A year ago today, we introduced the preview of Outlook.com. It was the first step in our mission to reimagine personal email, from the datacenter all the way to the customer experience. As we said then, the launch of the preview was just the start. It represented an opportunity to learn together as we rolled out and scaled this new service. It’s been an exciting and feature-packed 12 months since then.
You’ve been a tremendous help in making Outlook.com a better service for all of us-and the world’s fastest growing email service-so we want to take a moment to say thank you. Your feedback has been key to delivering over 600 additions, changes and improvements, packaged in 34 feature releases in the last year.
Delivering on personal email
In the past, we’ve talked about how we believe in an email service that’s personal-one that’s designed for the type of email you receive, keeps your address book updated with your people, works with the services you choose, and puts you in control. Another very important aspect of email that’s personal is that your feedback and input are a core part of how we designed and continue to update Outlook.com.
Of course, we do a great deal of research and testing throughout our development process. But just as important is the feedback we get once you’re using the product. We started by changing how we collect feedback, making it far more prominent in the UI. In fact, the average number of monthly feedback submissions for Outlook.com is about 50 times what we received with Hotmail. This alone has been huge in getting a wealth of information about what you’d like to see to improve Outlook.com. This is in addition to all the things we hear through focus groups, research, events, and of course on this blog.
All of this feedback is triaged daily or weekly to provide a list of what we’re hearing, the current status on investigation, and the plan for what we’re going to do. Some feedback is pretty clear, like “can you add <feature>?” When feedback is less clear, we’ll often reach out directly to the person giving the feedback, to understand more about what they’re asking for. We also work very closely with our support team to parse this info, because one person’s feature request can be another person’s support issue.
Some of the feedback is asking for major, prominent new features. But more often, it’s for a whole range of smaller things that might not be as noticeable, but when you add them all up, become a huge part of what makes Outlook.com the email service that’s truly personal.
Top 12 in the last 12 months
In terms of the size of the feature, here are the top twelve that have been delivered based on your feedback.
We know there are 1 or 2 big ones you’ve asked for that we haven’t quite gotten to yet. We hear you and we’re working on it.
And about 600 more improvements thanks to you
While all of those big features are what people often notice most, one of the things that we believe is key to Outlook.com is a real pride in craftsmanship and attention to detail. This means that any piece of feedback big or minutely small is important and we work hard to ensure that every feature and scenario is polished.
For example, when it came to the header, we thought a lot about whether to put Mail, People, Calendar, SkyDrive and other header links as persistent visual items or go with a drawer-like option where they only appear when you want them. We have a strong focus on content over chrome, giving you more of what you want and less clutter, so we opted for the drawer. Like other UI elements, we had the drop-down option only appear when you hover over it. But a piece of feedback we heard often was that people were having trouble finding their calendar. So we made the drop-down caret persistent rather than being enabled on hover. A simple change that dramatically reduced the number of people having trouble finding their calendar.
Sometimes it’s not even about changing the feature, but just ensuring you have a choice. For example, while most people want to go to the next message after deleting or moving a mail, there were some who wanted to return to their inbox. So we made that an option that you could configure.
There are many more changes that improve usability, save you a click here or there, provide more flexibility, speed up performance, provide more fluid animations, and improve discoverability.
Performance and reliability are key
In the last 12 months, we’ve made over 100 updates to help improve performance, reliability and stability. Sometimes, it’s about better compression, network routing, or other similar things that speed up data flow. Other times, it’s about smart caching or adding intelligence on how your experience works to improve performance. For instance, as you’re reading a message, we’ll be caching the message before and after so if you hit Next (or Previous) that message can load a lot faster. Other times, it’s about UI that helps improve the perception of performance. For example, when a file is uploading, having a clear progress bar helps make people comfortable that things are moving along. However we attack a problem, all of this investment is geared to ensuring you have a high-performing and reliable service.
That said, we had some bumps over the last year and there were places where our performance hasn’t met the high standard we set for ourselves. A few months ago, we had a temperature spike that impacted one of our data centers and caused some customers to suffer a service outage for about half a day. And over the past few weeks, we’ve had a few periods where performance for some customers in Europe was unacceptably slow. So while there’s a lot to be proud of in the last year, we are not okay with these types of issues. We’ve fully investigated and fixed those specific items and made sure they don’t happen again. We take performance and reliability very seriously, so if you ever think there’s a problem, visit your service status dashboard to see if we’re aware of an issue or visit our support center for more help. We’ll absolutely continue to invest a ton in performance and reliability to ensure you have a stellar experience that keeps getting better.
Thank you and keep the feedback coming
It’s been a pretty busy and exciting 12 months (and less than 6 months since we came out of preview on February 19). Thank you all for the hundreds of improvements you’ve helped us make, and for choosing to make Outlook.com part of your daily lives. We’re excited about where we are today, the world’s fastest growing email service-and there’s still a ton more to come. So keep letting us know what you want to see next and how we can deliver an amazing personal email service for you. You can always leave comments on the blog or by using the feedback tool in the product. Just click on Feedback from the options menu in your Outlook.com inbox.
–Dick Craddock, Group Program Manager, Outlook.com