Where do the Smiles go?

Over the last month, you've sent us thousands and thousands of comments about Office 2007 Beta 2 using the Send a Smile tool. For taking the time to install our beta and writing down your thoughts (positive and negative) I am very grateful.

A few bloggers have posited that "it's not worth sending feedback because Microsoft doesn't read it anyway." Even among a few people who aren't quite so cynical, I've seen it insinuated that the comments don't end up being read by the product team but instead go to some ineffectual "feedback team" or some database somewhere that no one looks at.

To try to set the record straight, I thought I'd take a few minutes today to explain exactly how the Send a Smile comments are handled, all the way from downloading the tool to a comment landing in my Inbox.

The first step, of course, is you taking the time to install the Send a Smile tool and clicking the Smile or Frown icon in the taskbar to give us a comment.

Click on these cute faces, you know you want to.

There's a text box to type your comment, and optionally you can include a picture of your screen and your e-mail address (so that we can contact you if necessary.) The screen capture is a really interesting and useful part of the feedback... especially where the UI is concerned--I know I love seeing exactly what people are experiencing on their screens. But, of course, you can just send the text if you'd rather.

OK, so you type your comment and click the Send button. The comment goes into a database here at Microsoft.

When they first enter the Send a Smile system, all comments are "untagged," which means that they haven't been looked at yet to determine which team should read the feedback.

Our usability engineers are what we call the "first-level taggers." They use a web site where they can read every comment and then tag it according to the groups to which the comment is directed.

For instance, a smile about the Styles gallery in Word would get tagged for the user experience team (my team) and the Word team. This tagging process ensures that someone from the usability team reads every single comment submitted through the tool.

Once the comment has been read once and tagged appropriately, "second-level taggers" from each group read the comments again. For example, for the UI, there are three program managers on my team who read every comment and further tag them according to exactly who owns each of the features.

The comment (along with screenshot if available) is then sent via e-mail directly to the people who make decisions about the feature with a link back to the database. The second-level taggers often include additional people on the feedback e-mails as well; for instance, they usually include me so that I can read every UI-related comment that people send.

The Send a Smile internal tagging UI and comment viewer
(Click to view full picture)

So, by the time your feedback has been through the entire system, it has been read by at least one usability engineer, representatives from each of the teams or areas referenced in the comment, and then the person or people directly responsible for the feature.

Once it's been through this process, the life of the comment isn't over. We also have the ability to search comments by area or content, so if we want to put together all of the Send a Smile feedback about the Mini Toolbar, for instance, we can do that in a number of seconds.

This feedback mechanism has already had a big impact on the product. Specifically in the user interface, we've been able to spot a few significant trends in the data that we're using to help make improvements to the product even as we speak. And of course, the many positive comments we receive help us not to tinker with the things that it seems we've gotten right.

The long and short of it all this: please install and use the Send a Smile tool and help us let other people who are using Office 2007 Beta 2 know it exists.

And then send us feedback, telling us what you like and what you don't (and why!). This is the most direct way for anyone in the world to get their feedback heard by the right person, with none of the barriers usually associated with trying to give feedback to a big company (phone trees, "customer service representatives", etc.)

I can't guarantee that we'll act on every comment (which would be impossible anyway since many of the comments directly contradict other comments), but I can promise that we read them, consider them, and use them to help make decisions about the product.