Designing tools you’ll use

Designing tools you’ll use

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Personal upfront investment vs. usage in Hotmail

We spend a lot of time studying how people manage their email. We know that people use a variety of tools to find messages, file messages, and navigate through all their mail. But some tools are used more commonly than others.

Of course, every tool has a certain learning curve that each person needs to go through to understand how it works. Some tools are simple, and might even feel as though you’ve used them a thousand times before (like sorting), and some tools are pretty complex to understand and configure (like rules, or custom keyboard shortcuts).

We’ve found that tools that require more time and effort to learn upfront tend to get used by fewer people. A tool that only a few people adopt might still be super handy for some folks – not to mention creative, clever, and cool. It’s just that there’s a converse correlation over time between the personal upfront time investment required to use any particular inbox management mechanism and the prevalence of its usage.

Chart showing usage of different inbox management and navigation tools

Source: Internal Microsoft data

We tend to geek out on technology here at the Mountain View, CA, facility where we build and manage Windows Live Hotmail. But as much as we like using ourselves as our own little focus group, we know that not everyone has the time or interest to invest in tinkering with complex features—no matter how handy or creative we think they are. Many people – maybe even most people – just want to get in and out of their email quickly and get done what they need to do.

That's why minimizing the upfront personal investment for our customers is one of the central engineering principles guiding our current work on Hotmail. Our goal is to make any new tool as discoverable as possible, as intuitive as possible, and as efficient as possible. We don’t always nail it right out of the gate for every new feature, but we try – and we iterate based on the feedback we get from you until we’ve gotten the job done.

Dick Craddock
Group Program Manager
Windows Live Hotmail

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  • sunco
    26 Posts

    This is so true: Even if a feature is used only by 5% of those who use Gmail, the 5% corresponds to 5 million people who are not using either Hotmail or Yahoo, as none of them gives them the tools they need.

    Also: Office have a lot of useless features (to me), but still a very great product (for me and others)

    Source (spanish):

  • Typhoon87
    27 Posts

    Have you completed the rool out of hotmail update that was started I belive in Oct of last year?  The one that introduced the new keyboard shortcuts and auto refreshing mailbox.  I am on bay 120 and still have not gotten it.

  • danielgr
    73 Posts


    I always find it funny how many times I read how Microsoft lacks innovation and leadership, how they are slow to implement things others do, etc. on one side. Then on the other side read comments like yours everytime they try something new. I always also find it funny how much our world has put the focus on "the customer", to the point many have forgotten that most of us play both the customer role and the service provider one in our daily lives (we do our respective jobs...).

    Personally, for a company as big as Microsoft, with such a huge customer installed base, on a business as rapid changing as IT, it has to be pretty difficult to keep up. No matter what they do, they'll always be criticized by one customer or another, each thinking only about their very own perspective.  If they try to keep up with smaller and more flexible companies in terms of evolution pace, the lazy/anti-geek customer (which also relies in Microsoft tech) will be mad at them. If they don't, all the geeks that populate the web reviews and media will condemn them as worthless dinosaurs of another era.

    Personally, I think they do a pretty good job given the difficulty of the task, but to go that far you have to remove your "egocentric customer" cap, and think about the people working there to make not only you, but thousands of millions of other customers, happy.

    Of course, for young people like me spending most of their lives in front of a computer/electronic device, it's only better to have so many competition and compelling products from many different companies and successful start-ups.

    As for the XP thing, it's now 10 years old, and two generations old. Seven buyers can even get backwards compatibility through XP-mode, and I do consider it's "time to let it go" for those that want more. It was already pretty nice how much more life the Wave3 Live tools brought to the otherwise aging XP while they existed. Now it's time to move on.

  • Seems to be great Idea of developing new windows live more advanced and with upgraded features. People in the industry always looks for the new and latest technologies, that satisfy them and makes them to take initiative in it. Well, lets hope for the best, will get the result soon once the new product is launched.

  • anonymuos
    87 Posts

    I meant support XP platform as that's what majority of your customers are on.

  • anonymuos
    87 Posts

    Then please design Windows Live Wave 4 for 60% of Windows customers.