Microsoft Office LIVE Focus Group

PremiseToday was the first time that Redmond has reached out to put money into my pocket. About a week ago, I received a phone call asking me to work with a market research firm to speak about their product - Microsoft Office Live. The whole program is software as a service - in other words, you pay for programs as if they were a subscription with varying levels of functionality and support for different price points. I think the whole concept is ok in form but Microsoft's implementation has been horrific at best - they seem to get that, hence the focus groups targeting users that signed up but then almost never went back.

Body Upon arrival at a rather interesting office building, I was asked once again to screen and answer questions that pertained to the study. It's ok... I guess, but it was the third time that I was screened (the first at the initial interview request and the second upon the confirmation of the appointment). I understand the need to be thorough but I think it's a bit much to answer the same questions three times over. The desk attendants showed me to a waiting area with some warm sandwiches and soda. As more people arrived, it became clear that they weren't going to take everyone and lo and behold they took only three of the crowd that had assembled.

I didn't hear what became of the others because I was called into the room for the focus group. There was the stereotypical mirrored glass behind which researchers were scrutinizing our every move and phrase. This is normal to me now since I have completed a number of different focus groups around the Boston area. The warmup questions were similar and always landed just short of what we were there to discuss. I think that it was an interesting contrast between we three chosen ones - one artist lady that didn't know anything about computers that AOL didn't tell her - one would be start-up guy that thought he knew everything about computers but had a financial advisor's background - and then me, the college kid that works in IT working towards a degree in MIS. It was clear that I had the most technical knowledge of the bunch. I'm not making that distinction because I'm "better" so to speak but rather because they drew a good diverse background - a fair cross section of the possible future users.

An hour later we had decided that the program wasn't useful because it was too hard to navigate and wasn't giving the user what it needed when it needed it. In other words it wasn't user friendly or intuitive. As a group we had given the researchers some targeted feedback that I think was worth our $130 honoraria... If I do say so myself. It will be interesting to watch over the next few months to see if anything from our small panel actually makes it to the end product at Microsoft.

With that, I bid you adue - I'm hoping that these will come more often now that final exams are over for me. I definitely appreciate your readership and hope that you stay tuned!