How Can We Make Forum Content More Discoverable? Part 1
Josh forwarded around a Channel9 thread yesterday where some Niners were talking about how they got sought out help and support. (He's also currently asking the same question on his blog.)
It's interesting, but no surprise, that phone support isn't mentioned in the thread. The Channel9 community is obviously more tech-savvy than most, but in summary, people mention the following channels that they look to for support:
- Searches on Microsoft.com
- Searches through product team blogs
- Searches through the forums (MSDN or 3rd party forums)
- Searches through the newsgroups
- Searches through the entire web
- Honorable mentions to product manuals, books, chats, and (gasp) asking a coworker
- Missing in action: F1 help, Web 2.0 stuff (social bookmarking, wikis, etc.), and picking up the phone
See the common thread? Regardless of source people absolutely depend on great search to get at the content that they need. For developers, if search is broken for a given channel of information, they aren't going to find that channel extremely valuable.
Yea, yea, Joe, we're read your post about how important search is before, right? The problem is that search is a huge problem for nearly all of the content above. Let's just consider content for developers from Microsoft. We have support documentation in the knowledge base, "official" developer documentation in the MSDN Library, articles on the MSDN dev centers, employee blogs, newsgroups, and forums. There's currently two primary ways to search through this content:
- Use the search on each separate channel – You could go each channel individually, and use the built-in search functions to look for what you need. The advantage: you'll know where your answers are coming from and the format that they'll be in. The negative piece? The built-in searches tend to be pretty lousy, and you'll have to go to a bunch of different channels to do all of your searches. Forget it.
- Use a search engine that searches through *all* of the content – There are two obvious ways to do this right now. First is the great new MSDN Search (http://search.msdn.microsoft.com/search/). If you're a developer, it has a tabbed interface, and searches our primary channels quickly, using Live.com as a backend. Pretty slick. Of course, you can also go to Google, Yahoo, or Live and do a "site:Microsoft.com <search terms>" to search across all of our properties at once. The bad news: all of Microsoft's content isn't on Microsoft.com. Sorry, it wasn't my decision. J
These aren't bad solutions—people use them every day, and between combinations of Microsoft.com, MSDN, and Google searches, we get nearly 5 million page views from over 1 million people per month on the MSDN Forums. Unfortunately, it's still not ideal. It's nearly impossible to find related content once you are on a given channel. For example, if you're looking at a forums post about using generics in C#, you're very rarely going to see all of the related blog articles written by Microsofties about the subject—some of which might actually help you with the problem you're trying to solve.
I have a half-baked idea on how to solve this that I'd like to save until next week. I'd like to hear everybody else's opinion first. Is searching through Microsoft's content even a problem? Do you use search? Something else?