How we make decisions about new Hotmail features
At Hotmail, we feel a strong sense of responsibility to the over 360 million people who use our service each month to provide them a high quality and consistently performing email experience so they can stay productive all day, every day. From a development standpoint, our goal is to deliver solid, scalable improvements
that make “doing email” more efficient.
Our challenge is that Hotmail
serves just about every type of user, from busy moms to young professionals, from kids to grandparents, and we do so in nearly every country around the world. In fact, 85% of our users are outside the US. With all this diversity, deciding what to build can get complicated.
Some people like change, and some hate it. Some people want advanced features, and some just want things simple. And if we build one thing, that sometimes means we can’t do another. We're running a business, so we have to factor in how much it will cost, how it impacts revenue, and other tradeoffs.
So, to help us decide what to build, we ask lots and lots of people from around the world what they want, and then analyze the results to find meaningful patterns. We look at factors like:
- How people approach email and other online communication and sharing services
- Where people usually use email – home, mobile, school, work, or Internet cafes
- Cultural and socioeconomic differences between users
- The changing landscape of technology
- Security and privacy needs
- Balancing the chance to solve a known user problem against the possibility of delighting users with new benefits they hadn't thought of before
The video below features members of the Hotmail team involved in product planning and gives an overview of our planning process.
Understanding our users first
We start our user studies by selecting specific groups of people who represent our broad user base: if Hotmail meets their discerning needs, it will work well for others too. We talk with them to find out what is most important to them in email, their likes and dislikes, how they work, how and when they check their email, that sort of thing. Throughout our planning, development, and product launch cycles, we invite their opinion and feedback into the process to help us deliver changes that aren’t just changes, but real improvements that the majority of our users will appreciate.
But we don’t just look at features that the greatest number of people are requesting. We try to strike a balance between features that just about everyone will find useful – like 25 GB of free storage on Windows Live SkyDrive
– and those that our more advanced users are looking for, like keyboard shortcuts or filtering rules.
Here are a few ways that we get input and feedback from people around the world:
- Quantitative surveys to thousands and thousands of people on a regular basis
- Field trips around the world to interview and observe people of different cultures using web communications services like email
- In-person focus groups for more direct conversations and an intimate understanding of people’s opinions and preferences
- Fast turn-around panels for quickly double-checking specific concepts and ideas using video, images, text, and audio
- Direct feedback from our in-product feedback link and customer support forums
- Tracking peer-to-peer recommendations to provide clear evidence of what people value and will talk about
- Internal beta testing because with 90,000 employees around the world there is a lot of diversity right in Microsoft
- External beta testing with various populations throughout the development cycle, both with prototypes and real code, to get fresh feedback from people who aren’t watching the product as it evolves.
Our ongoing conversations with users help us to make wiser decisions, spawn new ideas, and keep us on the right track. It actually allows us to be creative and push new ideas, knowing that people will tell us when we’re not on target.
So, thanks for all of your feedback so far – you’re really what makes Hotmail so successful.
Program Manager, Windows Live Hotmail team