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Microsoft and Online Community Sociology

CNET.com: Microsoft's In-House Sociologist

You might not be aware, but Microsoft uses online communities in a big way. They use UseNet news groups (a form of community) to help support their users and have for many years. This article helps in understanding how they use them, why, what they hope to accomplish.

Basically the newsgroups offers Microsoft users a place to post messages about a problem they are having. Other members of that newsgroup can reply and help them. The Usenet system has been around since the early days of the Internet and pre-dates web pages.

Because these are so popular, Microsft has a Sociologist who is doing research on how these systems work and how they can be improved.

So why exactly does Microsoft need a resident sociologist?
Microsoft has a big investment in online communities, and has not had until recently many tools to enhance that investment. What Microsoft wants around communities is what every enterprise does, which is a peer-support, knowledge-management application. And that means that if you go into Usenet, you'll find 3,000 Microsoft public newsgroups, with 1.5 million people posting 10 million messages. And that's 2002--and it's going to more than double this year, because it more than doubled in '01. We don't see traffic flagging at all.

Here's what I gathered from the article...

There is simply too much going on for people to easily find the answers they need in a consistent manner. So, this sociologist is looking at the habits of folks that post in the newsgroups. From recording these habits, they are trying to stratify the different kinds of posters- the spammers, the answer people, the regulars, the folks who ask questions, etc.

In doing so, they hope to build a system that allows a user to find what they need by pointing them to people, groups and threads that, based on their history, have a good chance of providing the needed info.

Here's an example: Let's say you have a newsgroup with 22,000 messages posted there per month. You have a problem! What should you read? We have some suggestions. In an existing browser, you can see the messages sorted by date, sorted by size or sorted alphabetically, and this is not very useful. What we want to say is, "There are different vectors through this content space, different ways of slicing into the data, the conversation, that are more likely to bring valuable information."

Interesting stuff. It is also interesting to me that Usenet is still plugging along. I think that we're finding that one of the very basic reasons the Internet was created (to allow peers to support one-another) will be it's most enduring value.

With all the companies looking to save money using the Internet, they may only need to look for ways to allow their customers to support one-another via online communities and the like. I've seen it work over and over.

Also, checkout NetScan, which is a newsgroup analysis tool.

Via: Online Facilitation