So why is Kahuna different?

As most of you know, Google, Yahoo and we (Hotmail) all have next generation web mail services in beta. When people find out I work on Kahuna, the beta webmail service built by Hotmail folks, the question I get asked the most is how Kahuna is different from the other ones?

Last week, my friend, Kevin, point blank asked me: „I see that GMail, Yahoo Mail Beta and Kahuna are all fast. They are all based on AJAX. They all let me access my mail. So how is Kahuna different from others?“. It was a really good question that made me think how to explain it.
(Before I tell you what I said I must put forward a disclaimer that this is my opinion and not the official position of Microsoft. I’m not a marketing person.)
„Kevin“, I said, “ I think Kahuna is different because of two major differences in philosophy:
1. Kahuna is built from the ground up with the idea that our users can design software better than Product Managers or Developers.
2. Email must be safer – The days of every email being treated the same are over.“
„Lots of companies say they do customer driven design but it still looks like a developer designed it for his own use.“, said Kevin. „How are you different?“
„Most companies decide what features to do then put it in front of a few users to see if they can use it. In some companies, the developers go talk to fellow developers and decide that the feature would be cool so they do it.“, I replied. „If they have a beta it is designed to find bugs not determine the direction of the product.“
Our philosophy from the beginning was different. We don’t want beta users to just tell us whether a design is usable or find bugs. We knew that a webmail program should be able to send/receive mail so we built a basic version of it. Then we got users on it. I was the first person to use it with my actual hotmail account beginning of this year. We got the rest of the team on it. Then the rest of our division. Within a couple of months we put thousands of real users on it through our MSN Butterfly program.
The first question from many of the beta users was „Wait, this is missing a number of features.“ Once they realized that they were being brought in to help us build the product they got really excited. They told us they had never had that opportunity before. They had always been brought in a couple of months before the product was shipping to find and report bugs.
Over the next six months, we listened to what they wanted in a webmail product and then we put it in. We keep repeating this cycle every few months.
If you’re using Kahuna, you’ll see that we don’t have a ton of „miscellaneous“ features – everything we have is what users have told us is critical to their every day experience.
Chasing the long tail“ is a common expression in Search discussions. It means that there are a few search queries that are quite common and then the rest are queries only done by a few people. Unfortunately a lot of software is designed by chasing the long tail. A few people (many times the developers or product managers) want a certain feature so they put it in. Never mind that most people will never use it but be confused by its presence every day.
Kahuna is the opposite. We happily trade chasing the long tail for simplicity. We are only adding features that over 80% of the people will use.
We’re also trying to address complete customer scenarios and not just give customer a hodge-podge of features that they have to figure out how to stitch together to do what they want to do. We’re happy to wait to add a feature until we think it is good enough to properly solve the customer’s scenario. For example, the Spam & Safety experience was completely redesigned to solve the customer scenario instead of just giving them a number of tools that they have to figure out how to use together.
Click here to see the Channel 9 video where I and other PMs discuss and show Kahuna.
Click here to see a home video we shot of some of our MSN Butterly users when they flew up to Redmond to help us build Kahuna.

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