Next at Microsoft: 6 months’ review

Tomorrow marks the 6-month anniversary since we launched this blog so I figured it’d be a good time to take stock, review where we’ve been, where we’re going and ask some questions to ensure that’s the right direction. I feel a little like the site has been on a 6-month probation or perhaps more like watching a new born grow up. We’ve had some missteps and mistakes but some moments of “a-ha” and a few weeks where things have come on very strongly. Read on for more of the story behind and ahead of Next or if you’re in a rush, let me just say thanks for coming, ask you to keep coming back – and if you have time, scroll down and give us your input in the polls.


Is there a niche for Next?


The history of “Next” is we wanted a place to tell a story that crossed Microsoft businesses and one that wasn’t oriented around news. For product related information, each group at Microsoft has its own site and for news, we have the News Center – run by the great team I sit alongside here in Redmond. On the more social side of things, we have an equally great team who I also sit alongside – they look after, @microsoft and the Microsoft channel on YouTube. Into all of that, we added another destination with Next and have spent the last 6 months carving out what I hope is a valuable niche. It’s a niche that does try to look over the horizon somewhat at trends such as Natural User Interface and explain how the trend is developing across the company, not just in Kinect or Surface. It’s a niche that also tries to bring to life some of the people and places inside of Microsoft – something our friends at Channel 9 do extremely well – and I’ll continue to partner with them as well as focus on a wider set of roles outside of the deep tech domain. Is there space for Next in an already busy Microsoft landscape of websites and blogs? I think so…but let’s look at the details:


What’s Worked & What Hasn’t

Traffic-wise, Next has built up slowly but surely, and almost every post on the site continues to attract views – which would suggest it’s achieving the aim of providing some unique content and not focusing on news. There are times I’ll focus on news but more often than not just point readers to better sources like News Center or product team sites. A few posts have stood out in terms of traffic

….there are a number of reasons why these posts are the most popular. Kinect and Windows Phone typically attract traffic though both of these were quite unique stories at the time and the Kinect one in particular benefitted hugely from Todd Bishop picking it up (thanks Todd!). The ‘augmented reality contact lens’ item turns out to just be a very interesting story that was prompted by a post on PSFK.

There have been some misses too and some real lessons for me as I reviewed these:


  • Driving Smart – suffers from a woefully bad title for the post and equally poor image that wouldn’t have popped in an RSS stream
  • A NUI future – a title too smart for it’s own good. The post contained a pretty interesting infographic but I blew it with the title
  • The Future of Mobile Tagging – I’m a little baffled by this one. The content (from PSFK) is solid, title and images seemed okay. Ideas??
  • Snowboards, Skis, Xbox, Bing, Windows, Netflix and more….an SEO-friendly title but lame for a reader, especially given good video inside the post.


Another aspect that has worked less well than I expected is the @MSFTNext Twitter handle. I only really use that handle to notify new posts, and while it’s gathered just under 3,000 followers it’s well behind similar handles from Microsoft. My sense is that tweeting out each story on my personal handle is proving more successful than @MSFTNext. I think it indicates that for this site at least, a person rather than an anonymous handle works better.


Make It More Personal

Some good learning’s above about titles, images and unique content. Another ongoing learning has been support I’ve had (mainly via email) when I’ve introduced more personality to the site. It seems people want more of my viewpoint as well as more stories about people at Microsoft. Notwithstanding the positive posts above, the series I wrote about people is on the way to being the second-most successful set of posts on the site so far (measured by traffic) – see below to find out what the most successful are likely to be.

It’s a constant battle I have in my own mind as to how much “Steve” I put into Next. From the start it felt like this was a Microsoft blog that I was the editor of, but more often I hear people refer to it as “Steve’s blog.” That’s given me room to pause and think perhaps it does need more of my viewpoint and with it possibly more edge. It potentially presents some issues when I someday move on to whatever is “next” for me, but for now, I’m heading in the direction of an increasingly personal viewpoint – where it makes sense. I’d welcome your views in this quick poll.


Show Us Where and How You Work

People week was very well received on this blog but Places week is storming ahead in terms of visitors to the site. My assumption is that the mix of formats (video, photography and synths) were engaging along with the simple fact that people are curious (even nosey!) and love to see inside other people’s homes and such. I think the same holds true here and I love it. It’s exactly the response I hoped for and we have a Places week v2 already in plan. If there are specific places you’d like to see, let me know in the comments below.


What’s Next for Next?

Six months feels like a good time to take stock and consider the next steps. As I’ve mentioned above, I’m going to add more of my voice in to the blog, run a second series of People and Places. Here’s a few other things on the list that I’d love your views on – I can’t do them all so have only allowed you to choose one, or perhaps even better, add your own idea.

That just leaves me to say thanks again for reading Next and I hope to repay you with more unique stories about Microsoft and leave you with one story that is more personal.