A Maze Of Twisty Little Passages

Online Help forums can be a lifeline for people having difficulties with their computers, or other gadgets. Some of these forums are thriving communities in their own right, with thousands of members.

When I started thinking about building my first Home Theatre PC (HTPC), I looked around for some forums that would be a source of information and help. I quickly homed in on two:

  • The AVS Forum (which covers all aspects of audio-visual equipment, and which has a wide range of sub-forums devoted to topics such as Hi-Fi, HTPC, HDTV, etc.).
  • The Green Button – a set of forums run by Microsoft, and devoted to Windows Media Center and related topics.

Microsoft recently announced that it would be migrating The Green Button forums to a new forum platform, and this week they threw the switch. The Green Button is no more, but has now become part of what Microsoft call the Windows Experts Community (click the image below to enlarge it).

WEC 2

The Green Button forums have been migrated/merged into a new set of forums collectively titled Windows Entertainment and Connected Home. It’s a bit of a clunky title, and misses the snappiness of The Green Button, but if that were all, then I’d let it pass.

WEC 1

However, this new home has a user interface that is just as ploddingly dull and clunky as its name. Lord knows, the old Green Button user interface was not wonderful, but this new interface has some surprising limitations. After a few days of using this forum platform, I am getting very frustrated by the lack of easy navigation. For example:

  • While I can see all the unread posts across all the Windows Entertainment and Connected Home forums at a glance, I can’t mark them as read with one mouse-click. I have to go into each forum individually and mark them as read from there.
  • Once you’re in a thread, and you’ve read down to the end, there are no navigation links at the bottom to be able to move forwards or backwards to either unread posts or the posts next to the thread currently being read.
  • the only navigation possibility is to scroll all the way back to the top of the thread, and either follow the link to the Forum containing the thread, or jump higher in the Forum hierarchy using the breadcrumb path at the top.

There’s a list of almost 50 issues that has been created by old Green Button users frustrated by the poor design of their new home.

Well, OK, it’s new – and most people don’t like change – but there’s something else that I find very frustrating. That’s the fact that the Windows Experts Community is yet another online help forum run by Microsoft. There’s also Microsoft Answers and Windows Live Solution Center. That in itself wouldn’t be so bad – they are addressing slightly different communities of users. But the real killer for me, and what continually makes me want to bang my head against the desk, is that all three systems work differently. The forum navigations are completely different, the forum capabilities are different (e.g. one can embed images into posts,  two can’t), and there’s little cross reference flagged on the sites that other help forums exist.

For example, look at the home page of the Windows Expert Community above. You’ll see a link to the Microsoft Answers forums, but no mention of the Windows Live Solution Center forums. Now look at the home page of the Microsoft Answers forums:

Answers 1

…there’s no reference whatsoever to either the Windows Experts Community or Windows Live Solution Center. And over on the home page of the Windows Live Solutions Center, there’s a link to Microsoft Answers, but no mention of the Windows Experts Community, even though the latter has forums dedicated to Windows Live products!

WLSC 1

Welcome to a maze of twisty little passages. No wonder many customers are totally confused.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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6 Responses to A Maze Of Twisty Little Passages

  1. Robert Dammers says:

    There’s nothing like a Willie Crowther reference to date one.

    Plugh!

  2. JL says:

    Ah, cripes. Every time you talk about Microsoft they fall even further in my estimation (which was already below sea level) and now they’ve gone and bought Skype. Is there no end? The only thing that would have depressed me more would be if Google had beat them to it.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      They do seem to have been making some pretty strange decisions since Mr. Gates left to do his charitable work. Perhaps it’s just the fact that they’re a large organisation, and we’re seeing the Peter Principle at work (“in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”).

      I suspect that they bought Skype precisely because otherwise Google would have. Now they’ve just got figure out what on earth to do with it.

      • JL says:

        What I’m hoping is that they just leave it alone. At this point it works.

        • Geoff Coupe says:

          My prediction is that we will see the same thing play out as what happened when Microsoft bought iView Pro, which then became Microsoft’s Expression Media: the team failed to gel with the Microsoft culture and the product became moribund. The team left Microsoft and Microsoft sold the technology to a third party…

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