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Back in my days as a carefree college student who spent the majority of her time either on the road with her favorite band, or else figuring out how to hit as many shows as possible the next time they went on tour, I heard my fair share of feedback. While the regularity of hearing that eyeball-vibrating sound is pretty much a thing of the past for me, at Microsoft I hear the word “feedback” on a near-daily basis.  Although the context is different, the meaning is essentially the same: something needs attention.

I suppose it’s a company culture thing because it pervades just about every organization and every function you could possibly encounter as an employee.  If you attend a training session, symposium, or any other company-sponsored event, there’ll be a survey to fill out afterwards.  Every year there’s a company-wide survey related to overall job satisfaction, and in my particular department, there’s another one that’s really similar to the company-wide one, but it’s specific to just our group.  Then there’s the surveys we send out to our clients about their level of satisfaction with the service we provide (I’m in the search advertising space).

Does it get a bit annoying and tedious?  Yes, it does.  Do I see the value in it?  Yes… I do.  There have been several instances where I’ve seen the feedback loop in action, and I’ve only been with the company for a little over a year.  Sure, it may take a while for you to see the results of the feedback… but it does happen, which is truly refreshing.  I’ve held jobs where any feedback you gave would just get dumped into a black hole, but I can honestly say that I don’t think that’s the case at Microsoft. Or rather, I should say it’s not the case with my particular group.  I should probably acknowledge that I work in the search engine marketing space, which is the equivalent of a start-up within Microsoft.  I suppose it’s possible that my management team is more open to suggestion than some of the more well-established groups’ managers are, but I’d like to think it’s a company-wide value that I’ll be able to count on throughout my career.

Do I have a point aside from thinking out loud?  I suppose I do.  This post was inspired by reading an article where the author was pondering the possibility of a Microsoft-Facebook deal, in which he pointed out that there are several anti-Microsoft groups on Facebook that are threatening to leave the service should such a deal materialize.  At one point, he quoted a user who indicated if Microsoft made cars, they would just break down for no reason.  I thought that was a particularly inane comment… if something breaks down, there’s a reason for it. 

Yes, Microsoft has a reputation of delivering flawed products, I’m not coming to their defense on that front… software isn’t my area and I don’t have any visibility into that side of the business at all: no comment.  However, I have to wonder if this same person who made the cars comment had clicked “Yes” on the dialog box asking them if they would allow Microsoft to collect data on their user experience, or if they ever clicked through to send feedback about any errors they enountered? 

As an aside, I couldn’t help but smirk when I read the following quote from that article:

Rebecca Jennings, an analyst with Forrester, said that Microsoft and Facebook had “fundamentally different cultures”. Facebook was set up primarily as a services business, whereas Microsoft’s origins had been as a software and technology company, she said.

I see her point about the cultures being different, but I found it odd that there was no mention of Microsoft’s current strategy of software + services, which has been repeated ad nauseum for quite some time now.

Have you checked Surface out yet?  It’s definitely one of the coolest, most innovative things I’ve seen since I started working at Microsoft. I first heard about Surface when they announced it last year.  Shortly thereafter, the marketing department sent out an email inviting employees to attend an informational session on it — I signed up immediately.  Luckly I arrived early enough to get a seat… the place was packed!  It got down to standing room only and even then people were clamoring for a prime vantage point along the back wall.

Unlike the iPhone’s scrolling-trackpad-on-steroids touch system, Surface’s interface is way cooler and does a lot more.  There are 5 cameras built into the base that read the objects and gestures it “sees” on the tabletop.  For more specific details on how it works, you can visit the Platform page on the Surface site.  You’ll find some of the demos presented during that informational session there as well, but to give you a brief rundown, I’ve outlined some of the more impressive ones below.

Surface isn’t available for consumers yet, but it has made its debut in the retail space with AT&T in New York City, Atlanta, San Antonio and San Francisco.  Right now they’re using it to show the coverage area for their plans…

… and as a really cool sales tool to help shoppers compare features on different phones:

The non-retail applications are pretty spiffy too.  You can sort through digital representations of your photo collections and videos as though they were actual prints laid out on a tabletop:

You can organize and access your music collection with the CD artwork intact:

… and you can use it to figure out how to get from point A to point B:

I don’t want to get myself into trouble by talking about applications that haven’t been officially announced yet, so I’m going to leave it here for now.  For information on how (and where) Surface is currently being used, you can visit the Opportunities page for details and you can keep up with the latest by reading the blog.  They’ve got some great content over there that should give you a pretty good idea of what this thing is capable of.