Ramblings from another nerd on the grid
Have you ever received an error message or number in some software product, and wonder what it means or how to resolve it? Where is the first place you search? In my case it really depends on the browser I happen to have launched. The vast majority of the time that’s IE8 so I enter the error message in the search field and hit enter. My default search engine is bing.com and it typically returns a huge array of information from sites across the planet.
What I would rather have is a smarter way to search the Microsoft information domain. We discussed some of that in Episode 3 Search, but this week we are going to talk about some of the new “finders”.
With that in mind, I called up John Martin to record his thoughts around the some platform features that will help you find Troubleshooting information and Downloads. Here's the podcast recording for Episode 4 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 4 Podcast
Last week we talked about search, search result formatting, and other aspects of search that will take advantage of the platforms that are part of the TechNet brand. Searching is tricky and care needs to be given to crafting a query that will return great results. For key scenarios like finding a Download or Troubleshooting an issue, we want to help IT Pros get past that challenge with new features specialized for finding things. Informally we call those features “finders”.
Let’s talk about downloads first.
The Download finder offers three fields for making selections. They are short menus that help you filter and find the content you are looking for. For example, let’s say you don’t have a TechNet subscription but you want the Exchange Server 2010 Evaluation download. This download finder lets you quickly and easily scope that search. This Bing query returns the Top 5 or so results and are shown right under the finder. If you want to see more information, you can click More and see the full results in TechNet Search.
Where can I find the Download finder?
Everywhere!!! You’ll see the Download finder as a standard part of the Downloads pages in the various TechCenters across the site. When you are in a product TechCenter, there will be no need to supply the product name. That will be done automatically for you. This is very similar to the TechCenter scoped searches we talked about in Episode 2. In addition to download finder, we also added another feature that will help with troubleshooting issues you might be seeing.
A week or so ago I rebuilt one of my machines. During that process I needed to sync the offline address book Outlook uses but it was failing with a particular error message. It wasn’t apparent to me what the issue was so I plugged the hex error message into the IE8 search field and searched Bing. Just for grins I also searched Google. As you might imagine, I received a ton of information back from those engines and many of the results were at a variety of sites.
We know from the site usage at technet.microsoft.com, many of you come to do searches. Nearly one fourth of all visits are for that very reason. With that in mind, we wanted to improve the features that help you troubleshoot an issue like the one I was having with the Offline Address Book (OAB).
The troubleshooting finder has several input fields you can use.
In each case the Troubleshooter feature takes your search and builds a smart query using the target database(s) in order to bring back the best results. This feature would have been especially helpful with the Outlook error message I received in the sync results for my attempt at downloading the OAB.
In another case, I was trying to fix a shutdown issue with a laptop. A smart hardware god I know was aware of the issue and told me to go grab the hot fix for a KB article. All I had in hand was the KB number. Again, the troubleshooter above would have been perfect for that scoped search.
What do you think? Let us know!!! Keep the great feedback coming. Very soon you will be able to try all of these features right at technet.microsoft.com. In the meantime we’ll continue blogging and podcasting to inform you on the cool stuff that is coming.
Next Tuesday we’ll publish Episode 5 on the Video experience. Come on back and join in the conversation. If you’re using twitter, please add the #TN20 hash tag. See you online.
Searching for KB articles just seems a bit.. well.. superfluous actually.
Seeing that it's just as easy to prepend support.microsoft.com/kb/<kbnumber> to jump straight to the article, I'm thinking about building an IE accellerator or FF Addin to that effect. Just select the kb number & jump.
I completely agree with knowing KB articles by number. What I would really like to see is a way to be notified of updates to specific articles.
Take 822158 (av exclusion recommendations) or 894199 (WSUS content updates for 2010) as examples. Both of these articles are frequently updated, and both provide valuable information for continuing operations and proactive maintenance.
Ideally, I would like to subscribe to a set of these types of articles using a dynamically generated RSS feed or similar mechanism, but I'd go with anything that works.
As we have the RSS feeds available in Outlook 2010, it would be ideal if we could subscribe to a particular KB that is updated regularly.
From a usability standpoint, there are two related problems. Neither of these are MS specific, but it's time to do something about them.
1) The accumulated forum discussions & NNTP threads in the Microsoft domain cause a slowdown in info retrieval. Even the guys with the troubleshooting solutions around MS are plagued with this info overload. The community is SO active and involved that a common response is that the question has been answered before, so "Google it."
2) When troubleshooting, the search engine model (generating a link) just adds another step between the user and the answer (s)he wants. Instead of a solution, I get a mystery link with a cryptic preview blurb. How tiresome. On top of that, most of the links the engine sends him/her to are not the right answer.
I'd like you guys to explore three solutions to this:
1) Follow the TechNet Library and the CodePlex site models and create a troubleshooting Wiki. In order not to clutter the entries -- a common problem in Wikipedia articles -- it might prove useful to establish two levels of user edits: Expert and Layperson. Page edits added by MVP-level users should not be modifiable by Laypeople -- only by other MVP-level users.
2) A time-saving data dump (call it what you will). If I'm looking for a solution, I would like to have all the linked pages compiled immediately on a single page, relevant or not. It will save me time -- I can keyword search the data dump, rather than click mystery links. I suppose I can just find a bookmarklet for this, but the ideal solution would have the search engine eliminate duplicate results in compiling this page.
3) Enable user voting on search results, as well as tagging. To reduce duplicate entries in search results, you might even use a Silverlight-based social search solution, allowing users to manually "cluster" results with each other if they are substantially the same or related. (Open all URLs in new tabs or a sidebar, and keep the search results displayed as "tiles" that can be dragged and dropped into clusters. The MS servers would tally this semantic data to aid all subsequent searches.)
If you want more feedback, contact me at alsoknownas on the live.com domain.