A New SAP Community Platform And The Road Ahead
It is just a couple of days before the launch of the new SAP Community platform, and a big launch like this is always a challenge. With 100.000+ regular active members and millions of SAP professionals per year that depend on getting answers to their questions, a slow soft launch is simply not an option.
On Monday, October 10th, all traffic will get redirected to the new SAP Community applications like Answers, Blogs, Former Member, Activities and Archive, and all these new applications will have to cope with the huge traffic we see on a daily basis in our community. But when I talk to the people in our technical teams, I experience a high level of confidence that we have done our best to deal with this exceptional situation. I attribute this in large chunks to the way how we have changed building web applications by adopting Continuous Integration and DevOps, which allows us to automate nearly every repetitive task in such technical setup, from functional and load tests, content migration, application configuration and deployments.
Another key factor is the distributed, message driven architecture of this new platform, which tries to avoid single point of failures as much as possible. By having dedicated applications and (micro)services for Q&A, blogging and our 3+ million archived discussions, we ensure that even if single applications or services break, other parts of the architecture won’t get affected and our community members are still able to get their work done.
Lots of efforts went into technical key capabilities that we all consider to be a given these days. For example, providing a mobile experience using responsive design has been absolutely mandatory. This is now available across all applications. In addition, we have implemented zero downtime deployments for all core applications so that regular deployments or system upgrades won’t cause major disruptions for our users. With our best of breed approach, having SSO in place while switching between applications was also of high priority, and I think we mostly nailed it (and it’s probably worth its own blog post). While the new profile application looks beautiful and simple, it is the most integrated one of all, pulling profile attributes, user content and reputation from various sources, while still being highly performant. I’m confident that replacing spaces and their nested hierarchy with a central taxonomy is the right approach, serving the need for flexibility and future extensibility. Thing that appear to be simple, such as implementing a single, unified header across all applications, have created major challenges and required significant effort to get right, but are definitely worth it. All of the above and many more smaller details contribute to the technical and conceptual foundation that we were striving to build, and which hopefully doesn’t make a major re-platforming necessary for the foreseeable future.
While their is a healthy confidence in the platform, we also don’t underestimate the technical challenge of building and maintaining this new platform. What started with a vision of a new foundation for our community, has become a highly flexible but also fairly complex architecture, and nobody in our technical teams had done anything like this before in a similar fashion.
Of course we do expect there will be growing pains and we try to anticipate and mitigate them as much as possible. But the challenge and commitment needed to go from an open beta period into 24/7 operations with the size of this community (while still delivering bug fixes and feature enhancements with our regular pace) are something we are highly aware of and well prepared for.
One key lesson we’ve learned from our last platform change was that we need to better prepare our community members for the changes to come. This is why we made the new SAP Community available in open beta at SAPPHIRE NOW. Even though it was still early (and some might argue it didn’t deserve even the BETA label), it was important for us to show where we are heading with the new SAP Community. Even more important was to get feedback from our most committed community members and let it influence the priorities in our backlogs. While getting positive feedback is always nice, I personally consider critical and even negative, feedback more valuable. It shows us where we have to improve and where we didn’t get it right from a user experience perspective. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter for every application to be performant and highly available, if our members tell us that it doesn’t feel right or if they are missing features that they consider vital to their day-to-day work.
Keeping this continuous feedback process going with our community members after the launch on October 10th is absolutely necessary to best serve the specific needs of our members. While being at TechEd in Vegas, I had the great pleasure to meet in person some of our most committed and engaged community members, like Jelena Perfiljeva and Jeremy Good. And while getting their feedback in our online feedback forums is valuable, sitting down with them and discussing the critical gaps of the new SAP Community, from their perspective, provided me invaluable insight and an even larger appreciation for their regular work in our community.
SAP Community Roadmap
We have setup the implementation project from the get go on a two weeks schedule, allowing us to regularly release new features and bug fixes to our users. Beside a small safe guarding phase shortly after go-live, we will continue on this release schedule. Also, based on your direct feedback we identified the most important topics to fix and improve between now and the year’s end.
We understand that the current capabilities to filter and search for content aren’t sufficient and that this needs to be fixed ASAP. Although we have language filters in central search, and searching for content is possible in the new community topic pages, we need to improve here. A language filter for the community topic pages is already in the works. In addition, we will focus with highest priority to provide a new single search experience that will allow users to filter by tags (products, solutions, topics, etc.), language and content type. Ideally we will also allow users easy access to filter by tags that a useralready follows. The goal is to provide a single place for all users to find the most relevant content for their specific need. Even though this probably doesn’t resolve all issues around content discovery, we see this as the most urgent gap to fill at this point.
We also have been told that, although powerful, the new taxonomy is not intuitive enough to use if the user is required to always find and enter SAP products, solutions etc. while creating a new question or blog post. The effort to support acronyms and synonyms is too big to achieve short term, but we think that providing quick access to the tags a user already follows should simplify this a lot. Support for tag acronyms and synonyms is planned for early next year.
The filter capabilities in the Activity Stream don’t sufficiently replace yet what we currently have with the SCN Communications stream. Also the activities themselves don’t provide enough information and interaction. While the technical capabilities are in place, we simple didn’t find the time to properly focus on the Activities application, which is something that we see as another short term priority.
Currently there is no ability to receive Notifications via email, which is something that needs to be fixed. Many of our users live in email, and having to rely on the notifications showing in the header is simply not sufficient, especially as it requires to visit the community in order to see them. Our goal is to send an email for each notification that shows up in the central header / notification stream. Providing more configuration options would be a next step.
We love our moderators and the invaluable work they do for all community members. Even though we have already build a dedicated Moderation Service, we need to further improve it by providing more detailed information about reported issues and members to simplify their efforts.
While still delivering small enhancements and of course bug fixes, we are fully committed to deliver these priority items till end of this year, if somehow possible.
We are very much aware of other capabilities that are/have been available in SCN and aren’t available yet, like @ mentioning, announcements, content recommendations, better topic overview pages and many others. The same is true for the SCN Wiki, which is a great source of valuable information and didn’t get the necessary attention in the past. Therefore we will publish this year a long term roadmap this year that provides more detailed insight into which features we plan to deliver in 2017.
When we started working on the new SAP Community 2+ years ago, I assumed that the hardest part would be to make these handful of single purpose applications look and feel like a single integrated experience. Looking at it from a purely technical integration perspective I think we achieved a lot. A unified header allows switching between various areas of SAP.com and the Community. Community topic pages, the profile and search provide different ways of content discovery across Blogs and Answers. Tags representing our SAP taxonomy provide contextual cross linking and filtering across all content providing systems.
That said, the technical integration is only a means to an end. What counts in the end is a good, overall user experience and this is where I personally think we haven’t done a great job yet. I only got this understanding in the last couple of month when I started working with new people coming into the teams that brought in a heavy UX focus. They pointed out for them obvious short comings which we would have to address, and while we didn’t find the time to even address some of the most critical issues, I can assure you that there is a focus now on getting the UX right. For me, UX is about providing the user the right information in an easy to understand UI at the point in time when s/he needs it. It is most important to understand what our community users need, from research and your direct feedback, and to provide impriovements where we identify gaps.
During this coming weekend the switch from SCN to the new SAP Community is going to happen. At the latest on Monday all requests to the old domain will get redirected to these new applications, and the vast majority of users will for the very first time experience this brand new SAP Community platform. A big change like this will require learning and adoption from everybody involved. Jerry Janda has been publishing a large amount of learning material that gives you a head start into the various aspects of the new platform. But I also want to ask you directly to please support us in helping other community members, to continue to report issues that you find, and by providing us general feedback and new ideas in order to help us continuously improve.
As Eng Swee Yeoh described it in his recent blog post, the true value of this community is in its people. We have been building this new platform for you, our community members. And while me might not get everything right from the get go, we are truly committed to make this the single best enterprise community experience.
PS: in case you discover this blog post during the go-live weekend and find yourself not being able to comment, please come back on Monday 10th. The blog post will have been migrated to the new Blogs by then.
Great to hear wonderful news of the SAP Developer Network. I think this is the second make over of this Forum.
I am looking forward to this and waiting eagerly to experience the essence of this new UX. I would also like to thank you and the entire team in advance for all your effort and the hard work involved to make this reality.
Best of Luck.
Whatever grumbles occur when we're on the new platform (and you know, a go-live wouldn't be a go-live without grumbles 😛 ) the community cannot fault you or your team for a lack of transparency... The continuous open and honest communications have been a lesson to all of us in how to communicate when great changes are ahead.
I'm looking forward to this new chapter in SCN!
As always with your posts, I appreciate the transparency and how you stick to the facts. Looking forward to the upcoming UX improvements. I wish you and your team Godspeed for the weekend to come and what follows.
Why is there no mention of the rather critical items which had to be recreated in the old, reliable, but not very 1DX pretty, Wiki?
SAP Technology RIG
Hi Michael, I tried to convey my understanding of the most critical items, and what we think we can fix prob till end year. If there is anything I'm missing, please let me know. Either post the link here in the comments, or shoot me an email.
For sure there will be more stuff in detail that we are going to work on, but I wouldn't qualify this to be communicated in a blog post on that granularity level. We need to find a different channel to keep the most engaged members like you in the loop, if there is an interest in that.
I wonder if we may need a separate discussion about the wikis. Some SCN members seem to be quite passionate about them but personally all I find there is questionable, redundant or outdated content. It could be just the problem with my areas of interest, of course.
Hi Jelena, the thing is it's the WIKI seems to be the only available option for content that was previously put in Jive documents - at least for SAP employees. Many teams used that extensively to provide FAQs or other compilations and multi-author documents.
So that content is extremely important and by no means outdated. Take a look here for example: SAP HANA Cloud Platform, Portal Service - Product Information - SAP HANA Cloud Platform
Yes Matthias Steiner - you are spot on with my collective team/community efforts in the SAP Fiori space being relegated to the wiki. Personally I hadn't looked at the leftover SDN wiki in several years (possibly since the last major SDN to SCN update). Jelena Perfiljeva - I wouldn't say I am passionate about the wiki, but moreso the value-add of the content that is now found in the wiki. Out of necessity I have found a few wiki features that I like, but mostly it feels like forgotten technology that needs a fresh modernization of the UI/UX.
We found a sweet spot leveraging Jive DOC's for creating web page content to help curate the vast array of content being created - hence the All Things SAP Fiori landing page. Not only did it provide agile multi-author collaboration, but it also served as a communication beacon for people to leverage their notification method of choice: communications channel, follow, email, RSS, etc. with simple comments on the DOC pages. Basically bringing all things Fiori related from several spaces into a tactical and organized approach. Along with many other SCN space topics doing very similar activities, we were quite shocked to see the content destined for the read-only Archive in the May beta timeframe. This led to the SCN team providing us with the wiki approach as a short term solution, and all of the URL redirects from DOC to WIKI page (clicking the All Things link you will see that the redirects started a week ago). The longer term solution is still a work in process (after-launch), but SSO, header harmonization, proper tag leveraging, and search filtering and drill-down are all fundamentally required to do away with the concept of landing pages and helpful insight to guide people to the plethora of experiences and lessons learned that are contained within the SCN asset repository. I am a huge fan of the tagging concept, but we have to incorporate it properly to help guide people to associated and organized content, but this remains a future state, and for now we have a wiki.
Thanks for the mention, Oliver!
Great blog, as always. I read it in the email because when I tried to visit SCN this morning it would not come up. But someone was "addressing the matter with the utmost urgency", so now all is well and I can post a comment. I hope this will move "receiving emails" a notch higher on the priority list. 🙂
Thanks for nudging me, Jelena 🙂
Notifications via email is high up in the list since LV.
Hi Oliver - thank you for the shout-out, and more importantly the listening ear at TechEd in Vegas. Apparently we were destined to meet at the event, and the smile on your face (or was that a teeth clenching grin) when I revealed my event badge as a form of introduction, will be etched in my memories for long after the dust settles on this community network construction project. I only wish the SAP Marketing/Event schedule would have given us reason to have a dueling laptop session to chat about the present/future SCN many months earlier. Looking forward to experiencing the team moving the needle forward on the critical post-launch updates, and we are ready to roll up my sleeves and pitch in - the SAP Community Family is worth it and deserves our best!
That was definitely a big smile, and our conversations afterwards only confirmed by expectations that you are one of the most passionate and engaged community members, and a huge source of insight. Yes, we should ideally have met earlier! Let's keep the conversation going.
Thanks for the insight (again) and keeping my fingers crossed for the upcoming go-live weekend. Really looking forward to Monday and the new SCN community!
What about RSS feeds? Are they still available? At least I could not find any yet. I use more than 20 feeds (+ every topic divided to docs and blogs) so really looking forward to change all of them.. 🙁
We currently do not support or promote RSS. But this new blogging platform is using WordPress, and we haven't disabled any of the application inherent RSS capabilities.
What does it mean? There is no available option for following blogs / docs for different section anymore? Really, nowadays?
We use a more current approach, where you can follow a product and get updates in your activity stream. There are also tag pages that aggregate all content around SAP products, solutions etc. Please look at this page that describes it in more detail: http://go.sap.com/community/about/using-tags.html
What I really miss is simple division into sections, like it was in good old SCN. Because now when somebody creates a new blog and put there all available tags, my feeds will then contain duplicates.
Also what about Documents? These are merged to Blogs now?
For sure we have to improve on the Activities application, but there is a limit on the number of tags that can be used. Documents from not SAP employees have been migrated as blog posts, yes.
I'm with you Jan.
If I have product-specific questions, such as for AIF, I need to go to that forum to post to receive the best possible answers.
I'd hate for it to get buried with a hundred various ABAP questions
I looked at the web page you mention (http://go.sap.com/community/about/using-tags.html), but I still don’t catch how to follow a Tag….
I miss this feature / RSS feeds also. I have a Netvibes dashboard to keep a overview. Without the feeds I will loose track. The community itself with all the extreme spaces between the texts does not give a compact overview of the topics I am interested in. At least I did not found a way.
Hello Oliver ,
how to get E-Mail notifications for my followed tags? In the past I have answered several question if a new posting comes in to help customers and users. How dose this works with tags?
currently we don’t support email notifications for new content per tag/products/solution etc. I would encourage you to post this question into Q&A (using SAP.com tag) so that we can provide an answer to all users.
Is the old site up anywhere? Like archive.scn.sap.com or something? I need to be able find answers faster and while the new site is fancy and cool it's impacting my business. I'm totally lost on this site that I had to create a new user, hope everyone likes it. But funny aside, I have real business issues to solve and while I'm glad for the transparency I'd really like a way to be able to quickly browse the old site even if its archived and I can't comment.
Assuming you remember the space name, perhaps this URL sample will help (example is the fiori space so just substitute the end of the URL):
This helps thanks!
Hi Boaty 🙂
I also just realized after more clicking around and hunting around the main Archive entry point from the Community menu does provide a space browser once you've chosen discussions or documents.
Browse archived discussions by topic not working
Good to see SCN 2.0 up and running, so far so good with one or two kinks to be ironed out but it's great to see the Platform back and more "current".
Hopefully we can continue to push the platform out and from a personal standpoint use it to benefit customers with Forums & Blogging!
interesting to read how you yourself think SAP created a major improvement...
Let me ask one question, which was posted here as well:
The use of screen space is not optimal. The interesting content of a QA list makes use of less than 20% of my 22" 1680x1050 screen and initially shows only 2,5 item.
Why did you waste so much blank space for good content?
If several mobile user's fingers are too fat, it should not be the problem of PC users...
thanks for the feedback. As you might notice, I mostly speak from a technical perspective, which is due to my role in the project. As you could also read, I personally think that we need some bigger improvement regarding UX. I would consider screen real estate part of it, although not super critical.
If a user decides to cover his HD screen completely with web site content, then this is up to him/her. For content reading it is definitely better to have more narrow columns, as this is easier for the eye to perceive.
This does not necessarily mean that I fully agree with all design choices that have been made. There is also from my perspective room for improvement. But all feedback of this type helps us discover areas where we need to improve.
Therefore thanks a lot!
I tried half of the HD screen, this is what happened (Chrome at 100% zoom, 1920x1080 resolution).
“If a user decides to cover his HD screen completely with web site content, then this is up to him/her.”
That sounds to me that my kind of work is the issue ;-(
That is the second big improvement of all these forums. At the old sdn i’m able to get all my relevant database platforms on one website.
With the scn some years ago i lost this capability, may be i didn’t understand how to manage. So i have build 5 links to my platforms + HANA + SAP IQ.
But today ? I don’t understand what i see here.
For example “Tag: IBM DB2 for z/OS” Shows only one entry – from 2013. Where is the rest ?
sorry, aber ich bin dann mal weg….
Hi Kay, the rest moved into the archive where it is still available and can be found either via our own search or via Google.
What do you mean with "At the old sdn i’m able to get all my relevant database platforms on one website."? 5 forums opened on a single screen?
no, i don’t mean that i’m able to open 5 Forums on a single screen. It was something like a stream, you see the topics, the name of the forum and counts for views and replies. It looks more than the old usenet. And now we get more and more facebook-looking communities. It’s the same with Oracle OTN or MOSC, they use the same jive Software. imho not a good choice.