What’s (not) happening with Windows Live communities

One of the reasons why we started LiveSide was to help to build a community around Windows Live, to share our thoughts and views with those who were interested in what Microsoft had to offer, and hear what they had to say in return.  While we’ve done reasonably well with that aim, it’s been disappointing for us to see that Microsoft hasn’t seized this opportunity to do the same.

At the beginning of last year they were on the right track. Blogs were buzzing about what this new Microsoft initiative meant, and about the whole range of products that were being launched into beta.  Windows Live Events were held in several European cities, reaching out to community leaders to explain what Windows Live was about, and giving demonstrations of new products. This was a pretty successful start by anybody’s standards and one we were hoping would develop with time.

Unfortunately there has been a steady decline since then, with Windows Live becoming more and more like the MSN of old. So why does the Windows Live community of late seem to be suffering? Here are a few reasons I came up with:

  • Few Windows Live employees have fully embraced blogging. Sure there are team blogs, but a number of these have fallen by the wayside or have commenting disabled. (There are some obvious exceptions here, credit to those where due.)
  • There is very little employee interaction on community blogs.
  • Lack of recognition from Microsoft – Windows Live isn’t a category on the featured communities’ pages, and wire.live.com has been dead for several months now. No communities are included in the live.com default feeds. All in all it’s almost as though Microsoft wants blogs about Windows Live to disappear.

The first two are definitely troublesome, as it suggests that a) there is little interest in talking to the community or b) employees don’t feel they can say what they’d like to say to the community for fear of saying something they shouldn’t.  The third point however screams the loudest. Does Microsoft not want to encourage those blogging Windows Live in the hope they’ll just vanish into the night? Does the war with Google mean that keeping new developments quiet is more important than building a community around your products?

To quote Sean O’Driscoll:

“The only decision you get to make is whether or not to participate in that conversation. You must also accept the fact that you CANNOT control the conversation. In fact, the harder you try the more impossible it is”

Punishing enthusiasm is bad. Pushing your most valued fans away is bad. Making them choose between serving the community and becoming little more than PR gimmicks is bad. The independent communities that do exist, and that we’re a part of, don’t work for Microsoft, so don’t expect them to follow the company line.  If you want PR go speak to News.com, if you want a discussion then join the conversation, and encourage your employees to do the same.