It's that time of year again... the third annual blogoversary of the exchange product team blog! And because we are a self-centered, narcissistic bunch of geeks, we thought we'd use this opportunity to ruminate about the origins of our little baby here – the tiny little baby that's currently getting about 6 million page views per month. As a parent of two, I find it amusing some of the parallels I see between this how I feel about this blog and my kids... I can't believe the blog is growing up so fast, I felt like I was in control in the beginning and now it's become much bigger than I ever imagined, etc etc. As a parent, what I want most for my children is for them to be happy and healthy and the same applies to the blog.
I personally got into blogging around September of 2003, at which point I started my own blog (on the now-defunct blogs.gotdotnet.com which later became blogs.msdn.com and blogs.technet.com). I posted some little tidbit about outlook or exchange nearly every work day for several months, and the feedback from my customers was amazing, it was so cool to talk to customers every single day. I also started to get increasing requests for support for Exchange or questions about Exchange on my blog, at which point I started to mull around the idea of starting a team blog for Exchange. I spent some time looking around the company to see if anyone else had one, and at the time I do not believe there were any. A lot of people were negative about the idea - how could a team blog have a 'human voice', for example? I'd like to think we have achieved that human voice, for the most part, over the last few years.
So I started to put together a plan on how this could work – who was our target audience for the team blog, what were the goals of what we wanted to provide in the blog & get out of it, how many authors would we need, how often would they need to write, what kind of content would they write, etc. While writing this post, I dug up the first email I sent out for recruiting the first authors (shh don't tell anyone I still have some email back to '04 saved ;-), and smiled because I remembered that in the mail I had to explain that blogs weren't just for teenagers talking about the CD they're currently listening to, but that they were rapidly growing in the technical space as well. I also remember getting feedback from potential authors who said they didn't feel like they had anything groundbreaking to say. When I explained to them that this wasn't just an opportunity to talk, but to ask/listen, they got much more excited.
There were only a few minor hiccups along the way. I had to do a fair amount of work with legal to get things going as well as convince other groups of potential writers that we weren't putting ourselves too much at risk, that we could protect ourselves against someone posting copyrighted content, etc. My favorite story about these times is when I was referred to a very senior guy who was active in a certain blogging community and asking for his advice on the team blog, and he told me: "Nice idea, but it'll never work. You'll get three... no, two people to write for it." Hah! Good thing I didn't listen. Of course, he was right in one way – it did take a lot of my time and energy to get enough content to make the blog active and interesting. Since that time we've been asked many times for our advice on running a team blog, and that's a point I can't emphasize enough... garbage-in, garbage-out. Spend the time to grow a great garden.
Of course, one major challenge was to come up with a name. I polled the MVPs for ideas and one of them suggested "You Had Me At EHLO"... once I heard the name, I knew it was the right one. We also put together some silly logos on our cafepress store with the URL too, only funny to serious exchange geeks like us though.
A variety of other community activities happened around the same time, such as some evangelization of wikis and exploration of how they could possibly play a role in our documentation. Since then we've launched our own test wiki for the e2k7 beta at http://www.exchangeninjas.com/, and of course there's the MSDN wiki as well.
And to make a long story short, we launched it on February 9th, 2004 with a lame-o "first post!" joke from me and an awesome post about the M drive history from Jon Avner. Over the years I'd have to say that that is one of my all-time favorite posts because it includes useless but interesting trivia as well as technical information about the product. There are of course plenty of great meaty technical articles, but some of my favorites are the less geeky ones, for example the CD-vs-DVD post when we were deciding what media to use for e2k7. Here's where we asked for feedback, and here's where we announced the decision. I love it because it's such a concrete example of how community feedback directly helped shape the product. Another interesting test case was when we asked for customer references – we got five within 24 hours (the first within 8 minutes!) which was just a phenomenal return compared to how long those things normally take, and really brought home the value of the blog and its direct connection to our customers.
And of course there's the most excellent Exchange limerick contest, the winners of which are printed up and displayed in the hallways of our building. I still snicker every time I read "or wherever you store your phone..." and the "two-twenty, I'm home". And on that note, we have a special announcement to make, as we're having another contest with a fantabulous prize for the top winner – see the next post coming up soon!