that causes such a slow and sluggish feeling (I used IE , FF, and Opera browsers). The sluggish interface is not unique to Windows Live Events. I also experienced excessive sluggishness in Microsoft’s (now discontinued) Live Product Search — a product I thought was head and shoulders above the competition out there. With Live Product Search, a product that I truly enjoyed and recommended to people, as with Windows Live Events, its big negative was that it was slow in how it responded to user interaction . Back then, I stopped using Live Product Search, and most likely many other people did too, because it was just sooo slow.

The ‘fun potential’ of the user interface is present, but quickly dissipates when the actual interaction portion of the user experience equation is taken into account. Correcting this portion of Windows Live Events will go far towards user adoption, but is also the lesser of the ‘Not so good parts.’

The future is in Modular Innovation.

Within Windows Live Events It is nice that I can blog about my event; even though it is not readily obvious that I can do so at first glance at the event’s dashboard view. It is nice that I can share pictures and discuss the events with friends and other attendees. It is nice that it is an experience integrated with the Windows Live suite of web products.

Wouldn’t it be NICER (or great, or awesome) if I could blog, not just on Windows Live Spaces, but on WordPress (The Product Guy’s platform) or other blog formats? Wouldn’t it be NICER if I could share or integrate with my pictures on Flickr or other photo sharing platforms? Wouldn’t it be NICER if I could communicate with other people, in real-time, or via Twitter or receive updates when there are new bits of information being shared?

Answer: Yep.

While the layout of the page presents the promise of a sharp user experience and alludes to the potential of a great, integrated, centralizing event planning application through some obvious and some hard to find features, it falls far short. So far short, it only is integrated with Microsoft – a very limited web product audience.

Windows Live Events, what could have been a nice module that combined and brought together information from other web products (modules) online, instead is only a repackaging of a proprietary Microsoft-only event planner.

Those tougher to find features on the Event’s homepage are the ones that drew my greatest attention for which I also carefully chose my words when describing. I purposely described “the good” with words like “promising” and the “layout encourages.” While there are hints of good ideas, hints of implementing (a) Modular Innovation(s), Windows Live Events, in my opinion, missed a great opportunity. (Of course, I am not saying they cannot make a reattempt at this opportunity through a future release.)

The (missed?) opportunity…

Event planning is not unique to the Internet. What I did like seeing was their eye towards greater integration with other services. However, without allowing for integration with third-parties (Via an API? perhaps.), what could possibly be the incentive for people to sign-up and use Windows Live Events? For people that are not Windows Live-only users, there isn’t any.

Integration is the key to any chance of broad-based success for Live Events. Have I mentioned this a few times already? Hmmm… it must mean it is IMPORTANT! What is unique here? Microsoft Events does present a nice, simplified UI, but with so many other product options out there, there is nothing making this new service stand out. This is where the opportunity lies.

Windows Live Events would be more interesting to the public at large if events could just simply integrate with other blog platforms and social networks to invite friends from your social network to your created Live Events. Don’t limit the users to the Microsoft blogging platform and picture sharing — let me choose and customize my user experience by connecting it with other online products (that aren’t Microsoft, if I choose).

‘missed?’ well, one can hope that the Windows Live Events team will heed my advice and make many of these improvements.

Learning parts…

There are many constructive lessons that can be learned by poking at and experiencing Windows Live Events that, when applied to other web products, will result in broader acceptance and adoption, and an overall better experience that your users will come back for time and time again.

To build a larger base, secondarily, Microsoft will have to clean-up and make enjoyable (interactive, responsive, not slow) the user experience; but, primarily, at the very core, empower its users through modularity by…

  • Allowing integration. Enabling people to connect their Live Events to their other online experiences (Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Blogger, IM, etc.). For example, let me invite people that are my close friends in MySpace to my party being planned via Live Events.
  • Allowing portability. Enabling people to download or move all of their event information for editing or manipulating on other event or related platforms. This will allow more people to try it out, without worrying about losing their information and experiment with different methods of interacting with and using and leveraging Windows Live Events. Also, how neat-o would it be to be able to download all of the plans, pictures, and discussions surrounding an event and burn them to a DVD to watch with your friends next time you meet up?
  • Allowing modules. Enable people to interact with Windows Live Events as a module. As a module, you can place features, actions, or other types of updates within any other service. Also, as a module, other services can transmit information to the Live Events module (e.g. friend X has accepted the invitation to your party).

In the end, some nice User Experience (UX) and integration (barely), but the 2 big problems that I have found to be all too familiar to the majority of Microsoft’s web products (not unlike their desktop products) are:

  1. sluggish UI and UX really hurt any gains made by some of the good UI decisions, and
  2. openness — connect to and give the people a way to connect complementary services and other platforms (social networks, IM, blog, flickr, twitter, etc.)

It will be interesting to watch Windows Live Events and see what of my advice is eventually adopted and the resulting consumer responses (and their corresponding UX gains).

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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About Jeremy Horn

Jeremy Horn is an award-winning, product management veteran with 2 decades of experience leading and managing product teams. Jeremy has held various executive and advisory roles, from founder of several start-ups to driving diverse organizations in online services, consumer products, and wearables. As founder of The Product Group, he has created the largest product management meetup in the world and hosts the annual awarding of The Best Product Person. Accelerating the next evolution of product management, Jeremy acted as creator and instructor of the 10-week product management course at General Assembly and The New School, and mentoring at Women 2.0 and Lean Startup Machine (where is he also a judge). To see where Jeremy is now check him out at (1) http://linkedin.com/in/TheProductGuy and (2) http://TheProductGuy.com

8 thoughts on “Microsoft’s Mistakes. You too can learn from them.

  1. JFYI that Windows Live Events does work with photos from Flickr, Twitter updates, WordPress blog content, and so on. It supports the complete Microsoft web gadget platform as well as just straight RSS feed insertion. You just have to add those modules to the page via Customize, just like on Spaces.

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  2. Mike, thank you for your comments. I understood that the widgets could be dropped on the surface of the event page.

    But, I was not aware, and it is still not clear to me, how a widget can be used to replace the ‘share photos’ and ‘start a discussion’ buttons (the big ones along the top of the page) and how the widgets can be used to directly integrate with and modify the content stored within a specific Windows Live Event. If this can be done – please let me / us know. And, if it can be done, it is clearly a UX/UI design issue — it needs to be made MUCH easier to figure out and do.

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