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Microsoft to Developers: Experiment a Little

Posted by iMark - 2006-04-22

Microsoft is building a Web site designed to allow Microsoft product groups – and, later, third-party software developers – to test new Live features and services in a controlled environment.
The new site, known as the Windows Live Experimentation Platform, went live on Thursday. The site is running on top of Office Live, a set of service extensions to Microsoft Office that Microsoft released to beta testers earlier this year.

The Live Experimentation Platform is Microsoft's latest move toward making Windows Live not just a collection of services, but a developer platform in its own right. Microsoft rivals Google, Yahoo, Amazon and eBay all are embarking on similar strategies, by exposing more services as open application-programming interfaces and encouraging developers to build mash-ups, composite applications and other consumer and business software atop their respective platforms.

Microsoft already uses beta and Community Technology Preview programs to test new products and features. The company relies on a variety of other test mechanisms, from GotDotNet sandboxes, to online forums, to Watson crash-analysis feedback, to gather information from potential customers about what they like and don't like in existing and as-yet-unreleased products.

According to information on Microsoft's Live Experimentation Platform site, the Windows Live team believes it can speed and hone testing further using a combination controlled experiments and a scientific method for establishing causality between a feature and its effects – a concept known as "randomized experimental design."

"The Experimentation Platform team will provide critical infrastructure for developers to conduct A/B tests of different features, enabling data-driven innovation and iterative development," according to the site. "The platform will collect multiple metrics and provide analysis tools to improve insights about the value of different features to customers, helping optimize the overall customer experience."

The Experimentation Platform is the brainchild of Windows Live general manager Ronny Kohavi. Data-mining expert Kohavi joined Microsoft last year from Amazon.com, where he was the director of data mining and personalization. Before that, he was the vice president of business intelligence at Blue Martini Software.

The purposes of the Experimentation Platform will be to gain earlier and more relevant insight into the impact of potential new Live services and features.

"Runtime monitoring, while the experiment is running, will enable early auto-aborts of experiments that are clearly underperforming, providing graceful failure (by auto-reverting everyone to Control)," explains the site. "The safety provided by such this architecture encourages quicker deployments without extensive testing, and also allows for automated ramp-up from a tiny percent of users receiving treatment to a larger percentage since there are no adverse affects to the customer experience."

In short, the site continues, "The platform will encourage faster launches, which will in turn result in faster failures of bad ideas and better understanding of good ideas."

Microsoft officials did not respond to a request for further information on the Live Experimentation Platform by the time this article was posted.

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