Information scavenger hunt: How do you find a needle in a haystack?


Shawn and I are working on an article for MSDN Magazine about how to design and take advantage of custom locales. We’re trying to supplement the information already available in MSDN and on our blogs with some best practices that ought to help developers who want to take advantage of custom locale technology.


But working on the article has started me wondering: Where do our customers typically find that they get the most useful information about how to use the technologies that we’re releasing? There are a whole bunch of options: MSDN help documentation, MSDN Magazine articles, KB articles, newsgroups or other public forums, blogs… the list goes on. But in order for us to ensure that we make our documentation available in the most useful possible way, it is important for us to know how customers search for and find the documentation that we produce. Do some of these distribution channels work better than others? Would something else work better?


The way I see it, the primary distinction is between non-interactive formats (e.g. MSDN help documentation) and interactive formats (e.g. blogs, newsgroups). So it makes sense to use forums to present the kind of information that those forums best support. But I’m interested to hear what you think about how well we do with this today. In particular, have you looked for information and been unable to find it? What kinds of information do you expect to find in the various locations that you look? Which forums are the ones you keep coming back to, because they’re the most useful, extensive, immediate, and/or fun? Does someone else do it better than Microsoft does?


I think we could do a better job of communicating about our technologies to customers, and I’m trying to take advantage of the interactive format of this forum in asking the question. 🙂

Comments (12)

  1. Mihai says:

    For pure API info, I go with MSDN.

    If I deiscover it is not working "as advertised," I search a bit on the web, and if that is not enough, I write a small application "execising" the API I want to understand.

    For the big picture, for the "why" part, for strategic stuff, I go to http://www.microsoft.com/globaldev (although kind of slow-moving) and to the few i18n blogs I know (well, this means in fact google, because the blogs.msdn.com search is really bad 🙂

  2. KieranS says:

    Okay, so then here’s another question: Why blogs over newsgroups (if indeed I read you correctly)? Or do you use newsgroups for different kinds of information? Or do you think the newsgroup model is broken?

    Oh, and as for why I’m asking: As we’re expanding our extensibility toolset and thinking about ways to make information about the tools available, I’m really trying to understand which forums will be the most useful to people so that we can focus our efforts appropriately.

  3. TimAnderson says:

    I’ve posted a few comments here:

    http://www.itwriting.com/blog/?postid=511

    Tim

  4. KieranS says:

    I’ll post more in response soon, but for now: this Kieran is a she, not a he. 🙂

  5. TimAnderson says:

    Apologies; now corrected 🙂

    Tim

  6. Mihai says:

    <<Okay, so then here’s another question: Why blogs over newsgroups (if indeed I read you correctly)? Or do you use newsgroups for different kinds of information? Or do you think the newsgroup model is broken?>>

    For me the newsgroup is "for news"

    I read the posts, then delete them.

    Or save on local what I think I will need.

    Or answer, and I don’t delete. Then I follow the thread until it dies, then delete it all.

    If I need something from a newsgroup, is either saved (because I thought is interesting), or I find it with Google (so "it is web not newsgroup" 🙂

    One of the main problem with newsgroups is the history. Many servers keep only a limited ammount of posts. So if instead of saving the post I just keep a reference to it, I might not be able to retrieve it 2 months from now anyway. And even in servers keeping the posts,  searching in posts you marked "deleted" is not possible, or very difficult.

    The difficuly part for information tools is separating the noise from the good info. How do I decide what should go and what should stay?

    I don’t want to see all the old junk. But "someone’s junk is someone’s else treasure :-)"

    So this decision should be on the client side.

    The best client for this is e-mail like, where I can move messages in folders and keep them. But email clients are very primitive, we know how much time we waste just reading/sorting email. They are missing basic mechanisms to group by thread, filter, ranking, etc.

    And building an email like client on top of nntp protocol does not feel like a good match.

    We need a killer application 🙂

  7. Mihai says:

    <<Why blogs over newsgroups>>

    I don’t think I have answered this part.

    Because in the blogs the signal/noise ration is way-way better.