Wednesday, February 20, 2013

MSDN/TechNet Library–The Classic Skin is No More

For those of you who use the MSDN and TechNet library content, you may have noticed that Microsoft has changed the UI of these subsites: and . These are essentially the same site, that point to different databases. Some years ago, the sites were updated to have several skins: lightweight, script free and classic. I’ve been a user of Classic since forever and was very surprised to see that MS has decided to retire the classic skin.

In the MSDN forum, this decision generated a lot of discussion: see for the thread. A user, Victor Araya, posted on Jan 24th claiming to be the PM responsible for the user experience of these sites. He laid out his argument trying to ‘address some of the concerns’.  The feedback on that post was interesting in that not one of the users who follows up this post either agree with him or like the alternative skin. Not one. Comments like “the Lightweight display is a complete failure”, “Lightweight is simply no where near as useable as classic”, “the lightweight view is just washed out and unappealing to the point I really don't want to use it”,” Microsoft really seems to be taking steps to alienate it's developers or just make our work harder” etc.

For me, the change means losing all the community content metrics and tag information. As a community content contributor for both the TechNet and MSND libraries, in fact the largest contributor by a mile, I am sad to see all reference to the thousands of hours I’ve spend curating the content just thrown away.  It’s like all that work has just been for nothing. Heck, I didn’t even get a mail giving me a heads up that all reference to my work would vanish. Thanks Victor and your team for such a great job.

But perhaps the saddest comment comes from a very long time MVP, Cindy Meister. She says: You have to wonder what MSDN does with all the money people pay for their subscriptions. Good point Cindy.

So with such positive feedback – what does Microsoft do? Most companies would have read the feedback and at least gone into explain mode. But no – this is not how Microsoft reacted to the bad feedback. Instead of engaging the community,  we’ve not had a single further response from either ‘Victor’ or any other MS employee. I find the lack of response from Microsoft highly disappointing. And despite every poster asking MS to keep the classic skin, the classic skin is no more – it’s gone. And along with the skin itself, we have lost quite a lot of great information and as well as the improved usability if offered. 

It is sad is that no one from Microsoft has taken the time or made the effort to follow up on the many negative comments. It’s like they have made the decision and that’s that. No amount of sane and sensible paying customer feedback will change their minds. So we suffer. IMHO, Someone at Microsoft needs to listen to the community better. If I were Victor’s boss and read this thread, I’d be very tempted to let him follow his career objectives elsewhere and replace him with someone who gets the needs of the community.

What a sad day!


Bruce R. Hamilton said...

Indeed, I am sorry for the loss of the community content. Your name is very familiar Thomas. Thanks for all your contributions.

Let me ponder on why I think Microsoft took this step. Consider all the TOC markup coming over the wire for all those nodes. With technologies and their reference libraries abounding, older legacy transforms and rendering that were keeping Classic going was not worth keeping given the volume and expense. That's my hunch anyway. But I am confident however, that lightweight will improve and perhaps offer new paradigms of organizing and displaying content that wouldn't have been feasible with classic.

I hope I can offer some consolation to you Thomas and all the other contributors in that as a former writer at Microsoft and the .NET Framework, I can say that just about all community content and customer feedback on MSDN got channeled into bugs (work items) to the writers to incorporate into the content. I had literally thousands of them at one time. So it was not all lost, by no means.

LunaCafe said...

Hi there. I can only imagine how disappointing this is for someone like yourself who made such a large contribution. I echo Bruce Hamilton's condolences and will pass this post on to others on the team for comment. We do listen. We do care.

Thomas said...

To Bruce and LunaCafe:
Thanks for your kind words. They were a nice surprise!

I appreciate the justification offered by Bruce. I have no basis for comment other than to say that the reasons and the whole transition approach could have and should have been better managed and disclosed. The audience deserved a better handling of the cutover.

FWIW: I have been raising stuff through my internal contacts and have not had a single response. Colour me somewhat disappointed.

In the past, I tried to read and curate every post that came to both libraries, although some weeks were harder than others! I enjoyed learning so much about the MSFT technologies as well watching the number rack up. But at least some of the motivation to continue has gone, along with my ability to edit posts for improved clarity.

The loss of the tags and tag lists also deprives the audience of a user-driven taxonomy. I tagged my hundreds of PowerShell scripts with PowerShell Code - which gave my readers the ability to find these contributions. But That's gone.

And finely, the recognition aspect - there were a great number of people who contributed quite a lot - and that whole corpus of work is now far far harder to find.

And yes, as the single greatest contributor to the libraries by some margin, I am disappointed to see the recognition disappear.

While I can only hope Bruce's prediction is true, it's a big loss, IMHO for the community. And it's a loss that should have been handled a whole lot better.

I do now know who you folks are, but I appreciate the comments and I'm glad that the folks on the ground do appreciate the work that I an other community contributors did on behalf of MSFT to help to improve the content. That means a lot!!

Please feel free to pass the link to both the article and the comments to whomever can do something to try to make this, if not right, at least better.