Just-In-Time or Just-Too-Much Information?

From faxes to RSS feeds and beyond

I'm dating myself here, but I've been thinking about how differently we all consume information now versus 20 years ago. Like everybody's great-grandmother who remembers walking 20 miles to school, barefoot, in a snowstorm, I remember when faxes were so exciting and shiny (literally!) that they immediately grabbed your attention. When the thrill of faxes wore off, email became the way to get an immediate response— until everyone's inbox became hopelessly overcrowded. Now an enormous number of communications channels compete for our attention: IM, text messaging, ubiquitous cell phones, etc., etc. RSS seems to be the latest attention-grabber, but if you're anything like me, you have so many RSS notifications now that you can't keep up with them. I'm thinking about all this because I'm thinking about how best to serve readers' needs.

The Windows IT Pro editorial team is in the midst of a huge project to create meta tags for 11 years' worth of content on our Web site, which is the largest independent Windows community in the world (second only to Microsoft, which, as we all know, is not independent). The project's goal is to enable readers to custom-build content collections or call up exactly the information that will best serve your needs, without having to sift through huge lists of search results. What we're doing includes creating the ability to notify readers when the content you want is available. (We'll also be introducing new ways for you to receive subscriptions to specific types of content—but more about that, as well as about our new SharePoint, Microsoft Office, and Microsoft .NET communities, next month.) I'd love to hear how you like to consume information and how we can simplify your life by providing just-in-time answers to your problems. What resources do you find particularly valuable and why? What are your biggest complaints?

Microsoft's Resources
The challenge of providing the right resources via the right delivery vehicle is also on people's minds at Microsoft. The other day, I was talking with Meryem Tom, the group marketing manager in charge of TechNet Plus subscriptions, which provide access to Microsoft's software and support resources. Meryem told me Microsoft had just added a new SKU of TechNet Plus digital subscriptions. This SKU is called TechNet Plus Direct and provides an alternative way to deliver the subscription resources.

In case you're not familiar with TechNet Plus, Meryem explained, "It's a collection of resources that IT professionals can utilize across the IT life cycle, all the way from evaluation of the software to deploying and operating to troubleshooting. This includes the entire Microsoft software library, and the full version of all that software is available for evaluation purposes—the software is not time-bombed. IT professionals can take their time, based on their business needs, to evaluate each piece of software as they see appropriate."

Meryem continued, "TechNet Plus subscribers get two free support incidents with their subscription and then 20 percent off further support incidents, as well as free access to up to four Microsoft e-learning courseware modules per quarter, more than 100 newsgroups managed by Microsoft experts, and online concierge chat. Also, a tool that exclusively ships with the subscription is System Center Capacity Planner \[SCCP\], which helps customers proactively size and plan for the deployments of Exchange 2003 and MOM 2005." (For information about SCCP, see the Web-exclusive article "What's Microsoft System Center Capacity Planner 2006?" August 2006, InstantDoc ID 93257 or go to http://www.microsoft.com/systemcenter/sccp/default.mspx.)

The new TechNet Plus Direct addresses user convenience by letting "subscribers access all TechNet Plus resources online, including downloading their evaluation software (for example, Windows Server) through a secure download center. By way of contrast, with the alternative TechNet Plus subscription, users get physical media when they first join the program and DVD updates every month."

Does online access affect pricing? Meryem replied, "Because there are no CDs to ship, we can reduce the yearly retail price to $349, in contrast with TechNet Plus single user, which costs $499 retail. TechNet Plus Single Server costs $999 retail and allows a company to put those resources on a server so a group of IT professionals can access them from that server."

Like me, Meryem is very interested in learning more about your needs and preferences. "If there are ways for us to make the offering more relevant or easy to use, I'd like to understand what those are. Your readers are welcome to provide input into what other things they'd like to see in the subscriptions."

I told Meryem that I'd be happy to collect any feedback you have on these subscriptions and share it with her. I'll also report back to you on the responses I get.

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