Keith Combs' Blahg

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TechNet 2.0 - Episode 3 – TechNet Search

TechNet 2.0 - Episode 3 – TechNet Search

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If you've been reading my blog about TechNet 2.0, you know we have some great new improvements coming. One of my favorites is the improvements we've made to the TechNet Search experience at the http://technet.microsoft.com website. I think the reason for this is because I have spent an unusual amount of time using search on the microsoft.com web properties over the past 7-8 years. Working on webcasts, chats, and researching blog questions will do that.

Another reason I am extremely interested in search is because I have received my share of feedback about the tools you use to do searches for answers. Mainly feedback about the search firm "that shall not be named". Grin. It's ok. We can say it. Google is a key site and tool you use and we know it. But we want to be better than Google when it comes to helping IT Pros find information about Microsoft products and technologies.

With that in mind, I called up John Martin to record his thoughts around the topic of TechNet Search and what we have in store for you. Here's the podcast recording for Episode 3 and as before, you'll also find an .MP3 version attached at the bottom for your iPod or Zune pleasure. I'm recapping some of the main points just below the Silverlight player

Episode 3 Podcast

Get Microsoft Silverlight
Get Microsoft Silverlight

Introduction

We know a lot of you come to technet.microsoft.com to find something. It could be information related to an error message. It might be information on architecture and design of a product. Finding stuff like articles, scripts, downloads, and error message explanations have all been traditional scenarios we want to support.

Much of what you see coming in TechNet 2.0 is information architecture at work – that is, how we organize our sites, centers, pages, and content. And that’s one important way to improve discoverability. Site search is the other big way. Millions of customers use TechNet Search every month and it’s also one of the top areas we hear that you want to see improved.

Strategy

We want technet.microsoft.com to have the best search for IT Pros looking to find technical information about Microsoft products. That means going beyond “10 blue links” on a page to something smarter and more useful. Because we own a lot of great assets like the TechNet Library, TechNet Blogs, Knowledgebase, Download Center, Connect, Video, and TechNet Forums, we have a lot of previously untapped data we are getting ready to surface.

TechNetResultsHighlights

In the screenshot at right (click the pic for a large view), you’ll notice we spent some time making the result set easier to read. Fonts, colors, and other formatting help the readability. But you’ll also notice “refinements” that help re-shape the query to improve the end result.

Now for the cool part. For result items from certain sources, we’re going to start showing you more data in the result set. The core idea is that with more data about the result item, you can make a better decision about whether its what you need or not.

We’re getting started later this month by surfacing more data in search from Microsoft Connect and TechNet Forums. In the screenshot, you can see that for the forums items, you can see if the thread has been answered or not, which might be helpful if you are troubleshooting and want answers, not discussions.

You can also click on the button on the right side of the result item to filter your results to show only that item type (e.g., Forums threads).

We’re just getting started with this using Connect and Forums data, but we will increase the amount of data we bring into search and might even be able to include Profile data, which would mean not only could you see that a forums thread was answered, but you could also see who answered it. We’ll talk more about profiling in a couple of episodes, but it’s just another example of an information domain we can tap and use in search to provide better answers.

We are just beginning. This is really the first step. We will continue to provide improvements to search for all of the rich data types. We are modeling some of the searches around decisions you might make for key scenarios like Troubleshooting. As you start to use the new search, please provide feedback on the direction we’re taking search.

When can I see the new Search?

Fortunately you don’t have to wait long to start using the new search. We anticipate making it available before the end of the month. By all means come back here and comment about your likes and dislikes with the way it works, results you are getting and is it helping you find information.

On Thursday of this week in Episode 4, we’ll look at the Troubleshooting feature in the TechNet 2.0 wave. In addition to that, we are also going to discuss improvements to the download control which I think you find interesting.

Attachment: http://msinetpub.vo.llnwd.net/d1/keithcombs/podcasts/tn20/episode3/TN20_Search.mp3
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  • one major readability issue for me for most Microsoft.com property search results were the text and the color of the text.  This new design is much better in most way.  My only critical feedback is that you're still not paying enough attention to the color.  

    As someone who has slaved over MSDN and Technet articles learning about Microsoft as a relatively junior employee, the harsh "black on white" search results really strained my eyes.  The start-up community and the web designers in the Bay-area, solved this problem by softening the contrast.  Notice Google and even Bing, they use a dark-grey on white instead strong black.  I maybe completely wrong, and it may just be the font, but a dark-grey will definately be better for those IT Pros who live by TechNet content.  I'm tired of putting Visine in my eyes!

    A slightly alternative implementation to text that is handled very elegantly is by Yelp.com.  They use a lighter grey for their reviews but I have never experienced fatigue on that site.

    Anyways, good stuff.  Hope the feedback helps.

  • Thanks Viral. I cannot detect any font color differences at google or bing.  Could you provide some examples of what you are seeing and possibly the CSS?

    I see a lot of experimentation on the internet with fonts, sizes and colors but it appears black and white are still king unless you are using a 3270 terminal.

  • One thing I've noticed lately is that technet searches are returning more blog articles.  I'd like to see a way to filter these out, as I don't consider them authoratative.  I'm only interested in the KB articles.

  • It would be nice to have a search for error codes and messages.  I don't know if that would be just part of the regular search or a checkbox.  Many times when searching now I get results that are not really what I'm looking for, where the "other" serach engine comes up with better results on this type of search.

  • Two comments:

    1. When I search the library in a TechCenter say for Exchange or OCS, too much content is returned outside the scope. Offer an option to limit the scope to only the selected TechCenter. If I am looking for an Exchange solution I only want content from the library I am in.

    2. Don't force me to use Google to find things on your site. Make sure a search for an error code is found using your engine regardless how obscure the code is.

  • Thanks for the feedback!

    Chris R and Craig: Check out Episode 4 about our new Troubleshooting and Downloads finders. Simple, but hopefully effective.

    Doug: You should be able to deselect blogs as a Source at the top of the TechNet Search page.

  • Look at the sample technet window shown above. There is a huge block for a Windows 7 advertisement taking up a lot of valuable horizontal screen space. Why ? For who ? Anyone using technet does not need advertisements about products. They already know about the products and if they don't this is not the place to advertise them. Let them see the advertisents on other web sites. Keep it technical even if you have to fight the marketing dept in bloody battle.

    As for Tapara's comment I guess too much contrast can be bad but don't ever get rid of the white background. Trying to read text on colored backgrounds is the worst. As the font gets bigger you can ease off on the blackness to reduce the contrast or use something less than 100% white maybe 90% - 95% or both. If you want to know how to produce the best readability talk to professional book writers. Jerry Pournell would be a great example.

    As for Corletts comment I think having blog articles come up in search results is a great thing. But you should be able to filter them out if you want to.

    Craig and Chris R have excellent points. You are going to have a tough time beating Google for finding things on your own site. This I was never able to understand but it has always been true and I don't see it changing.

  • I agree with Dean, having 'adverts' taking up so much room are both a distraction and an irrelevance to the vast majority of visitors to TechNet.

    Also to me, the filtering options are going to be the second most important (after correct content),of using Search.