Same shit, different decade/century/millennium

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/11/17 03:01 -05:00, original URI:

Lest you have any doubts, I speak here for myself and only for myself, not for Microsoft or for any person, group, or division within Microsoft. This statement is so simple that anyone can get it, right?

Now although I work for Microsoft, for everything I am about to discuss I am just a user of the technologies, not someone who even knows who owns it or works on it. So for this particular blog within the Blog, think of me as an outsider....

At the end of last month I got a mail that many other people got as well. The mail went:

Dear MSN Groups Customer,

As a valued MSN Groups or MSN Communities Web Folders customer, we want to notify you that the MSN Groups service will close on February 21, 2009 and you will have the opportunity to move your group to our new partner service, Multiply. We understand the importance of keeping your group together, so we partnered with Multiply to create a migration process that moves your group to their service to preserve your online community and its history. Read on to find out about how to kick off the automatic migration of your group to Multiply.

We realise this may be unexpected, so before presenting your options we want to briefly share why we've made this decision.

Because we are dedicated to providing our customers with the most current and user friendly technology available today we made the difficult decision to close the MSN Groups service. This decision is part of an overall investment to update and re-align our online services with Windows Live. In the long term we believe that closing the service is the best way to continue to offer innovative and effective services that help you stay in touch with the people you care about. We plan to launch a new Groups service in the coming weeks, but unlike MSN Groups, Windows Live Groups will focus on offering a place for small groups to collaborate. Multiply is available now, making it your best option today for continuing to share and communicate together online.

Options for moving your group to a new service
We've listed some options and resources below to help you decide what to do with your group.

  • Option 1: Automatically move your group and its data. We have established a partnership with Multiply, an online group and media sharing service so our users can choose to migrate their group to Multiply's service. Choosing this option is free and easy to use: Multiply will move the Group's content on your behalf and invite members to re-join your group in its new location. To begin the migration click here.
  • Option 2: Start again on another service. You can start from scratch and create your group on a different service but we recommend having your Group moved automatically by Multiply. This will enable your Group to transition easily and continue to enjoy the community you have created.
  • Option 3: Start again on Windows Live Groups. To further expand our mix of communications and sharing services, Windows Live will launch a new service this autumn, Windows Live Groups. We plan to launch Windows Live Groups to the public in the coming weeks as a service that helps small groups or clubs collaborate online.


Options for MSN Communities Web Folders users
If you use save files to the MSN Communities web folders (also known as "My Web Sites on MSN" or the web folder "My Groups"), these services are part of MSN Groups and will therefore will also be closed on February 21, 2009. We recommend that if you store files online using MSN Communities web folders that you back up these files locally, then upload them to another online storage service such as Windows Live SkyDrive. For more details on how to find and move files saved to your web folders, visit the MSN Groups Resource Center.

Your Next Steps
We have sent this letter to each MSN Groups user, whether member or manager. If you are:

  • A member or user of MSN Groups: Check with your group manager to determine whether they plan to migrate the group.
  • A manager: Visit the MSN Groups Resource Center to learn more about your options and consider soliciting feedback from your group members about what they would prefer to do, when and how. The Resource Center also provides a sample splash page you can use to notify your members that the group will move. If you're ready to move the group now, click here.


What to Expect between now and the closing date
Between today and February 21, 2009 the MSN Groups service will remain the same as it is now. We will remove the option to add more storage to your group but other features will remain until the service is shut down and you can use it the same way you do today until the date of closure.

Where can I learn more?
You probably have more questions, and that's why we created a website to address them. Please visit the MSN Groups Resource Center at any time for the most up to date answers to common questions, information about migrating your group to Multiply, contact information for our support staff, and important dates.

Our support staff are equipped to answer your questions and guide you through issues that may arise as you decide what to do with your group. They are ready to help so don't hesitate to contact them at MSN Groups Customer Support with your questions.

We thank you for using our services and regret any inconvenience this may cause.

MSN Groups, Microsoft Corporation

Microsoft respects your privacy. To learn more, please read our online Privacy Statement.

Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052

Now the groups I belong to are pretty much limited to the VOLT and WEFT groups, and I don't own any groups myself.

The whole situation seemed eerily familiar, though.

It was several years ago, in the CompuServe forums.

Microsoft had a huge presence there -- for betas, for product support, for product insiders.

Suddenly, they were moving out -- everything was moving to the new (non-replicated) NNTP servers that Microsoft put up.

There was a new Microsoft provided newsgroup reader that was in Beta, it had a code name of Athena, I believe. Though the goddess would undoubtedly smite the folk who though it was ready to handle the traffic in question, and the users in question (many of whom had never been in a newsgroup, some of whom had never been on the Internet outside of a closed client like CIS).

Several products in beta kept their CIS forums after people made a strong push to explain that this move could risk their product ship dates....

I remember a few months later talking to a product manager I knew who remarked how impressed he was at the level of sophistication of the questions being asked in the new Microsoft newsgroups, as compared with the old CIS forums. I had to break it him by pointing out that the reason was that the move was so poorly done that most of the customers had gotten lost along the way.

An effective way to improve the sophistication of your audience, that.

Reminds me of an old joke:

A man takes his wife to the doctor because she is ill.

The doctor explains that he hasn't run all the tests yet and it will take him several days to do so. But in the meantime he has narrowed it down to either Alzheimer's Disease or AIDS.

The man is horrified. "What do I do until the test results come back?" he asks, fearfully.

The doctor responds: "That's simple. Take her to the mall and leave her there. If she comes home then don't sleep with her."

Now this joke is truly offensive, yet in its own way this is kind of what was done to a whole bunch of customers.

And given the differences between Athena/all later Microsoft newsgroup clients and the clients that were already out there, many issues with differences in the way the MS clients work still plague the newsgroups community to this day -- phenomena like fully quoting old posts by default, top posting, etc. Microsoft managed to make itself even less popular with a large group of people that really didn't like them much anyway, and they managed to lose a bunch of their own customers too. MVPs like me went from posting thousands of responses a month to low hundreds -- and if I skipped a month, I lost no sleep. And I was not unusual in this regard -- many regularly posting experts disappeared or massively decreased their support due to the real annoyances with the client software. And they never came back.

That product manager I mentioned figured that Microsoft should put up a white paper explaining how to get to the newsgroups, which prompted to ask him where to put it up. "On the Internet!" he exclaimed, not even realizing the irony of the response....

Now as it turns out, the scuttlebutt of the CIS to newsgroups migration (reportedly) had to do with a limited time offer that Microsoft had to get out of it contract with CompuServe, which they jumped at even though their migration plans were not fully ready. It might be total fiction and I have no evidence that this is the case but since it kind of explains all of the facts I am willing to take it as the most likely hypothesis of the many I heard.

What am I to make now of this new announcement that the MSN Groups are shutting down, and what would otherwise be the most obvious intended replacement (Windows Live Groups) are not being provided a migration path like the Multiply option. What's up with that?

Now I am not a group owner, so I can't say whether they informed owners first or if they truly told everyone at the same time and told group members to ask your owners who may not have even heard about the plans. But I think this is probably just stupidity in the mail and not the plan -- I assume they sent an earlier mail to the owners and just didn't mention it in case people got offended that they were not given as much notice.

Primarily, I'm annoyed that they are doing all this before the replacement is ready -- it looks like the CIS thing all over again. And I suspect that lot of people will get lost in the shuffle, either intentionally because they go somewhere else (perhaps Google Groups, as one person in the VOLT group joked -- I wonder if Google is going to add a migration plan of their own to pick up some of these folk) or unintentionally because they just got lost on the way somewhere.

With MSN Groups and Windows Live Groups apparently targeting two different audiences, and with no replacement coming from Microsoft for some of those who will now be disenfranchised unless they do go to some other company entirely (such as Multiply, this looks a lot more like Microsoft getting out of a market (one they themselves took advantage of given groups like VOLT and WEFT) without being willing to admit why (the non-specific "Because we are dedicated to providing our customers with the most current and user friendly technology available today" implies that Microsoft thinks itself unable to provide those customers with something current or user-friendly? Surely that is not the message they intended here?).

Given that Microsoft did this kind of thing before (in the forum to newsgroup debacle), the whole thing doesn't really even seem all that innovative, to me. More of a "same shit, different group" kind of thing. Or, since the CIS thing happened back in the 90s, a "same shit, different decade/century/millennium" kind of thing. :-(


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Mihai on 17 Nov 2008 2:22 PM:

What is happening now is a double-s**t.

It looks like there is a strong push to drop the newsgroups and replace them with forums.

Only that the forums are slow, "Web 2.0" beta quality junk, that are 100 times slower than newsgroups with a good client.

And a lot of MVPs will be lost on the way (maybe even me, I am not sure yet if I want to put up with that crap).

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