Monday, 11 July 2016

Windows 10 Insider Hub App: Two Years On

Back in August 2015 I wrote an article about the 'Insider Hub' app which was available to Windows Insiders. 

Today, one year on in July 2016, I'm revisiting the same article with another look at the hub app, which is now retitled the 'Feedback Hub'. 

What's changed in a year? Sadly, not a lot. 

The SAME issues I wrote about a year ago as being the most disappointing and annoying aspects of the Insider Hub still reside in the Feedback Hub. Despite words of encouragement from Microsoft for all Insiders to be excited about the actual feedback aspect of the Insider Project, very little has moved on and been developed.

An Introduction to Insider Feedback

I used the definition from The Oxford Dictionary for the word "hub" in last year's article, which defines it as being "The effective centre of an activity, region, or network". 12 months on, and this definition is STILL likely to make many insiders laugh out loud.

Whereas Windows 10 itself has developed from the original v1507 release on to v1511 and to the soon v1607 version which has some rather noticeable visual and background changes, the actual feedback nature of the Insider Programme, from an actual Insider user perspective, has changed very little. 

If the 'Insider Hub' and 'Windows Feedback' apps were version 1.0, then what we have now, with both apps combined into the 'Feedback Hub', could be seen as v1.5. Realistically, almost coming up to 2 years on from the creation of the Insider Programme somewhere around October 2014, we should see any Insider Feedback app as version 3.0 by now in terms of its evolution. Sadly, the feedback aspect has not kept pace with the development of Windows 10 itself.

The UWP platform hasn't taken off as hoped for by Microsoft or its fans, but it has at least seen some noticeable transformation over Windows 10's lifetime, with the main system apps now genuinely useful, quite stable and aptly supported by the much better Windows Store (at least the one in v1607).

The Insider Hub was supposed to be the heart of the Insider Programme. Something we'd use each day, immersing ourselves with it in terms of feedback that goes two-ways with Microsoft & fellow Insiders. All the latest news and information about Windows 10 development would be in the hub, where we'd be given specific quests to perform and providing results that were tangible and rewarding for us performing them. Sadly, that's still not materialised, with the quests almost feeling like a chore at best, or, at worse, completely irrelevant to the device we're on. This is further evidence about how far the actual Insider feedback aspect of Windows 10 is the lagging tremendously behind the OS.

The Feedback Hub is nowhere near the heart of the Insider Programme, but lingering more near the belly button, for it's as much use as the fluff we inner-belly button people find on a daily basis. As each day ends, we find fluff that looks exactly the same as the previous day, is of next to no use to us, and will be back again the next day. Nevertheless, much like the heart still is, the belly button was an integral part of where our body originally was fed but, unlike the heart, the belly button is now a fossil, going nowhere. The Feedback Hub feels similar in terms of treading water.  

The Feedback Hub has improved over time in minor ways, much like the Action Centre has started to become more useful and interactive from v1607 onwards. But, it's STILL not the pinnacle of Insider Information & Interaction. That source continues to come largely from Twitter, via the new Insider Chief Dona Sarkar (replacing the brilliant Gabe Aul) and the large decent number of Microsoft Employees who also reside on that social network. Want to find out about fixes, feedback and future possible changes? Head to twitter or 3rd-party windows news sites, because as sure as sure, you'll get little to no early information on developments or details about your feedback from the Feedback Hub.

The Feedback Hub continues to sum up what I said about it in 2015, which was that most Insiders might feel their feedback relationship with Microsoft is akin to being their poor cousin; they only come to us when they want something, and then we don't see them again for years, and we have no idea what they did with that present we gave them.

Microsoft are taking telemetry data from our Windows 10 PCs by the barrel load, which we are knowingly & willingly providing, but what do we actually know about that data? We know something (click link for my telemetry article) but still very little. To the most part, if you're talking about Feedback and the Feedback Hub, we probably know just as much about the telemetry as we do with our feedback via the hub, in terms of actual submitted feedback items, and, yes, those ruddy quests. That is, we know very little. We hear pint-size portions on feedback responses or have to wait weeks to hear anything via the hub. Microsoft themselves are combing through our telemetry and feedback on a daily basis, making decisions on that data and then producing actions or crossing items off their list. 

What do we hear about Microsoft’s current thought process and decision making based on OUR latest feedback? Nothing.

When do we find out if that feedback request or bug is getting any attention? 

The answer is ... When Microsoft want us to know ... or if we badger a Microsoft employee on twitter.

The ONLY time we get any tangible information about our feedback via the hub is from the "Made By You" articles which are often months behind the times, or when new builds come out and we see things like "We fixed that problem you were telling us about". Yeah, thanks for that Microsoft.

"We're listening to your feedback" is what we're told by Microsoft. Yes, they might be listening, if listening means trawling through feedback items and telemetry data, but this Insider thing was supposed to be a lot more two-way than that wasn’t it? It's extremely hard to believe that Microsoft are listening to anything we say about issues we’re having, or feature changes we all want, when there are so many examples of that not happening, or us not knowing they are listening until they proudly tell us they have, many months after we all starting moaning at their feedback brick wall about something.

Anyhow …

Back to the actual app, the Feedback Hub, and what is STILL annoying about it a year on from my last article about it, and two years on from the birth of the Insider Programme.

1. Announcements

If you’ve got an app as a hub for a specific purpose, you’d expect it to be where you’ll find out not only everything about the subject matter to which the hub belongs, but also the place to find all the latest news. When it comes to the feedback hub, you’d be wrong in thinking that. Perhaps it’s no wonder that it has been renamed from ‘Insider Hub’ to ‘Feedback Hub’ because it doesn’t really feel like a hub for insiders but somewhere us minions go to continually submit further information to Microsoft without hearing anything back.

Being a hub, you'd expect the announcements section of the app to be pouring daily-ish with the latest news in terms of how everything is progressing and the latest on our feedback, yet aside from being updated with information on build releases, and occasional team member profiles or “Made By You” articles, there's no other news to report that's of any interest. 

It’s also debatable how interesting the information that appears there is anyways. All the build information also appears on the Insider Blog and then naturally on numerous Windows Technology blogs, so it’s hardly unique to the app. May as well just whack a url link to the blog for all the special love to Insider’s that the build news provides us in the announcements section.

In fact, if the announcement feed came straight from the Windows 10 blog, it'll be much more interesting, but instead we get a drip feed of build news, random updates about apps when they feel like telling us, and the news that all insiders would never ask for if we were tortured; Microsoft Employee Bios ...

Yes, it’s interesting to know who works in the Windows 10 teams, and they are all of course lovely people in varying ways, but the actual information reads more like a dating site advert than anything relevant to Windows 10. We want to know EXCACTLY what they do with Windows 10, not what their fav food and hobbies are.

The Hub Announcements section should be crammed full of the latest Windows 10 development information, yet it barely scratches the surface of what an invigorating relevant news feed should contain.

And what about the ‘Known Issues’ filter available in this section? A year ago it was largely empty and useless. Now at least it’s not empty, because every time a build is released the known issues with that build are tagged with the ‘Known Issue’ category. However, this isn’t what any of us Insiders were expecting from this. At the bare minimum we’d expect what we currently have, but this should be the busiest part of the app when it comes to announcements because there are always bugs and issues that are ongoing with any build which Insiders may or may not be experiencing. We want this filter to be banging out the latest information on any issues on a daily basis, not waiting for builds and then having this section remain static until the next build comes around. You'd expect to know about all known issues at the touch of a button as an Insider, given we are providing the most feedback, but no. 

As said a year ago, the hub should be the first place for information on Windows 10 and insider news, but we all know that the juicy stuff is anywhere but in the hub. Thus this part of the hub has quickly become irrelevant and one that no serious insider, of which most are, would bother to click on.

2. Quests

Don’t get me wrong here. I love the concept of quests. They get us insiders to interact, learn about Windows 10 features, and provide direct feedback.

However, something has gone seriously wrong with Quests since the inception of this app. They are literally all over the place in terms of relevance, skill level, readability and … well … why are we bothering to do them?

Far too often, clicking on the quests section of this app has become something of a chore. As said a year ago by myself, out of everything I heard about the Insider Programme when I signed up, Quests for the most part have been up there as the most unsatisfactory side of being an insider.

A year ago I’d completed about 49 quests since the insider programme started up. Currently, 12 months on, I’m at 107. Within this period nothing has changed with the issues that these quests induce upon us insiders. It’s a real shame that the feedback hub is full of the same complaints time and time again about Quests but nothing is changing. 

The problem is that the vast majority of quests are STILL either childish, pointless, or behind the times. They also range wildly in terms of complexity from the simple, like opening an app, to the complex, like the equivalent of writing a C++ program to interact with NASA. Yes, they still can be that complex, especially during Bug Bashing periods. Sure, those bug squashing quests are supposed to be to iron out issues but I’m surprised by some of them that such information isn’t already being transmitted via telemetry data. 

The ONLY noticeable change to quests in the last 12 months is that there tends to be more of them and that the complex ones can have a little extra header to warn the user that they are for advanced users. The readability of the instructions within advanced quests though is often impossible to follow. Who wrote these? Did they test them with someone else first?

The main problem with quests for me, two years since they began, is that there is STILL no personalization in them. We can’t tell Microsoft what subject matters we’re interested in, or levels of complexity we’re willing to perform. We just get a dump of all quests to trawl through. Worse still, and I REALLY CAN’T BELIEVE THIS HAS NOT IMPROVED is that the quests we’re getting have NO idea of the device we’re running the hub app on! They ask us to do things we can’t do because we don’t have a touchscreen or the right flavour of Windows 10. Seriously Microsoft, how difficult is it for you to filter quests based on the device we’re on? Don’t tell me it’s difficult because you don’t know what device we’re running. You have our telemetry data and can use the app to look up basic system information on the fly. Why do we get irrelevant quests still? This is basic configuration stuff, surely?

Then there’s the problem with some of the subject matters of quests outside of Bug Bashing. They can feel like something that was discussed in the AOB section of a Windows 10 Insider meeting, with someone saying "Yeah, guess we better do something" and then someone being forced to make something up. Go check out this part of a Microsoft website or app. That’s not my idea of a quest! 

Another major problem with quests is all about reward. Jason and the Argonauts went on a quest for a reward. That’s mostly what quests are for, right? I suppose there’s the learning experience? Don’t tell me we get a badge in the achievements section or I’ll scream. Besides, we don’t get a badge for every quest. I’m somewhat thankful for that.

What is the reward for the insider for doing a quest?

There’s none really. We go through the instructions, click submit, get to rate something between 1-5 and then provide a free text feedback comment. Click submit and off that goes into the internet and into Microsoft’s DB where we hear absolutely nothing back. 

How many people did that quest? What rating did they give? What was the most popular comment? What conclusions did Microsoft make from that quest?

These are all the basic rewarding information us Insiders would expect from a quest but we hear absolutely nothing back about our efforts. 

The idea of quests is good, but the payoff seems to be heavily weighted against insiders, not least with some of the ridiculous quests we've been given and that there is no real incentive to perform them because we hear absolutely no feedback on our efforts. 

I really wonder what the point of even bothering with quests is anymore, and that’s a sad stage to have reached.

3. Rewards

Those who read my article last year will know that issue 3 was originally about the ‘alerts’ section of the Insider App. Thankfully that has been changed in the course of the year. Yes, it’s gone! Alerts are history. Thank goodness for that. So, issue number 4 from last year becomes issue number 3 this year.

Related to the lack of rewards that I was talking about from quests, we get to the section of the app that is all about making Insiders feel special and worthwhile to Microsoft. 

First up, we all know the biggest reward Microsoft gives us is the opportunity to be an Insider and get those new builds. That’s what we’re all here for, so thank you very much Microsoft. That aspect of the Insider Programme has been a tremendous success and we appreciate it.

However, let’s look at the achievements section of the Feedback Hub once again. I said it a year ago, and I’ll say it again. I grew out of wearing badges when I left the scouts many years ago. But at least those badges I earned had some relevance, like knowing I could tie a knot or make a tent. Insider achievements are so basic and worthless, that I’m surprised there's not a badge for logging into Windows or being able to turn off the computer ...

Last year I had 11 badges. This year I’m up to 14 and I feel most of them I’ve actually not really earned.

We got a badge because Microsoft released Windows 10 and then v1511. Soon there will be one for v1607. Now, I’m happy that Microsoft have released these updates, but as an insider what did I actually do towards it? I don’t know, do I, because there’s no feedback on my suggestion/problems submitted or from the quests I’ve performed. If there was, then I might feel like I had a small part to play in matters although I didn’t actually do any serious work towards manufacturing the Windows 10 OS.

Out of the 14 badges I’ve got, maybe only a handful feel relevant even two years on. I still can’t get over the ridiculousness of some of the badges that I moaned about last year. I'm a trendsetter because someone has upvoted a piece of my feedback by at least 10 votes? Great, so a few people agree with me, and what? I've started a revolution? I'm a feedback phenom because I've submitted over 50 items of feedback, yet isn't that what we're supposed to be doing? I know Microsoft is getting telemetry data from us all the time, but wasn't part of being an Insider so that we feedback information? 50 items should be a drop in the ocean compared to how much we should be letting Microsoft know about an OS that is big money for them.

Let’s look at the two of the three new ones from the last 12 months. They are about the Bug Bash which I did some quests from, for my sins. I can sort of agree with having those badges. The bug bash was specific and special for Microsoft and I did set aside time just to participate in it. The only other new one is about the shipping of v1511, which as I said before, doesn’t feel like I had much of a part to play in due to any real responses to feedback or quests.

After earning 10 badges in the first year for just turning up and doing my job as an Insider, only 3 in the second year? It feels like I’ve done absolutely nothing doesn’t it! Have Microsoft forgetting about earning badges? They were giving them away like sweets originally.

Aside from rewards, what about incentives? Still the same problems from last year … 

“The incentives for being an insider are low, and these badges really summarize it in graphic form. To celebrate Windows 10's release, Insiders were offered a discount at the Microsoft store, but only if you lived anywhere near one, of which most Insiders probably haven't even seen a Microsoft store, except for that icon in Windows 10 (and the discount wasn't for the app kind of store).” 

Microsoft, if you’re going to give us incentives and discounts, please make sure that the majority can actually benefit from them, or just don’t bother.

4. Feedback is still one-way

Two years on, and after some serious talk about changes coming to the Hub, we’ve only seen two major changes from an Insider’s perspective in terms of the visual aspect of the app. 

The separate feedback app got integrated into the Insider App, which makes a lot of sense for the Insider Programme. That was a positive change. 

Then they introduced the first aspect of trying to provide more interaction between Insiders and Microsoft. We’ve now got comments for feedback items. Woop Woop. Finally. We can converse with other Insiders. Fantastic! Well, it would be if it was considerably more useful. It’s so fiddly to use that it’s disappointing. If you comment on an item, you can’t specifically reply to someone else’s comment, but just add to the conversation. Worse still, after commenting you’ve no way of finding that comment again at a later date unless you take a screenshot of the item and search for it. Comments are like throwaway words. I’ve no idea what items I’ve commented on, or if someone agreed or disagreed with what I said because there’s no way to open up the feedback section of the app and filter just for your comments. I’m sure it’s coming but why introduce something that makes it so hard to find what you just did? It’s like writing a Word document without the ability to name the file and put it where you want on your computer. 

Then there’s the long awaited Microsoft response aspect of feedback items. Yes, Microsoft themselves can now actually mark items as being looked at or resolved, or give a few carefully construed robotic sentences of response. The latter feels worthless as it’s often just the same old thing. “Thanks for that suggestion. We love hearing from you. We’ll think about it”  … Yeah, right. 

Just like the issue with finding your comments on items, you try finding items where Microsoft have marked it as anything other than “We’ve received this”. They are hard to find in the first place, and impossible to find quickly. It really shouldn’t be this difficult to find out what Microsoft’s response is to feedback items. Because it’s so tedious we’re left feeling as most have for the last two years, which is that feedback is really only one-way. i.e. heading into Microsoft’s laps where they keep it to themselves until they decide they want us to know what they think. If they have a negative view on some feedback, they’ll probably not tell us. If they have a positive view they’ll tell us eventually months later, and probably paint it up as they are listening to us. Sigh.

5. Hub isn't a community STILL

Two years on and the hub is still not the focal point that it should be for insider information. I said it a year ago about what should change, and at least the feedback app has been integrated as I suggested but the hub needs a lot more to make it feel like an Insider community. There’s should be RSS feeds from all Windows 10 blogs, the insider forum also should be integrated into the app to make it feel more like a community. The hub feels more like the welcoming sign to somewhere, which you only take any notice of the first time you visit.

The hub continues to provide data to us on things we do, which is interesting, but this information has almost become meaningless to any insider who has been on the programme for two years as it’s the same information updated with no real conviction behind the numbers.


I’m still the best with feedback a year on? Hah, beat that fellow insiders! 

What’s that you say? The app also tells you that you are the best? I thought I was Microsoft’s favourite?

See what I mean? Why provide us with numbers that go nowhere? How do I compare to all the other insiders? I know I’m not the best. I’m not that brilliant. Make these numbers mean something by telling us how we rate in relationship to fellow insiders. Make the numbers even more relevant by telling us how much of our feedback was useful. How much of it was related to known issues? How much of it did you actually use and make changes from? Where is the feedback on our feedback?

We know we've given lots of feedback, but what any of it meant to Microsoft is unknown. Perhaps it meant very little. That's what it feels like, as we don't get an indication of its usefulness all that often, that aside from that odd mention in a build's release notes, it's the only time it's actually mentioned by Microsoft. Even then it apparently seems that Microsoft only value the top 3 or so things that we feedback about, because that's about as much as they ever let on about using our feedback.

Finally, there's ‘Devices and Activity’ in the Feedback App. LOL. What has happened to this? A year ago I wondered what the point of this was. "Activity", what did that mean? Was it referring to having the computer turned on, or what we've actually done with the build, which could be just to run a screensaver all day? And what devices does it refer to?

Oh dear. Oh dear. This part of the app has gotten even worse. Many builds ago, it stopped working reliably, and now instead of telling us hours of use, it just displays the version of the feedback app:

So many items of feedback about this not working and nothing from Microsoft. You’d expect something in the announcements section of the hub app wouldn’t you? Well, you would. But don’t be daft. That would mean Microsoft would have to be reactive and responsive with our feedback. That just doesn’t happen.

So, the final word ...

One year on from my last hub article. Two years on since the start of the insider programme. 

The first part of my summary remains largely unchanged from last year so I’ll simply be regurgitating it … albeit with some minor updates before we get to the juicy section at the end.

“In summary, the whole Insider experience had excitement oozing out of my mouth two years ago, and the enjoyment of using new builds has been largely just that ... enjoyable. For most insiders that might be enough, but it's not for those of us who place value on the time we take to use something and provide feedback. We need to know that what we're doing is worthwhile. We need to feel like we're included, and not just thrown some treats every so often in the form of new builds to lap up without any thought or reason behind our time spent using them.

Any insider who is in the IT industry with both feet, will know that whatever they do, they need to know its delivering results. The checkout counter assistant knows they are doing their job well, because people are coming by their till throughout the day, they see their expressions, and they hear their words ... and their boss isn't moaning at them. We insiders are simply checking out builds in the same way, but it's like we have blindfolds on, because we have no idea how our customers (Microsoft) feel about our performance.”

So, two years on, I still feel exactly the same, as the last year has seen extremely little attempt to change my views on being an Insider and providing feedback. I’ll continue to provide feedback but it’s getting harder to enjoy as every build arrives. What’s the point, it feels.

Development of the Windows 10 OS progresses at a reasonable pace and is of course the main part of the whole Windows Programme. But, why have Insiders and then keep them at arm’s length? The Insider aspect of Windows 10 has seriously lagged behind the pace of the OS development. It’s so far behind now that I feel that it’s still stuck on v1507 of Windows 10, rather than about to enter v1607. 

Two years on and Microsoft has continuously failed to step up to the plate with the Insider Programme. Thus far one feels more like an outsider than an insider.

Something needs to change and quickly. Extensively more focus on the hub app is needed to make it what it should have been by now. Perhaps "ranks" of insiders need to be created by Microsoft, where the most "basic" of insiders simply just play with builds and don't care what happens with their time, with an "expert" rank of insiders encouraged to use the forum, spend time on quests, talk to Microsoft and have interactions with Microsoft employees to understand and know that their feedback and issues are being listened to and being used to improve aspects of the OS.

With millions of people in the Insider Programme it should feel like one big family that's in constant contact with each other, and feeling the love. Sadly, it all too often feels nothing like a family, but that we've all been squashed into individual rooms in the same hotel with no idea of what's going on in the bigger picture.

We submit feedback items but don’t know what happens to that information. Was it useful? Did it help? Did you do anything with that information? 

We submit feedback surveys but we don’t get the results to know how well everyone else on the insider programme thinks things are going. What did everyone want to change? What did they like or dislike? Microsoft keeps all this information to themselves. It would have been a great opportunity for Insiders to interact more with other insiders in terms of knowing what each other is thinking. 

We complete quests but to what end? We don’t know how many insiders do the quests, how they rated them or what Microsoft deduced from the results of that quest. Tell us! We want to know. We want the quests to mean something to us.

“We’re listening to your feedback” says Microsoft a lot. It’s time to prove it in a real tangible way by letting us know the results of feedback quicker and with qualitative information

Why can’t we have an Insider Feedback Blog integrated into the app, where every month the main sections from our feedback in the hub are written about by Microsoft. I want to know what’s happening to the top items in each section, the items trending in the last month. What are Microsoft doing about them? Anything? We don’t know. It’s like we’re submitting feedback against a brick wall. Perhaps we’re merely writing graffiti on Microsoft’s wall and only get feedback when they come to clean it up? I’m fed up of waiting for “Made By You” articles that are months behind the times to tell us what they do with our feedback.

I said it last year, and I say it again …

Microsoft, are we insiders, or outsiders?

Does our feedback mean anything to you?

If the answer to both is yes, and one assumes and hopes so, you’re seriously overdue on making the insider programme mean something much more than it is, and for feedback to work both ways. Do something about it, and soon!

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