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Microsoft 365 invites users to 'Ask Me Anything' – as long as it doesn't require a clued-up exec to deliver clear answers

Unsatisfying AMA ends up mainly being about Teams

Opinion A Microsoft 365 AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread yesterday failed to reveal much of substance about plans for the future or how to fix the platform's many issues.

"We are very excited to announce a Microsoft 365 'Ask Microsoft Anything' (AMA) for Microsoft 365!" community manager Dylan Snodgrass said back in February. The day came, and so did people in search of answers, mainly concerning Teams, since usage has grown rapidly in these days of remote working.

There is no doubting the good intentions of those who hosted the event, but Microsoft is the biggest software company in the world, and Microsoft 365 one of its key products, so as a company it could have done better. Much better.

The event was hosted on the Tech Community site. What is Microsoft Tech Community? "Collaborate, share and learn from experts" goes the slogan, and the more detailed description that it is there "to provide a platform for IT Pros, Developers, Office 365 and Azure Users, cloud fans and Microsoft to interact".

However, it seems more "community" than "Microsoft". The company has never been sure how best to interact with its millions of users. In the IT admin space, there is still TechNet forums, which pre-dates Tech Community; there is UserVoice, an official route to feedback though on a third-party site and one that does seem to get some attention; and there is Microsoft Docs, which is based on GitHub-hosted repositories and is rather good. Although docs is for documentation rather than discussion, there is interaction on GitHub issues that can be illuminating. Or, if you can cope with stern moderation, you have some chance of a helpful answer over on another third-party site, Server Fault.

Tech Community, though, is Microsoft's own site. What then was wrong with the AMA? First, the user interface in Microsoft's "AMA Space" is poor. It is slow. It only shows the first few lines of any post, and if you click "Read More" you have to click on "All conversations" to get back to the full AMA.

Still, it is the content that counts. Someone had the temerity to ask about Tasks in Teams, announced last November as "a coherent task management experience in Teams". It is a mess because the company is pulling together Microsoft To Do, the remnants of its Wunderlist acquisition, with the older Planner application and the even older Tasks in Exchange/Outlook.

When will the new and glorious tasks in Teams be available? "I'll ask our Team for an ETA and will respond when I hear back. Might take a day or two," was the optimistic response from Stephen Rose, who does "marketing and storytelling for the Microsoft 365 team". Great.

OK then. When will Excel Money, Family Safety, or Teams integration roll out for the Microsoft 365 Family Plan? "In the coming months" was the response, with the link to the blog post the questioner had no doubt already read.

Ask away

Another user had a tricky question. "On our Teams we have also guests of small companies who don't have an O365 tenant. They use their Gmail account for mailing purpose. We can invite them to join a Teams but they cannot sync files on their computers," said Renato Isler.

"SharePoint is the back end of Teams so right now, if they are using OneDrive, they should have no issues," said Rose – then, realising that this is not a great answer for a G Suite user, added: "Please go to UserVoice and upvote this feature."

Guests in Teams is a complex problem. Teams is really a kind of portal into a bundle of other products – SharePoint, Exchange, what used to be Skype for Business and so on. On the one hand, it is hard to then make these services work for guests who are not on the Microsoft platform. On the other, there is the risk of over-sharing, giving guests access to content which should be restricted.

Cindy Charrett raised a question about this intricate interaction. "Currently I have External and Guest Sharing enabled in Teams and in SharePoint I have it set to Anyone but only allowing users in a specific security group to share externally. How does this security group impact the sharing in Teams?" A Microsoft MVP (Most Valued Professional) gave a brave attempt at an answer but concluded: "What do you want as a final result?"

"I was trying to restrict file sharing from SharePoint but still enable them to chat and have meetings from within Teams. Maybe this isn't possible," was the response. No further answer was received.

Did we learn anything? A question about the future of Sway (remember that?) went unanswered, which may be significant. Concerning Teams, "We have plans to increase the amount of participants on video," said Rose, adding that "we will be releasing the 3x3 view in May," though the ever-hopeful questioner actually asked for "more than 3x3 video feeds".

The problem with this AMA was the absence of senior members of the actual product teams who could give authoritative answers – and note this is not intended to be disrespectful of those who did participate, but the likes of MVPs and community professionals are constrained not only by the extent of their knowledge, but also by lack of permission to reveal information that the company might consider confidential.

What, you may wonder, is the point of an AMA without such senior people? The hope, one supposes, is that the product is so wonderful that it is just a matter of explaining where to click. But Teams is complicated, changing rapidly, and still has some painful feature gaps. It is also a huge success because it does tick many boxes for collaboration and integration, but it is always the popular products that attract the most feedback.

A good AMA is valuable because of the number of people who can benefit from what is for the company a relatively small investment in time. Users understand that software has limitations and that some features and fixes take time to deliver. It is important, though, that they feel their issues are heard and understood, and for vendors to communicate their plans and progress. Maybe next time. ®

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