SCN: The Year of Living Beta-ly
In the 10 months since I wrote about issues with the upgrade of the SAP Community Network platform to Jive version 5, we’ve seen a false start, a soft launch, a myriad of complaints and headaches, and a flood of content being posted. What’s my take on the quality and stability of the platform now? I’ll share my report card on areas where community members are most affected.
In no particular order, seven grading areas:
In the last weeks of the “old” SCN, there were random unplanned outages where the site went down. Generally the restoration time had been under an hour, but the surprise factor and potential loss of work and context meant users who were creating content were inconvenienced. Coupled with a blogging platform that had no “save and continue” function, many authors would create content off site and paste into the old site.
Does this continue today with “new” SCN? Yes, in some cases. Unplanned outages have been greatly reduced. Planned outages are still longer and more often that I would expect (given a company with some experience in providing enterprise platforms to customers who demand high uptimes), and sometimes the announcements are rather short notice (“system going down in an hour”). That might be my perception however, as my time logged in varies with workload and personal commitments.
Here’s why this topic doesn’t get an “A” or “A+”. While working on this blog, I selected “save and continue.” The message says “Your changes were saved successfully” but (and this is the Big But that drives users crazy), the message also says “A recovered version of this content exists… Use recovered / Delete Recovered”. No obvious clue to what it thinks I lost. I always pick “Use recovered” and hope that means what it says.
Many “cheerleaders” lauded the new look and feel of this platform as it was tested and rolled out. I reserved judgment, knowing that there are many more aspects to a successful user experience than simply nice colors and shiny buttons. I was also comfortable with the old platform, knowing my way around the links and hooks to get content published quickly. I also had reservations about moving two-thirds of the old platform(s) to the new one, leaving behind wiki pages for a “later date.” That decision has caused some weird side effects, such as people copying previously public wiki pages into restricted spaces in the new SCN, editing them, yet leaving the old pages behind. Messy.
As there are numerous aspects to user interface, I’ll talk about a couple that affect my use of SCN. With a plethora of new routes to content, I’m still finding, after nearly a year of use, difficulty navigating to specific locations. If I get an email with a link, I can get right there. But if I visited a space a week ago, and it’s rolled off my history list of 5 links per area.
My history list on the systems I use at work is set to 5000 lines. Maybe this is not feasible with SCN and Jive 5, but it doesn’t take long to click on 5 places and lose track of anything prior. Yes, there are bookmarks, but in general, there’s such a maze here that dropping a bread crumb every place you might want to go back to is unwieldy.
I’ve already written about the underlying tools not working for blog editing and other critical use on an iPad. The improvements in link management, image uploading, and table creation and tweaking are appreciated compared to the old system. However, I can’t think of features that weren’t in the old system; it’s easier to use, of course, but the old one wasn’t that difficult.
This topic gets a solid “B for Bizarre”. Or, B for Bewildering. For an occasional user who just views content, none of this matters. For someone who creates content, comments on material, or, like me, moderates and “marks for action” suspect material, there’s a twisty maze of pages and patterns to follow.
On this image (just a small part of one page), the term “Actions” appears twice, in different context, as does “Communications.” For specific content, there is an option to receive (or stop receiving) email communications, but there’s also a “Track in Communications” options that controls notifications too. I’ve learned that some activities can’t be set up as email notifications (really important ones, too), and that requires me to log on and drill into more consoles than should be necessary.
Overall, the notifications work well, and clearing read material (yeah, got the email, don’t need to read it twice) is simple enough.
I was going to look at “bug tracking and reporting”, which would have gotten this topic a higher grade, as bugs are being addressed, but then I realized that users shouldn’t be concerned with bug tracking on a social media site. The topics should be about bugs with enterprise software, not about bugs with the methods of solving those bugs.
Below are links to issues lists, software release (changes) dates, and a matrix of lost content. I’ll stipulate that a site migration will cause all kinds of dead links and content mangling due to previous tricks, hacks, and macros not being supported on the new platform.
However, I find it sad that months went by after a “soft go-live” and users were being kicked out of the system frequently (i.e. many times per day). I still get kicked out regularly, and though the reconnect is simpler than it was, I don’t get kicked out of gmail with anywhere near that frequency. How can browser user context not be flawlessly executed by a world class software firm?
I’ll let the reader review the list of bugs and make their own rating as to the severity of bugs left in the system. The fact that the welcome page image still says “Beta” nearly a year after all of the content was moved and the old system mothballed says it all for me.
This one doesn’t get a total “F for Fail” as it’s not really the SCN administrators fault that users can’t figure out the difference between a forum post and a blog post. Clear to me, but then, I’ve been doing this internet stuff for a few years.
The sad part is this releases the links into the wild. Then (if reported), someone has to look at the content, report it, someone else moderates it, and then the link comes back as “The item does not exist. It may have been deleted.”
Mainly this topic gets a harsh grade due to the lack of mobile “apps”, which I’d expect from an enterprise software company. There have been apps for niche purposes, such as contact lists, and event details, but nothing like a killer app that allows slick use of the back end content with any kind of the shiny GUI I’ve seen on many product demos.
There isn’t a “D” or “F” here, because the site is usable even on the small form factor of a phone browser, if you know what you’re looking for. On the other hand, some screens and navigation steps just don’t work. I shudder to think of trying to enter any blog content via a handheld device, even if the tool set was supported on the device (Flash, Java, on and on).
Compared to the “old” SCN, where people often said “search via google instead”, this is greatly improved. The drill down ability is quicker than the old filters, searches include blogs and forums (but not quite wiki pages on the old site), and, as long as you know what the spaces mean, a fairly intelligent narrowing down of content.
I’ll point to the above image as an example of the improved filtering. You see, in descending quantity, where the search hits are. Even if one of the links doesn’t have what you want, that’s an important clue which space that material might be discussed in. You could then broaden the search string, but limit the space, or just browse that space and post there if you can’t find the answer.
Search is fast, generally. What’s slow sometimes are context sensitive searches that are done through the Jive catalogs (like looking for history or other pop-ups). In this case, SAP’s TREX technology seems to be working as designed. As I was on several conversations months ago about the search filtering algorithms, I’m familiar with the team that designed and implemented this component.
What grades would you give? What subjects did I miss?
sList of Discussion Threads where Unauthorized Error Appears
In terms of the platform I think you've got it about right. I'd say the "not-a-blog" problem is getting better, and I'd maybe give it a C or C+ now. I might even stretch to a B-!
What needs to improve now is user engagement. Without people "liking" or "rating" much more than they do now the whole process is pretty much meaningless. It really doesn't achieve anything today. There's a pretty small subset of people doing it right. There's a little too much of a cliquey feel and not enough of a community feel currently, in my opinion. Maybe that's just me?
I am not sure I agree that not-a-blog is better - I still see a lot come through the blog stream. Jim has it right on that one.
I agree with Steve that engagement - not a lot of likes/ratings are happening (that I can tell) but there is so much pumping through the blog stream now.
I am also seeing a lot of blogs that should be either documents or wikis.
Maybe I've just become immune? I do read the "all blogs" RSS feed, but perhaps my subconscious is applying a filter before the content gets to my brain? Always possible. I tend not to notice spam emails anymore - just delete and move on.
The distinction between blogs, documents and wikis is interesting. I've never really got straight in my head what each type was used for and I would tend to use a blog for everything. Is there a document somewhere describing the intended use of each?
It took me a while to find it but here it is
A document is a page in the "new" SCN, and a wiki is a page in the "old" SCN. Both exist now, whereas "old" SCN blogs and forum posts are gone.
I would have listed the document you mention this way:
The Difference between a Discussion, Blog Post, Document and Wiki
The trick to having the title appear (instead of the URL link itself) is to browse the document (or thread, or blog), then find it in your history list, then insert that choice.
The longer the "old" wiki sits out there, the more content will be duplicated in "new" SCN.
I disagree with the definitions listed in the above page on wikis and documents. They are the same thing in my book (and in how Jive software manages them).
That should probably be a bit more prominent in the About SCN space. If it took you a while to find it, it is hard to complain about others getting this wrong!
Based on the descriptions in that document there probably are a lot of blogs that should be documents. Some of mine, for sure. I think most people writing a "How To" guide would do it as a blog. Or is that just me?
It is not just you, Steve - I think we all do it
Jim has some good points too - I haven't given this much thought.
If documents and blogs are similar enough that it can sometimes (often?) be hard to tell which to use, does that mean the distinction isn't so important? Would things be simpler if we just had blogs?
Put another way, what do documents do that blogs don't?
Steve Rumsby :
Documents have versions. Since I can't add an image to a reply, I added it to the blog.
It is odd, isn't it, that you can add a video to a reply, but not an image? Can't imagine why that would be. I've found it annoying a few times in the past. I might start taking screencams instead of screenshots. Very short screencams.
I agree with your grades, but one area you did not comment on is the blogger experience. As what was known as an "Expert Blogger" in the old SCN, I greatly miss the old Expert Blogger page, where I could see how many hits each of my posts got. That feedback was really helpful to me as someone who blogged on a variety of topics. Yes, that was a deliberate choice of verbiage to use the past tense, "blogged." I am one of those much-less-engaged-these-days SCN members. I still blog, and in fact I am working on a post today; it is just not fun when you get no feedback and can't tell if no one is reading it, the topic is not trendy/technical enough for this developer-heavy site, or what is wrong with the posts, if anything. There is enough frustration in our day jobs without voluntarily subjecting oneself to more. Anyone reading my comment who thinks I am too harsh, let me ask you: do you "like" and rate the posts that you read that interested you, or do you think you are doing SCN a favor by "liking" and rating only those that knocked your socks off? If you want to encourage members to blog, please "like" and rate their work, or eventually all but confirmed masochists will go away, and then you can lament the disappearance of voices here.
Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now 🙂
Thanks for the opportunity to vent!
Check this out as you can see the page views & number of comments on all your blogs
I am a bit of a stat qeek and like you like seeing how many views/comments my blogs get all in one place.
Thanks for that tip; now I see that, based on a very poor ratio of views to likes, my time would be more productively spent if I go back to inline skating, knitting, Pilates, or blogging elsewhere.
I certainly hope you continue your content generation here and elsewhere. It looks to me like you do get a high amount of views, especially on your GRC content. It will take time before more people remember to acknowledge that they enjoyed reading your posts. But thanks for the reminder that without the "nods" it can be discouraging to write, see you are being read by many, but not "hear" responses. We've had discussions about this in other blogs and the awareness is a journey. I notice how active Tammy is in that realm (well, in all realms here) and it is very instructional.
Thank you, Marilyn, that is kind of you to be so encouraging. Maybe it is just the timing; with TechEd coming up, I have to consider how much time I want to take out of my conference next week to blog. @jon reed teases me every conference about the time I spend in the bloggers area, cranking out the blogs. It takes a concerted effort, and you end up missing out on things. Jim is such a role model in this regard.
Great job with this Jim and I was a little surprised to see you give search an A as I tried it several times after the launch with pretty poor results so I went back to the "google search" approach but I plan to give it a second look based on your grade.
Here are some of my grades/additional topics
Mobile - D - SAP tells their customers they are a leader in mobile (they arent) yet dont even have an app for SCN with over 3M members. This should have been in scope from day 1 so someone dropped the ball if you asked me.
Social - C - The social aspects of SCN are very hard to use vs twitter hence there is no engagement. Perfect example as I just tried to find @jmspath with no luck and the times it does work I am often faced with multiple user ID's for the same person where only 1 is a good user ID. I do think the integration with linkedin/twitter/facebook is a positive step forward though.
Security - C - Every time I log into SCN I have to re-enter my password....which I do 8-10 times a day. This SHOULD be a simple thing to fix and I know I am not alone with this issue.
Not a Blog - D - Agree with Tammy on this point that it is still a problem (though has went down slightly). That combined with people updating their blogs and not clicking the "minor change" has filled my RSS feed with a mix of "not blogs" and very old blogs which unfortunately makes it a lot easier to miss good and new content.
Usability - A - Like you I had figured out how to navigate through the old SCN but there is no doubt that things such as writing a blog are a LOT easier which is great to see.
Will be curious to read some comments from others.
I think the security is now fixed (at least for me) - select the remember me button
I finally figured out the @ sign trick - search for all lower case e.g. Jim Spath
Thanks Tammy Powlas (just wanted to try it out).....looks like it worked in lower case on your last name but not on your first name as well it looks like you have 3 ID's in the system as well. Seems like both are something that SAP needs to look at if they want to ever get more engagement on that front.
Thanks for the tip on security as I will try it out.
very much agree with you on the mobile classification. still can't believe that SAP at the same time claimed to be one of the leaders in mobility solutions and launched a community platform with no mobile channel.
regarding the usability classification i strongly disagree. if it took you a serious amount of time to find your way around the new platform and now you eventually find out that certain things are easier than in the old application, I'd call this maybe more efficient but certainly not USABLE. IMHO something cannot be called USABLE if performing a rather simple task like posting a blog or efficiently locating certain content requires serious effort of training (and subsequently re-education if functionality changes).
my 2 cents,
I am replying to "myself" here, for a couple reasons: (1), so this comment isn't indented to the point of inscrutability, and (2) to answer several people at once instead of individually. There are nice "@"s in Jive Five to facilitate this.
In no particular order:
Anton Wenzelhuemer I certainly understand why you and others would downgrade the usability of this site, especially for newcomers and occasional browsers. There is a lot of institutional knowledge on "old" SCN that formed how the spaces were laid out. I have several advantages over many users that led me to a higher grade: ASUG and SAP's CW site use a newer Jive than the old SCN did; I participated in the beta test for several months; and as a Moderator I was involved in discussions on the content migration. I won't quibble with your ranking.
For the content ratings, SCN has gone from a handful of people assigning rankings, to what is supposed to be "peer-based" reviews of material. Both have their merits, and I'd contend that the current scheme is still in its infancy. I've typically looked at "blog hits" over "blog points" to learn what the general user population is interested in. There's also a balance between cheerleading (or pimping) your own content, and sharing appropriately. In the past, content that I enjoyed writing and thought was excellent often had few views, but that wouldn't stop me from posting it again. Another factor is the reload of content from the old site; earlier views were zeroed out, so I'm seeing maybe 10 views of blogs that had been seen thousands of times. I declined to move my old content anywhere else and expose it to new readers. That's what search engines and good linking are for.
For search, I give the new site high marks because SAP leveraged their own technology in a way that integrates well with what Jive provides. When I entered the search string "DBSTATC" (DBAs will know why) on the scn.sap.com site, I was redirected here:
The filters, sort by criteria, and number of hits are all bang on. Also available are "Author" fields, so since I know and respect Lars Breddemann, I can easily see his contributions on this topic. What's not to like?
Again, I have the advantage of having participated in conference calls where evolving search features were shown, and was not only able to learn what was in the pipeline, but comment on where I could see great advantage for users navigating the high data volumes in SCN. Date ranges can be selected. I can include or exclude blogs or forum posts, etc.