Another Kind of Launch

Another Kind of Launch.

This morning we launched an update to the Microsoft Research web site. This project has been going on for about a month, and I blogged about it right at the start. The updated site features:

– a new, easier-to-navigate home page
– improved search capabilities
3 RSS feeds, for News, Publications, and Downloads.

Contrary to intuition, Microsoft Research's web site isn't run by the same people who run the rest of We build and host our own site. It was our choice, and there's a very good reason: it gives us the flexibility to try out research technologies on our own web site, and it allows us to host researchers' own web pages — a “must do” for any computer science research lab. As you can see from 5 minutes of perusing the site, our researchers have a tremendous amount of autonomy on their own web sites. Some come up with remarkable designs; others use just a vanilla design or a template that the web support team gives them. But the important thing is that it's totally their choice.

I mention all that because for the last month the (very small) MSR web team has knocked themselves out to get this done and launched. They learned all about RSS, evaluated systems, and got one up and running. The analyzed our current search capabilities, then designed and implemented improvements. And they redesigned the home page (as well as several supporting pages). It was a lot of work for a small team. Good job! We still have a few small tweaks; and thankfully people are sending us feedback and suggestions and we're listening and fixing things up as fast as we can. Someone reported a bug in the XML underlying our RSS feeds this morning, and we fixed it this afternoon.

The RSS feeds aren't blogs, nor were they designed to be. We get asked a lot for ways to help people stay up to date on the latest and greatest stuff in MSR, and so we decided to use RSS feeds (true to its name — Really Simple Syndication) to make it super easy. If you're looking for a blog, well, I guess you just have to read my random blatherings still 🙂 At some point in the future, if we get enough demand from researchers, we'd host their blogs, but the researchers are pretty busy and there are enough other places that host blogs that I'm not sure it's really the best use of our limited resources to do that. We may add additional RSS feeds on special topics (such as information about some of our University Relations initiatives, or conferences or other events) but I expect we'll wait a while to see what the response is to the three that we're starting with now. Part of the equation, of course (as with blogs) is to make sure that we can really keep them up with fresh, relevant content, otherwise we're just misleading people by offering RSS feeds. So we're going to wade in a bit, learn some lessons about how to do this right, and then evolve from there.

It's a good start. Please let us know what you think, so we can make it even better.  [Kevin Schofield's Weblog]

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