posted by Wendy the Mighty

Why Microsoft Needs You and Why You Should Care

I have a problem.  It’s a small problem if one views the entire scope of world’s problems (i.e. Poverty, Death, Destruction, Global Warming, Plaid Jumpers, Etc).  Yes, it’s a very small, small problem.  But hey!  It’s a problem, and should therefore be solved.  And besides, solutions to big problems are often reached by resolving a million tiny ones.  I am not sure who said that, except for me, right now, but I am sure someone much wiser than me and much more famous has said it before, at least once and probably in a shorter amount of time.  

So, here’s my problem.  I test OIMs.  No, no.  That’s not my problem.  Well, it is, but it’s not the one I am referring to here.  OIMs are Offline Instant Messages, and, for those of you in the Dark Ages and have not played with OIMs, you probably have yet to experience the bliss and joy of receiving multiple OIMs from your mother when you sign in saying stuff like "Hey!  Are you on? Are you there?  Did you hear about your sister’s new boyfriend??  I tell you, you should call her immediately!  Did you get that news clip I sent you??"  Etc.  Etc.  Yes, true bliss!  Anyway, here I am a few weeks ago, skimming through blogs, newssites, spaces, etc, looking to see if anyone is encountering OIM problems that I can quickly jump in and resolve.  I love doing it.  It’s like being Superman!  Except I don’t fly, I am not a man, and the last time I wore tights I was also wearing pampers.  So I guess it would be safer to say it is not entirely unlike being Superman.

So, there I am and Poof!  All of a sudden, I see post after post after post of people not being able to send OIMs! What?!!?  Eh?!?!  Where?!?!  In a mad rush, I quickly set up some machines and start trying to repro.  Nothing wrong.  Nada.  Not a bit.  I am sending and receiving OIMs like a champ.  I try different connections, I try different accounts.  I try swearing and throwing books, but that doesn’t really help.  Well, it helps my morale, but nothing much else.

So, I turned to data from the Customer Experience Improvement Program, or CEIP.  "Zeee-iiipe?"  you say.  No, no.  It’s pronounced "Sip".  Well, that’s how I pronounce it anyway.    CEIP provides the data points we collect on the performance of Messenger. 

Opting into CEIP

  • Sign into Messenger.
  • Under Help, Click on the "Customer Experience Improvement Program" menu option.
  • Select the "I want to help make Microsoft software and services even better." radio button.
  • Click on OK.
  • Exit completely out of Messenger.
  • Sign in again.

WAIT!!!

Ok.  Some of you are probably freaking out.  In the virtual world, we are victims of viruses, worms, spim, spam, and vicious adware, as well as getting little notes tacked onto our back with such lines as "I am weird and my mother dresses me funny."  Ok.  Maybe that last one was just me (chucks her slide rule at all her old High School classmates).  But basically, we are taught that if we click a link or read a junkmail, we are risking the health and well-being of our computer, as well as possibly risking our VERY LIVES.  Yes, yes.  But let me tell you the type of information we are going to be getting from your good deed, and WHY YOU SHOULD CARE.

Getting back to my OIM dilemma.  I asked for our people to pull out the CEIP datapoints on OIMs so I could see if there was a spike in any of our metrics to explain why people were having difficulty sending OIMs.  I found a spike in the CEIP data.  It seems a few of our machines had suffered a massive heat stroke and were paralyzed.  Ok.  Maybe not.  I know as much about hardware as I do about Giant Sloths.  Which is to say, I could probably tell you if one were upside down, but not much more…  and even that I am not guaranteeing.

Moving on…. Don’t you like side tracks?  They are like the happy little mud puddles one gets to play in just after a rainy day.  Not that I still do that.  Well, not often anyway.  Moving on again…

So, the bad news is that people were hitting the bad servers for hours.  Possibly a full day or more.  Granted, not a very large percentage of users since we do have a LOT of servers and only a few had issues, but still… If you were one of those users, you would be pretty peeved!  And, while we do have TONS of failsafes and monitors to hunt for software or hardware gone bad (I LOVE that phrase, can I just say), sometimes no matter how many bells and whistles you put on a door, something slinks through.    Again, this is where CEIP helps us.

Since only a very small percentage of people actually opt in to CEIP data collection, it takes awhile for the spike in data to present itself to those looking for such things.  If, however, MANY people opted in, we could see those spikes, theoretically, almost as they happen, and an investigation with a fix to follow could occur within MINUTES as opposed to hours or even, <cringes> days.  And, while a lot of the data is collected to ensure the performance level of our features and the quality of our service, sometimes they can definitely be used for realtime troubleshooting.  Which is awesome.  Especially if you are a hardworking tester in dire need of realtime data (looks around innocently trying not to point to herself).

Now, to answer your (probable) number 1 question:  "Just what the heck data will you be collecting?!?"  Well, first you have to remember that Microsofties are not like normal people.  Things that interest us put other people right to sleep.  Like Http Errors, and Service Unavailable Errors, Connection Timed Out Errors and other such things.  Hey!  Wake up!!  Yes, I  know, boring boring boring.  But they are important to you… and to me.  If you have ever sent an IM or an OIM and got back the lovely "The message Blah Blah could not be sent." reply, then it is important to you.  Opting in to CEIP data collection will increment the appropriate datapoints.  And when the datapoints from your sessions along with everyone else’s who has opted in are collected together by our SuperParser (it’s really not called that, but shouldn’t it?!?), and the CEIP report is made, your information becomes part of a very big picture.  And, as I said, it could allow our people to find those terribly annoying one-off errors fast and furiously.  This link provides a little information about what type of data is collected and why (you can click the Read More link in the data collection dialog if you want EVEN more).   Also, the Privacy Policy is a riveting read.  A RIVETING READ I tell you….

Is this the only thing that CEIP data collection is used for?  Nah, not at all.  It also increments datapoints that keep track of how often a user may navigate using a certian type of UI.  And there are datapoints that increment if a user uses a Help link, etc.  All will help us make sure that our UI is usable, and that our features are intuitive and easily reachable.   Lots of datapoints!  Too many to mention in one tiny blog.

Things that are NOT collected include any personal information that could be used to determine one CEIP data file from any other, including one from someone else.  Meaning no personal information at all is included.  Not even how many times "lol" is used in a singe session – wouldn’t it be cool if we knew?!?  I mean, it’s got to be the most overused three-letter expression… EVER!  Anyway, we don’t track that.  Sadly.  Come on!  Wouldn’t it be funny?!?  Imagine the headlines… "LOL used 4000 times per second!".  

So, again here are the instructions for opting into CEIP:

Opting into CEIP

  • Sign into Messenger.
  • Under Help, Click on the "Customer Experience Improvement Program" menu option.
  • Select the "I want to help make Microsoft software and services even better." radio button.
  • Click on OK.
  • Exit completely out of Messenger.
  • Sign in again.

This plea comes from every tester who spends a bazillion (rough estimate) hours in tiny labs with very little ventilation* trying to discover why fifteen people in Peoria can’t send Emoticons.  PLEASE OPT IN!  Increment the datapoints. Save the life (or at least the sanity) of a software tester.  The life you save… well, could be mine.

Wendy the Mighty

 *Ok.  Maybe not very little ventilation.  Actually our labs are quite nice.  And the one I use is really close to the automatic hot cocoa dispenser (AHCD, pronounced "auwk-ed"), which, can I say, is just the best invention ever.