A few months ago, I quietly took over responsibility for the Microsoft Research web site.
I've never been one to march in and immediately start making sweeping changes, so since then I've been learning about the site and the team, and learning as much as I can about what we have and what we can do.
There's a lot of amazing content on the site, but it can be very difficult to find. I need to fix that. The home page in general is a mess, and I need to fix that too. And, of course because I'm an avid blogger, I'm thinking about what kinds of RSS feeds we could do that would make it easier for people to keep track of what's happening at MSR — and how to categorize or segment it to capture, at least at a high level, people's interests so they can subscribe to the right feeds.
One of the interesting things about the Microsoft Research site is that everyone in MSR gets to have their own home page hosted on our web site. This is the truly amazing thing: keeping true to the spirit of an open research lab, MSR gives them (including me) almost complete control over their own home pages. As you can imagine, this should give the lawyers and marketing people fits — and sometimes it does. But it's the right thing for our business, so we do it, and we work with the lawyers to make the best of it. The only real exception to the rule is that researchers can't post anything illegal or confidential on their web site. For everything else, we trust our employees to do the right thing. We try to give them help, guidance, templates to make it easy for them to make their site look nice, but they can ignore all of that if they want to.
Other than the sleepless nights for the lawyers, the only real downside is that it makes it hard to make search work really well on our site. Researchers often forget to tell us when they post a new document on their site, or if they do something particularly funky with their pages we don't always index it correctly. We have centralized a few things, like a system for posting code, but overall it's very decentralized, which is largely how it should be.
This morning I kicked off an effort to make some improvements on the site. We have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks, but I'm excited about the kinds of changes that we can make. There is always pressure with these sorts of things to turn it into a major redesign and re-architecture that takes months, and I am working very hard to avoid that. I think we're going to be very surgical, at least in the early stages. There's a lot of low-hanging fruit that will fix some basic problems and add a lot of value for the people who visit the site. I know a lot of things I don't want to do with the site: I don't want it to be a portal site, nor a social-networking service for the research community. I don't want to host blogs; there are enough other sites, including several Microsoft properties, that do that already. Bascialy, I want a clean, friendly, highly informative site where it's easy to find the information about MSR that you're looking for and it's easy to stay up-to-date on what's new.
If you have thoughts about what you would find useful, I'd love to hear it. Though you should assume that if you send me an idea or post a comment here, you're contributing your idea to the public domain and if I take it and use it, don't come asking me for money. If you have a great idea that you think is valuable, I think that's wonderful and I strongly encourage you to keep it to yourself and go do something with it so you can get filthy rich. But by all means, then don't tell it to me because I believe very strongly in intellectual property and I want to respect yours.
Stay tuned. [Kevin Schofield's Weblog]