We all can agree that it has been a rough time here in SAP Community since we launched in October last year. Community members of all types, if they are casual visitors or long-term veterans, have been struggling with how to use what was previously called SCN. Personally, this has been the most challenging time in my professional career, as I saw all of you and your problems with this new place of which I have been a member of long before I became an SAP employee and the technical lead of SAP Community.
If you are following my contributions, you will see that I don’t often publish blog posts here. It is mostly when we were facing severe issues or downtimes with the technical platform (which there have been fairly few recently), or when bigger changes are coming that you should know about. The reason for this blog post is the latter. But before I go into more detail on this, I think it is important to understand the problems we are currently facing and why these changes are necessary.
Too Many Tag Pages
We implemented SAP Community with a Best-of-Breed (BoB) approach, where content like blog posts and questions are managed in their own collaboration systems. This gives all of us the ability to have functional capabilities, that we wouldn’t get from a fully integrated system like we had in old SCN, where we were constantly running into limitations to provide you functionality specific to SAP Community and your specific needs. With this BoB approach, it was necessary to have places in the overall experience that would aggregate the content across SAP products, our industry solutions, but also technical topics and events. We had used “managed tags” in old SCN and decided that categorization and organization would be done best by a central taxonomy which would reflect all our available products, services etc. because this is what you, the community members are talking about each day. Aggregation of the content should be done on www.sap.com where the user would get a consistent view across all content types.
As you can see, this is a very technical view on the problem and its solution, and what we underestimated was the necessity for a consistent user experience across the BoB systems and where the content gets aggregated. I personally didn’t have any understanding of what it means to build a good, consistent UX and how to identify a bad one. Even though I had been directly approached from people like Jeremy Good, who explained to me their issues with what was life in Beta, it took me quite an amount of time to fully understand.
Here is a different view on the problem we are currently facing.
A couple of month ago I sat down and started to visualize the current SAP Community structure, and it looks very messy. Please do not assume this is a complete or consistent view into the current structure, but I think it shows clearly where the current root cause of the problems lie. The Content Browser lane shows all the key pages where we list content for tags and topics, and the different content types (except the archived content, which isn’t integrated into the tag pages, but I’ll come back to that). In the end, you are faced with the problem to identify relevant content for you from thousands of pages, showing content lists.
Many of you have raised your voice and told us about the problems that you see with SAP Community in its current form (e.g. these two posts, but even more in the comments). New questions don’t get visited and answered that often anymore. Blog posts have fewer comments and likes, and overall the engagement is lower than what we had before.
The problems we currently see can be explained when we understand that core user journeys for content discovery are broken, and very hard to use. Posting a new question is fairly easy, but trying to find unanswered questions for your area of expertise is a major effort, and requires a lot of time. The same can be said for blog posts, published for a certain primary tag. Once the post rolls of the blog roll on Blogs, it becomes really hard to find the content again, even if it is of high value.
With that understanding of the core problem, we were able to start working on a new approach better structure content in SAP Community and make it easier to find again.
Content Organized by Topics
Tags are a fine and proven concept for organizing content. Just our approach of serving the content to the end user via a single page for each tag was a bad idea. And it didn’t help much, when we added filters for your followed tags on Blogs and Answers, because they only work for logged in users.
With Topics, we are going to radically simplify how content will be organized in SAP Community. Instead of having thousands of pages for tags, all content will be accessible in about 500 topic pages (roughly the number of spaces we had in the old SCN). Topics are going to represent e.g. a SAP product, industry, event, or development technology, and will aggregate all the content related to this topic. The content browser will provide filter options to make it easy for example to only show you unanswered questions, or recent blog posts. In addition, you will get more information about the topic, the number of followers for this Topic, related Topics and the responsible moderators.
What this also means is that Topics will replace the Primary Tag that you currently have to pick when creating content in SAP Community. Instead of having to choose e.g. from 72 tags related to SAP Fiori, you will be able to pick the SAP Fiori Topic and be sure that every visitor to the Fiori Topic will be able to access the content from that page.
By replacing all tag pages with Topic pages, we will be able to reduce the number of overall pages, and significantly simplify the way content is organized in SAP Community. Navigation to the content of your interest is likely more to look like what you see below.
The Road to Topics
We have been working the last couple of month with a team of UX designers and information architects on this new concept for SAP Community, and we are confident that this will resolve many of the issues that you currently have. The conceptual change will also include a UI redesign, improved personalization, fewer tags overall and many other improvements which we are going to share with you in the next couple of months.
We are currently on the task of analyzing the UI designs, decomposing UI components, identifying required adjustments to our microservice architecture and planning out the work items for all teams involved. As a next step, we are going to build a prototype version of this new approach to validate our assumptions with end users and their specific needs (casual visitors, topic experts, etc.), which probably will result in some additional adjustments to the UI designs and user journeys.
These changes have the goal to restore the overall user experience, and we are confident that they will significantly contribute to the resolution of many of the problems we currently see. We have been using the SAP Community Roadmap to communicate which enhancements we plan to deliver short term, but I don’t think it is the right medium to properly reflect these larger structural changes that are needed. There will be more blog posts on this topic (no pun intended) in the near future, but actions still speak louder than words. We will share with you more details on what is going to change and how this will make SAP Community again the friendly and effective collaboration site that we all want it to be.
Obviously, this post is going to raise more questions than it answers. Please post yours in the comments, and I will try to do my best to provide more details to you.