Leveraging the Infragistics developer community

This post has 14 Replies | 4 Followers

Rob Hudson
Points 5,348
Replied On: Tue, Aug 23 2011 7:06 PM

Infragistics Team,

I have been using Infragistics tools for most of a decade, and have been supporting my developer peers in the Infragistics forums for nearly that long. I would really appreciate you giving this proposal some serious thought. I have taken a lot of time to think this through and document it for you, and I hope you will afford this suggestion appropriate consideration.

I have been chewing on an idea for a long time that would be an enhancement to the Infragistics documentation and support website. 

You really need a community-driven code samples area, preferably cross-linked into the documentation.

You have made some efforts at code samples in the past... And they have been pretty good. Your staff content authors are brilliant.  Tony, Craig, and Murtaza are amazing, and I love reading their stuff. The problem with each effort has had to do with goal and structure, not content. Here is a summary.

  • The Code Samples on the support website are great... and the content is superb...
    • but do you realize the last code sample posted to your Code Samples area of the ASP.Net support site was nearly two-and-a-half years ago? Yup, February 2009. http://community.infragistics.com/aspnet/codesamples/default.aspx.
    • Plus, the samples are not categorized in any way to make it easy to find something specific.
    • Lastly, all of the effort for maintaining this site falls on your internal staff. You have a broad user community that has some pretty good talent that can contribute to something like this.
  • The Samples Browser is also great, and *sometimes* helps, but...
    • it doesn't go very deep.
    • It is designed as a sales tool for people unfamiliar with the tools to get a broad overview of the capabilities.  As such, it often is not helpful for people really trying to get into the nitty gritty.
  • The Documentation is tremendous as a reference tool... if what you need is a reference tool.
    • However, there is a real deficit in the "how to" aspect of the documentation. For an example, have a look at the CSOM section of the ASP.Net documentation.
      • If you are trying to learn Russian, you don't start off reading the Russian dictionary.
    • Having community-driven code samples linked into the documentation would help tremendously.
  • You do have control-specific forums... and they are great for support.
    • But to actually use them to try to find out how to do something useful is hard.
    • You have to wade through a ton of bug reports and posts that have no real permanent contribution.
    • Instead of finding the solution you are looking for, you often find yourself in the middle of a conversation you have to decipher.
    • You often have to read through numerous such conversations before you find something resembling an answer... or worse yet, discover that there is no answer in the forums, and the time was wasted.
    • Some of your best staff are writing code samples and placing them in the forums.  Hat tip to Duane Hoyte, who has written some really terrific stuff.  I hate to see those really great articles get lost in the forums, and his articles deserve more recognition and prominence than that.
  • You have some Sample Applications....
    • To be honest, I have never once looked at them to try to figure out how to do something.
    • There is no way to tell what techniques are used in each Sample Application without actually studying the application.  I assume they are just a sales tool or a "user interface idea" tool.
    • If you want developers to use the Sample Applications for code samples, you really need to include links to the specific sections of the sample applications within the core documentation.  For example, if you bring up the documentation for the WebDataGrid, it should say something like "for an example of how to xxxxxx, have a look at the sample application xxxxxx, where we use this technique on the page xxxxxx"

I know documentation is tedious, and is not really core to what you do (which is developing outstanding tools). Having a community code sample site would actually take some pressure off of your documentation team, because people could go to the community site to fill in the gaps. I am sure it would also take some pressure off of your support staff.

So here is what I am thinking would be features of a Community Code Samples website...

  • We need the code sample categories to be very specific. So if someone wants to post a new sample (or find a new sample), they can go right to their control/feature. The category definitions that you have in your Samples Browser are actually a pretty good start.
  • Within each category, we should have a mechanism where people can request a code sample on a topic, and once the code sample is provided, the request can either be marked as answered or removed.
  • Use a reputation system to recognize your most prolific contributors. Maybe reward them by offering free upgrades, subscriptions, or training, or by including them in MVP forums. These people are making a tangible contribution to your company by reducing your support costs.
  • Each contributed code sample should have an area where people can discuss it (and offer better methods). Moderators and/or the original author should be able to edit and update the original sample.  If someone suggests a better method, their reputation should reflect that, and the better method should either be listed as an alternative, or should replace the original code sample.
  • If possible, community code samples should be cross-linked to the documentation. So if I am looking at the CSOM WebDataTab page in the documentation, I should have the ability to see community-authored code samples listed right in the documentation.
    • Right now, the documentation is often a last resort when trying to find out how to do something.  This will encourage users to go to the documentation when they have a question, making it a "first resort".  This should reduce your support costs.
  • Code samples should appear in the search results of the support site.
  • Only code samples and "how to" documents are allowed. No support requests or bug reports. No whining in the discussion. Moderators should remove non-constructive posts and direct them to use the forums instead. The idea is that the site is intended to supplement the documentation, and so the content should be professional and specific.
  • Of course, they need to be RSS subscribable.

Like I said, I have put a lot of time in using your products, and fleshing out this proposal.  I believe that this suggestion offers some real gains to your company in reduced documentation and support pressure.  That translates to real dollars and cents in reduced support costs.

Even more than that, it will help galvanize the loyalty of your user community.  Your talented users will feel appreciated, and your new users will more quickly tie in to the sense of community.  That translates into real dollars and cents in increased sales and retention.

I hope you will consider it.

Thanks,

Rob Hudson

  • Post Points: 20
craigshoemaker
Points 746,259
Infragistics Employee
Microsoft MVP
Replied On: Wed, Aug 24 2011 5:18 PM

Rob:

Thanks – thanks for the time you took out of your day to write to us. Thanks for the time you spent thinking through a challenging problem and thanks for pointing out how Infragistics can improve to benefit not only you, but all of our customers.

You’ve mentioned a number of issues here and I am going to do my best to carefully deal with each one. Please don’t hesitate to correct or guide me as I work through these issues because your feedback is invaluable.

Even though Infragistics is, as viewed by many, a ‘controls vendor’ – that by no means diminishes our commitment to customer support. We have teams that live and breathe the developer support, documentation, samples and design experiences for our customers. The bottom line is we care deeply about how each of these departments relate to you – so your suggestions, thoughts and ideas are welcome anytime.

Your proposal for leveraging the Infragistics customer community by strengthening code samples and making content more discoverable makes a lot of sense. To begin, though, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is the highest priority among the company at this time surrounds shipping our new corporate website. Now that may not sound relevant to our discussion but please allow me to explain.

We have recognized that one of the main difficulties that our customers face is the daunting task of trying to find information. Right now information about our products is scattered across the myriad of Infragistics web properties making it hard for customers to know where to go for what information. The bedrock feature of our new website is an integrated faceted search that not only returns search results from:

  • forums
  • help topics
  • product samples
  • blogs
  • videos
  • product marketing information

…but also allows you to filter in or out the types of content (blog posts, samples, forums, etc.) you want along with related tags. The ability to search across all the content silos of the company and quickly narrow down to what you are looking for will, I certainly hope, provide a much more effective way of getting the answers you need.

Note: Our current site has a “global” search available at http://www.infragistics.com/support/get-help.aspx, but the search in our new site far out-performs this search engine.

Now for the bad news. Based on our research we stopped putting resources behind code samples because the response we’ve heard is a desire for more in-depth samples and topics that extend beyond the base-level concepts and code snippets. Unfortunately code samples, as they stand today, haven’t met the needs for more comprehensive learning. But as they say, “never say never”.

From what I understand your desire is to address: how can Infragistics open up access to our rich community of customers to enable better collaboration? Our past hesitation to granting open access to areas of our sites is rooted in some bad experiences we encountered with users not being responsible with the power to post content to our sites. Invariably these problems lead us to consider very carefully what we are able to make open to the public and what needs to be locked down.

Therefore what I would like to do is to get you in contact with a member of our Interaction Design Team, Riddhima Shelat. She is about the business of making sure our new website is usable, beautiful and fulfills the needs of our customers. Perhaps we can work together to find a reasonable answer to how we can open up the keys to the kingdom more?

Another point you mentioned is that our documentation is a “last resort” in the options you consider while attempting to learn how to use Infragistics’ products. I’d love for that not to be the case and I’d like to share some of proactive steps we are taking to increase the quality and coverage of our documentation:

Focusing on the Important and the Urgent

With each release cycle we face the same dilemma. How much of our resources do we allocate to shoring up existing samples and documentation and how much of those resources are pointed toward supporting content around the latest release?

For the most part the Product Guidance (PG) team has placed the highest priority on supporting new products. After all if customers don’t have resources to learn new products how will they ever start using them, right? The problem with this mindset is that more in-depth content that we would have liked to provide during the previous release is often skipped in light of providing new content for new features.

To speak to this problem we are instituting a new PG role which is reserved 100% during a release cycle for working with existing documentation. People in this role will:

  • work with our Developer Support department to cover common pain points
  • create more advanced-scenario samples and topics
  • work with our Engineering team to find deficiencies in our API documentation

My hope is that by establishing and supporting this role existing issues among product samples and documentation will dissipate over the long run.

Enhancing the Presentation

We are currently looking at a few options that present some ways for us to change direction regarding how we provide content on the web and on our customer’s machines. Our current approach is too restrictive to really allow us to make our content as discoverable as possible. We are looking toward updating our tooling and processes that will allow us to better present our content that better facilitate searching, scanning content and provide an overall better experience with our content.

Improving Quality

In the past Infragistics has used outside editing firms who were responsible for editing our documentation. The feedback we would get would be to fix a few grammatical errors and correct some spelling mistakes.

Today we have established in-house editing staff. Going far beyond a few spelling tweaks our editing team is working hard to build a “consistent voice” among our documentation and help enforce a higher standard among our written work.

Further, we are adopting the Information Mapping writing technique to create documents that are clearer, easier to scan and that help readers find and understand relevant content faster than ever.

Since I still don’t feel like I’ve provided a good enough answer for you regarding your overall question, I’ll pursue this further with our design and development teams to see if there are some features of our new website that we can build around exposing more to community contributions. While we won’t be able to introduce anything beyond our current project plan in the first version, perhaps with some design interaction we can create something that will work for a coming release of the site.

Further, as I read your post I was wondering if you could help me by understanding better the answers to the following questions:

1

What does good “How to” content look like?

I don’t want to make any assumptions here. We have some ideas, but I’d love to get your perspective on exactly what you’re looking for.

2

How can we make showcase samples more relevant while still being flexible enough for change?

One issue I see with your suggestion for deep linking into the showcase samples is that we must be able to account for change. When the code in a sample is updated then there is a risk that a description in a topic is then out of sync.

What would you like to see?

3

Would you be in support of us somehow integrating something like the code samples in the same structure of our feature samples?

Doing this may give you the organizational structure you’re describing and make a clean way to integrate some other approach in our existing framework.

4

Can we contact you outside the forums for feedback regarding our new website and other advancements we’re considering?

Your experience with our products, well-crafted insight and obvious desire to see conditions improve make your direct feedback coveted.

Thanks once again, Rob. I know some of what I’ve discussed goes beyond the original scope of your post, but I hope that you see that I share all this information in the spirit of demonstrating that we are dedicated to the process of continually improving your interactions with us on all levels.

We won’t always get it right and much of what we are doing represents a long-term dedication to improvement, but together I think we can make some significant change.

Best,

Craig

PS: I have included my contact information along with some of my colleagues at Infragistics if you or any others would like to continue this conversation on this thread or by any other means that is most convenient for you.

Craig Shoemaker
Product Guidance Manager
cshoemaker@infragistics.com
951-310-4496
@craigshoemaker

Stephani Smyth
Director, Developer Support
DSManager@infragistics.com
609-448-2000 X 1139

Riddhima Shelat
Interaction Designer
RShelat@infragistics.com
609-448-2000 X 1258

Craig Shoemaker
Product Guidance Manager
Blog | Pixel8

  • Post Points: 20
Rob Hudson
Points 5,348
Replied On: Wed, Aug 24 2011 10:14 PM

Craig,

Your response reminds me exactly of why I have been loyal to Infragistics for so long.

I don't want to sound like I am coming down on your support or documentation team.  Lord knows there is a ton of documentation, blogs, etc, all over the place.  I see the result of a tremendous amount of work.

Your support team has some really strong players as well.  Whenever Victor or Tsvetelina chimes in on a conversation, you know it's going to be resolved, and usually in an elegant way.

 

I have had a chance to read through your response... and the idea that the bedrock of the new site is a global search leaves me disappointed.  Maybe it's a personal flaw of mine, but when I want to find information, I gravitate to structured sources rather than unstructured fuzzy sources.  My instinct is to go to documentation and find the control/feature, and expect to find the answer there.  Using search feels like a desperate last resort to find something that should have been intuitively placed from the beginning.

Maybe it is a better global search... but it feels awkward building a search, guessing at keywords, and setting filters, when it should be as easy as pulling up a control from an organized hierarchy and scanning a list of articles.

A few notes specifically on your well-thought-out response.

  • I am encouraged by the new PG role.  It is a move in the right direction.
  • I completely agree with your assessment regarding presentation of documentation.  That you also see it is a positive sign and a move in the right direction.
  • I understand if none of my requests make it into version 1, or even version 2.  I understand locked in features and deployment plans.  But beyond that, I am just one guy.  If I am the only guy out here that feels this way, then catering to me isn't worth the trouble.  If others want these kinds of features, it is time for them to chime in.

In response to your questions: 

  • "What does good How To content look like?"
    • Well, first there needs to be *somewhere* a list of How To articles.  The list should be simple one-line statements, which link to an article or video.  "How to deploy CDN assets locally for CDN outage failover".  "How to completely hide a WebSplitter pane and bar in javascript".  etc.
    • Regarding presentation of the actual content of the article... I don't care!  It could be in Notepad and I would be ok with it.  Just put the information out there, organized into the document hierarchy, and I will absorb it, regardless of how it is presented.
    • That said, I really enjoyed the WebDataGrid CRUD video series.  I have actually gone back to those videos a few times, paused the screen, and typed out the code on the screen.  I really enjoyed them, mostly because they were highly practical, and the presenter was terrific.
  • "How can we make showcase samples more relevant while still being flexible enough for change?"
    • I think that the answer to your question is how the links are stored.  You need to keep a "database of links", so that if you make some change to some feature, you can quickly query for a list of resources affected by that change so that they can be updated.  I suggest that you build the maintenance of the "database of links" into your CMS or documentation user interface, so that the database is maintained automatically.
  • "Would you be in support of us somehow integrating something like the code samples in the same structure of our feature samples?"
    • By "feature samples", do you mean your Samples Browser?  If so, then yes.  I think your  category definitions currently being used in your Samples Browser sales tool are a good start for categorizing a code sample website.
    • However, I *really* don't like the current Samples Browser user interface.  I just don't find it intuitive at all.  I actually preferred the old tree.  Maybe not as flashy, but it was easier to find stuff.
  • "Can we contact you outside the forums for feedback regarding our new website and other advancements we’re considering?"
    • Absolutely...  I remain a long-term loyal Infragistics user, and will help in any way I can.  But be warned, I can grate on people because I tend to speak my mind, regardless of politics.

I appreciate that the all products and processes have flaws, and I do not have "perfection" as my expectation.  I love your products, and will continue to use them regardless of what you might do with my input.

 

Lastly, I have a couple of more insights.

I think really, there are two main challenges with the Infragistics support site now.

The first challenge, I think, is despite all of the content, it lacks cohesive structure.  Where do I go if I have a "How do I" question?  Do I go to the documentation, a sample website, a blog, the forums, or the sample browser?  Who knows... the answer may lie in any one of those places, and maybe not in any of them.  But I have to check all of them.  You would have me search all of these globally, but you are making me work to find information that should be organized.

A cohesive structure could be provided by the tree hierarchy in the documentation, but it's not linked to anything.


The second basic challenge is more fundamental...   I think the documentation is designed to answer the wrong questions.

If my question is "What is the class structure of the xyz object?"  The documentation has an answer for me.  But that's rarely the question I have in my mind when I go searching.  99% of the time, the question is some variant of "How do I.....?" 

Craig, I want you to look at this forum post by another seasoned user, posted only yesterday.   His forum post really deserves as much attention than anything I have written.  It is simple... only three sentences... but it speaks volumes, and should reverberate..

He says simply "Frustrated here trying to do one of the most common things possible in JavaScript for WebTab. Change the tab. Can't find it anywhere."  http://forums.infragistics.com/forums/t/59071.aspx

This guy isn't a slouch.  He's been with Infragistics since the classic controls.  If a seasoned user is having this much trouble trying to use the documentation to perform simple tasks, how much more do new users struggle?

And is there actual documentation to answer his question?  Yeah, there is technically documentation.  Nested 6 levels deep, buried beneath topics on namespaces and classes, in a property description.  There is no place to go to get a simple answer to the question "How do I do this very common task..."

Today, I spent much of my day teaching one of my junior developers how to customize output in the WebDocumentExporter and WebExcelExporter CellExported events.  Why?  Because he came to me and said "I looked everywhere, and I can't find documentation on how to customize output."  He didn't even have an inkling that the CellExported event is where you would want to do this kind of customization.

I knew how to do it... but how?  Not because of anything in the documentation... but because of a code sample Tsvetelina posted in the forums in response to one of my questions. 

Ultimately, this lack of documentation cost me in development time weeks ago, when I had to hunt it down.  It cost Tsvetelina (and by connection, it cost you) in her taking the time to respond.  And it cost me twice again today both for me and my helper, in the time it took to train him.  If IG would have afforded me the opportunity, I would have gladly taken what I showed him and posted it as a code sample to a public library to prevent this from happening to others.  But as it is, it is simply valuable time lost... for me, my protege, Tsvetelina, and the next chap who has this question (and Tsvetelina again when she has to respond to his support request).

That is four separate times this one lack of documentation has cost both of our companies valuable time... needlessly.  And several of them could have been avoided.

What really baffles me is why Tsvetelina wasn't given the opportunity to post the code sample into the core documentation... redeeming herself from having to answer the same questions over and over again.  She's internal, knowledgeable, and immensely helpful.. but even she can't contribute code samples to an easy-to-use library.  It sounds to me like the worst side of politics.

 

I really believe that if you shift the focus of the documentation away from "What are the technical specifications of xyz" to "How do I?" I think that solves most of the problems.

But I recognize that that sounds much easier than it actually is.  Just the math of it is daunting.  The number of useful tasks a person can perform with your tools is some multiplication of the combination of features, increased again by multiplying the combination of controls.  It's a massive project.

As you mentioned, resources are limited, and resources are weighted toward documenting new features.  I don't personally think you can accomplish a project of that scale while limiting yourself to only staff sources.  Without leveraging the community, the achievement of a comprehensive "how do I?" library may be impossible.

If you will humor me, let me describe my ideal Infragistics documentation site.

Regarding documentation... and I can't underscore it enough...This could be a mission statement for the documentation team. A person should feel confident that if they go to the documentation, they will find the answer in an intuitive way.  Even if the documentation doesn't have the actual information, it will contain a current intelligent link to some resource that has the information.  And most of the time anyone goes to the documentation, their question is "How do I...?".

The documentation as it is now is basically a static help file.  Instead, it should be a dynamic, breathing, growing documentation website, which is cross-linked by feature to *everything*.  The tree structure that you have now is fine, because it provides structure and organization, but content within each document should be dynamic.  Within each page of the documentation, you should have links to the following:

  • links to samples and blogs related to the selected document page
  • links to recent (and stickied) forum posts related to the control in question.  
  • links to known bugs related to the current control/feature
  • links to a roadmap (and service release ETA) for the current control/feature
  • a link to a moderated forum thread specifically discussing that page of documentation
  • By the way, your support staff needs to be able to contribute to the documentation... if only to keep them from having to answer the same questions repeatedly.  Give Duane, Victor, and Tsvetelina a place to shine!

 

Second, my ideal Infragistics support site should have a comprehensive "How Do I..." library.  This is where you need samples of how to do everything, from the basic to the advanced. 

I feel that that can't be fully accomplished without community involvement, but that's not my decision. But even if you only increase scope to allow contributions by internal support staff, it would be a lot better than it is. 

Right now, it appears your support staff can only contribute to the forums.  I have worked support.  They would love to contribute to the documentation, if only to make their own jobs easier.  Just let them contribute to the samples library.  Want to know how to download a WebExcelExporter spreadsheet asynchronously?  Duane Hoyte's article is there instead of being lost in the forums.  Want to know how to change a selected tab in Javascript?  Tsvetelana fielded a support question on that, so she posted a sample for all to benefit.

Thank you, and cheers,

-Rob

  • Post Points: 20
craigshoemaker
Points 746,259
Infragistics Employee
Microsoft MVP
Replied On: Thu, Aug 25 2011 7:03 PM

Rob:

Thanks for being a loyal customer for so long!

Please understand that I certainly didn’t take your comments as you were coming down on anyone. I just wanted you to know that we at Infragistics truly do view ourselves as much more than just an Engineering firm. Like I said, I really value your perspectives. You care, you are well-spoken and your criticism is both specific and constructive. (You’re calling out people by name like you’ve been working here for 5 years - why oh why are you in Texas! I can’t take you out to lunch from there :) 

I’ve tried to distill the main topics of our conversation below. Again, let me know if I miss anything…

1

Search as a Bedrock

Our focus on search emerged from customer research that told us that people valued the Google-like search experience and wanted to use search as a viable means of finding the content they need. That being said we plan to keep our structured access to samples and topics. My hope is that the “best of both worlds” approach will help facilitate much better discoverability.

Our rationale: The structured access is valuable when you look in the right place – search will expose content when you don’t know where to look.

2

Showcase Samples Database

Fleshing this out will require some deeper interaction than the scope of this post. Expect a phone call :)

3

New Samples Browser Interface

I am not satisfied with the samples interface either. For various reasons we shipped the revamped samples browser as-is and not only is there a lot to be desired, but we have also made some great strides in moving the interface beyond what you see here.

Our updated samples navigation includes a search mechanism allowing you to search the samples. Further, “New” and “CTP” flags will return next to the samples titles so you’ll be able to differentiate among samples. (I’ll send you a screenshot and you can tell me what you think.)

Our rationale: Some of the trees were pretty big and organization can be difficult. The new concept provides organization with search.

4

Creating Dynamic Content

To better augment our current topics we could render a series of related links at the bottom of each document that represents the results of our search against tags and other metadata available in the current topic.

What do you think of this approach?

5

Building Cohesive Structure

To go beyond making individual help topics more dynamic, what do you think about creating a ‘How Do I’ section in the documentation tree which pulls in content tagged with our ‘How Do I’ tag and organizes it for the reader?

Would you suggest something else or something more?

6

Code Snippets

After some discussions among our web team we see a path that may make it possible to re-instate the code samples functionality. We could even extend the core to allow moderated community involvement. This area would be categorized in the same manner as our samples and could be available to internal teams like Evangelism, Services, Developer Support as well as community members like you.

Are we on the right track? What if this were extended to include articles as well as code?

Note: This functionality is in a conceptual state at the moment and would not be available in v1 of our new website.

7

Crafting ‘How Do I’ Content

As you stated, orienting our help content around the “How Do I” perspective is a bit easier said than done. Once again, in the spirit of making no assumptions, how will I know when I’ve created an acceptable “How Do I” topic?

Let’s look at the igGrid Columns and Layout topic from our last release. What can we do differently? Even just a few bullets of your ideas would be great.

8

Organizing ‘How Do I’ Content

If we placed more emphasis on “How Do I” content what format do you think would be the best way to present the information?

I have mocked up two approaches below. The first format organizes the content by type giving the reader a quick way to discern the different types of content available. The second example organizes all the content together regardless of type showing a more topical type of organization. A third approach possible (but difficult to depict here) is the same as the second approach where instead of bullet points the links are preceded by icons giving a clue to the content type.

1) Organized By Content Type

WebDataGrid: How To

Samples

  • Client-Side Paging
  • Customer Pager

Topics

  • How to Create a Custom Pager
  • WebDataGrid CRUD Options

Forum Posts

  • How do I deal with database exceptions when Auto CRUD is enabled?

Blog Posts

  • WebDataGrid Custom Paging

Videos

  • WebDataGrid Auto CRUD
  • WebDataGrid Manual CRUD

2) Organized By Subject

WebDataGrid : How To

CRUD:

  • WebDataGrid Auto CRUD
  • WebDataGrid Manual CRUD
  • WebDataGrid CRUD Options
  • How do I deal with database exceptions when Auto CRUD is enabled?

Paging

  • Çlient-Side Paging
  • Customer Pager
  • How to Create a Custom Pager
  • WebDataGrid Custom Paging

Would you suggest one of these approaches or something entirely different? Perhaps we could generate a page like this for each product on a weekly basis to keep the contents fresh.

9

Other Resource Beyond Samples and Topics

Have you ever used the WebDataGrid Cheat Sheet or our Startup Solutions? Do you see any value in these resources?

I am really enjoying this conversation and please know that there are many more at Infragistics that are reading along and examining the topics we discussing here. You are making a difference.

Best,

Craig

Craig Shoemaker
Product Guidance Manager
Blog | Pixel8

  • Post Points: 20
Rob Hudson
Points 5,348
Replied On: Fri, Aug 26 2011 9:14 AM

 

Wow, ok, so many things... 

First responses to your specific notes.

  • Search as a Bedrock - I understand the appeal of Google style search.  I just don't want that to be a lazy way out of having organized information.
    • To be better educated for this discussion, I tried using the global search to resolve several real-world issues tonight.
      • I did a search on "webdatagrid summaryrow behavior" to find out more about formatting the summaryrow.
        • Only 3 results come back, not one of them containing anything authoritative.  Why no results from documentation?  nothing from samples?  no blog posts discussing the new summaryrow feature when it was released?
        • The second result has absolutely nothing to do with summaryrow, except that the person pasted in code that happened to contain a grid with the summaryrow behavior in it.  This is going to be very common, because you have code pasted everywhere with tags that aren't directly related to the topic of the forum post or article.  This brings me to my first conclusion:
          • Search engines are notorious for including irrelevant information if you don't have the keywords just right.... or even if you have the keywords right. This is amplified when content includes pasted code.
      • Search results are often different depending on the *tense* of a word, or slight spelling variations. For example... two search queries I used tonight:  "webdatagrid conditional format" and "webdatagrid conditional formatting".  Both searches return different results... none of which by the way were helpful...  (there is a helpful search result now, because I posted an article on the topic this morning). 
        • So, when using search, if I don't find what I am looking for, what am I to conclude?  Does that tell me that the information isn't there?  No, there could be some quirk in my choice of keywords...  Maybe a word needs "ing" or some other suffix is changing results...  or one of the words is plural when it shouldn't be... or maybe it should be... or some filter setting may be filtering out what I want.. or maybe there's a synonym I should be using. It leaves me feeling that the reason I can't find what I am looking for is that *I* am doing something wrong.  When the real issue is that the information isn't categorized properly in a hierarchy for easy retrieval.
      • Lastly, I am a pretty good at spelling, but I have met programmers who are prone to spelling mistakes.  Do we really want these people to rely primarily on a search engine for obtaining information?
  •  
    • If you want to improve your search engine, I propose that the best way to do that is to focus on better categorizing information.  If you focus on categorizing information, you can use that category knowledge to enhance the relevance of your search results, making both systems better.
    • Another note on searches... Giving your content authors (including forum posters) a structured tag system to help categorize their content and declare its relevancy to searches would help.  When I wrote the forum post this morning on conditional formatting, I tried to use the "Select Tags" feature.  It is a complete mess.  You really need to have someone clean it up, and disallow the public from creating new tags.
      • A random thought about tags...  I have never seen a hierarchical tag system, but it seems like it could be a good way to quickly (and more relevantly) categorize information.  If you have tags that are children of other tags, so that tags of children show up in search results that contain parent tags, and vise-versa, that could be a powerful thing.  It seems like it would also make it easier for the document author to select the correct tags.
  • Showcase Samples Database - I am not sure what you mean by "Showcase Samples".  Are those the Application Samples that you have written?  http://samples.infragistics.com/aspnet/AppSamplesOverview.aspx

  • New Samples Browser Interface - Honestly, the general feeling I have about this interface may have more to do with confusion I experienced upon first impression than it does with the way the information is actually organized.  Here is what happened when I first encountered the new Samples Browser.
    • When I clicked a control, I lost the list of controls at the top.  It wasn't clear to me that the panel had collapsed, or even that it was expandable.  I had to go back in the browser to retrieve the list of controls again, because it wasn't obvious that I should click the "+" sign to re-expand the pane.
    • It also wasn't immediately clear to me that there were "pages" of controls in the pane.  The little dots just don't communicate intuitively the concept of pages.  It took a bit to figure out where all of the controls had gone.
    • What's with the color scheme?  White on light blue?  blah... talk about hard to look at and read.  Makes it painful to use.
    • My first thoughts on seeing the new Samples Browser was (and still is) that you are alienating potential customers, because a) They may see only the controls on the first page, and think that's all there is... and b) the user interface is so clumsy (and colors so badly chosen) that it damages credibility as a controls vendor.  Honestly, because it's public-facing to potential customers, I would not wait until the next scheduled release to change out the samples browser.
    • All that said, I do understand where you are going with organizing the controls in a non-tree view.  But you already have better options.  Why not use something like the interface that pops out when you choose "Explore the Controls" on the ASP.Net product page?  All the controls are there, you don't have to scroll or go through pages to find what you're looking for, and it's very easy to read.
      • The fact that I like that format so much better prompts me to ask the question... where is multi-column flyout support in the WebDataMenu?  *hint hint*
  • Creating Dynamic Content - By using raw search results to populate dynamic content, you risk placing irrelevant content on the documentation page.  In my attempts at using global search tonight, most of the results were irrelevant.  I think it could work, if you direct the search engine to weight more heavily for tags or other strong metadata.  You would want those results to have stricter relevancy rules than a casual user entering a search into a search box.  I think having this come from search is probably the only realistic first step to improving the situation.  However, the long-term goal should be to have this come from a strong categorization system that your content authors use religiously.
  • Building Cohesive Structure - I do like the idea of having a "How Do I" section that pulls dynamically from a "How Do I" tag.  It's strongly categorized, it is relevant, and it is guaranteed to be useful.  The challenge will be how to keep irrelevant articles from popping up on the wrong pages.  For example, a "How Do I" article on customizing the WebDataGrid Filter behavior may show up in the WebDatagrid Sorting documentation page if the article includes sample code that tangentially includes the sorting behavior.  It seems like it would have to ignore article content and use tags or other strong metadata exclusively... putting a lot of emphasis on content authors to tag the article correctly.
  • Code Snippits - Hurray!  Best news in ages...  I actually had a brainstorm on this topic yesterday afternoon.  If I were running your developer support team, I would attach some prestige and incentive to authoring content.  "How many support calls can you answer without actually having to take the support call"?  Every time a user gets their answer from a document the support person authored, it's actually an answered support call, without the pain of actually having the call.  Track hit statistics on the documents they author, and have contests and incentives based on how many unique views their documents receive.  They only way their documents receive views is if they are highly relevant and helpful.  And if their document is getting a lot of views, it is saving the company a lot of money.  Plus, if their document gets a lot of views, then it probably should be added to the core documentation.

    Until you mentioned it, I hadn't considered drawing a distinction between sample code snippits and articles.  To the end-user asking the question, there isn't a difference.  The only distinction between the two is length.  When I ask a question, I don't know how long the response will be. If my question is "How do I change a WebTab using Javascript?"  the answer happens to be 2 lines of code.  If I ask the question "How do I conditionally format summaryrow values?" the response is complicated and closer to 50 lines of code.  An answer is an answer, whether it is a snippit or an article.
  • Crafting "How Do I" content - Having me critique the igGrid object is interesting, because I have no knowledge of the igGrid at all, so this is a true first perspective.
    • Somewhere near the top of the document, there needs to be a jump list to the relevant sections.  You have to scan through the whole document to find out what the sections are.
    • Everything that you have there is very necessary reference information.  It all has to be in the documentation.  There certainly isn't anything that I would remove.  But a "How Do I" section at the end, with each "How Do I" question being listed in the jump list at the top of the document would certainly add to the document's usefulness.
    • When I think of "How Do I" questions related to columns and column layout, the questions are:
      • How do I define and globally format columns?  (you have a section on that)
      • How do I conditionally format column based on values?  (no information on that)
      • How do I "do stuff" with columns after they are defined (move, sort, resize, hide, and filter)?  (if there is information on any of these, it's not obvious on first scan).
    • The content author would have been helped if, after writing all that is there, he had considered the question:  "Now that the end-user, putting together a real business application, has the columns defined, what might he want to do with them?"
  • Organizing "How Do I" content - Content Type is less relevant than Subject.  I would want my results categorized by Subject first, with an icon next to each item indicating Content Type.  Within each subject, I would want results sorted by relevance, and the Content Type absolutely contributes to relevance.  Authoritative sources such as Documentation, Videos, Blog Posts, etc, have got to be rated higher in relevance than forum posts, which I would expect to appear, but low on the list.  Where forum posts are concerned, the author should also be considered in terms of relevancy.  Staff sources are more relevant, and public users less relevant, with some weight given to reputation score.

    I would add one other important metric.  That is level of complexity.  Whenever I am searching, I want to be able to focus on articles that match my experience level with the control.  I always have a sense of whether the topic I am looking for is "Advanced" or "Beginner".  If I am new to a control, I generally want to focus on the Beginner articles.  If I am experienced, I want to focus on the Advanced articles.
  • Other Resources Beyond Sample Topics - Love the cheat sheet!  I had no idea this existed.  Truly wish I had this when I was going through the pain of learning WebDataGrid and migrating from UltraWebGrid.  I absolutely love having all of the CSOM sample code right there in an easy-to-access location.  This is a resource I have already saved to my desktop, and will use repeatedly.

    I have some vague recollection that you have "Startup Solutions", but I haven't looked at them in a very long time.  It's possible that they are very helpful and valuable, but because I have never seen a search result or documentation topic that directed me to look to them for an example of how to do something, I just haven't.  I think they fall in the same category as the Application Samples.  When I am looking for the answer to a "How Do I?" question, I don't have time to study an application to see if it might have the answer.  I need you to tell me in a document or search result that that is where the answer is.

    I am considering starting Windows Phone 7 development, and am pretty new to Silverlight much less the WP7 platform.  In that case, if you have a "Startup Solution" that is a general application framework built with some combination of your controls that I could use to get a jumpstart, that would include splash screen, initial structure, and navigation elements, I would consider that very valuable indeed.

    Don't ditch the Startup Solutions just because I and others haven't used them.  The issue may have to do with discoverability, not usefulness.

Just now finding out about the Cheat Sheet prompts me to add one more topic to our conversation... That is how to communicate new information to end users.

Information subscription needs to be centralized, and topic-based.... with the option to subscribe to notifications across all sources based on topic. 

Right now, just looking at the Community ASP.Net tab, let's see what information I can subscribe to and what my notification options are...

  • If I go to the main ASP.Net Home tab, I don't have any options to be notified of updates to this page, even though this is the page where you would announce breaking news.
  • I can go to the forums and subscribe to email notifications on individual forum threads.   This is the only place where I can subscribe to email updates.
  • Even though the Articles tab appears to be based on blogs, it does not have even RSS subscription available. No email subscription available either.
  • Similarly, the Media tab doesn't have RSS or email capabilities.
  • Ditto for Code Samples... no notification options
  • Then lastly, and *extremely frustratingly*, I get to the Blogs tab.  And right at the top is a blog by a guy named Craig Shoemaker, with the title "Introducing the WebDataGrid / WebHierarchicalDataGrid Cheat Sheet".  And it's dated all the way back in July *sigh*.  What are my subscription options to the Blogs tab?  tragically, none...  
  • And I just now see a section called Pixel8, which is a podcast series.  I love podcasts!  Why didn't I know about its?  Presumably, because I didn't take the time to come to the site and specifically search out the content.  Finally a page with at least RSS capability... guess I'll have start using an RSS reader.  I would rather get the notification in an email.

Pretty much, if you guys post anything to any of the tabs in the ASP.Net support page, it is only discoverable by users if they manually come to the site and click on each tab looking for new content.  I don't have time to do that.  Maybe that's one reason your posts to these pages don't yield impact that you might hope for?

How should subscriptions work?  I want to be able to subscribe to email updates *by topic across all sources*.  I don't want to have to subscribe to each source individually.  I work with a handful of controls, but I use those controls very heavily.  I want to have a subscription option that says "send me all new posts about the WebDataGrid, regardless of whether that post is a blog, article, code sample, video, or whatever new source you might introduce".

Thanks,

-Rob

  • Post Points: 5
Rob Hudson
Points 5,348
Replied On: Fri, Aug 26 2011 1:46 PM

Quick update...

I just noticed the "RSS Subscribe" button located in the tab row used for navigation.  No wonder I missed it.  It's in literally the last place I would look.

When I was looking for the RSS option, I scanned the whitespace at the top, bottom, and sides of the content area.  I also checked the page footer and page header.  It never occurred to me that it might be in the navigation area.

Also, the Blogs page that announces the Cheatsheet does not have an RSS option, even in the navigation area.

 

  • Post Points: 20
craigshoemaker
Points 746,259
Infragistics Employee
Microsoft MVP
Replied On: Mon, Aug 29 2011 5:03 PM

Rob:

I hope you had a good weekend! I had a few responses and answers to your last posts:

Search

The search you see on the site right now does not index the same information nor is it the same engine as what will soon power our new site. I think you'll find many of your concerns regarding search will be alleviated when we bring our new engine live. I still expect to have areas where we can improve, but I think we'll take a big step in the right direction with our new search.

Plus, remember that we're still going to have formal and loosely structured areas of the site as well. We can look into the tagging approaches you suggest. We don't have anything hierarchical planned at the moment, but we are instituting a much more rigid tagging schema which is primarily maintained by our Interaction Design Group, the same folks to oversee our APIs.

Showcase Samples

Yes, the showcase samples and the Application Samples are one in the same

Samples Browser

Again, I agree with you regarding the samples browser. What we have up today is a trimmed down version of the real browser going up with the new site. Beyond it just being less functional, we have also redesigned the navigational area with much more explicit UI elements - including page numbers in place of the cryptic dots!

Creating Dynamic Content

Good point - I was just throwing a concept your way. We'll certainly have to think through any approach. We certainly want any 'related' information to be related indeed. Again the search we using is a search appliance with an API allowing us to customize the results. This is far beyond anything we have live at the moment.

Building a Cohesive Structure

Yes - I was thinking for this to work the returned data would have to match the control or feature name and must have the 'How To' tag applied to the topic.

Code Snippets

These are great ideas. I'll chat with our Developer Support lead about your ideas when we get to the point of making the integration changes.

Crafting 'How Do I' Content

I've asked everyone on my team to read your suggestions regarding perspectives for creating content. What's nice is that some of the structural changes we're making in our writing address a few of the items you call out specifically. The inherent problem here though (as you pointed out earlier) is that since there really are so many different ways and contexts a control or feature may be used, we often find it difficult to define the right 'How to' scenarios.

Organizing 'How Do I' Content

Again - great suggestions. We'll refer back to your ideas as we develop the features.

Other Resources

I'm so glad you like the cheat sheet! Grid migration was one use I was hoping for people to find great benefit from the sheet. Right now we not doing all we can to help people find the cheat sheet, startup solutions and the like.

Notifications & RSS

The limitations of our RSS and notification systems are largely rooted in the software we're running to power our Community site. Here also, I'll spend some time with our web team to discuss how we can deal with these issues in our new website.

Best,

Craig

Craig Shoemaker
Product Guidance Manager
Blog | Pixel8

  • Post Points: 20
Rob Hudson
Points 5,348
Replied On: Mon, Aug 29 2011 5:32 PM

Thank you very much!  I have appreciated the opportunity to contribute, and I look forward to great things from Infragistics as a whole. 

There are several very good reasons that you guys dominate.

Thanks,

-Rob

  • Post Points: 5
Rob Hudson
Points 5,348
Replied On: Mon, Oct 29 2012 9:16 AM

A little over a year ago, we had this really valuable discussion.  I haven't been active on the website this last year, because I've been focused on customer deployments and migrating off of 11.1.  I am just now diving back in.  I am curious what progress has been made on topics addressed in this thread. 

Looking through the forums this morning, there is one thing that strikes me.  It appears that the support staff are still relegated to posting their code samples into the forums, where their work is poorly categorized, and will be eventually lost.  Are you guys working on a place where they can put code samples that is organized and can be easily referenced?

 

Also, as a source of inspiration for managing sample code, have you seen what Microsoft is doing with their OneScript website?  It looks pretty genius. 

http://blogs.technet.com/b/onescript/

Thanks, - Rob

  • Post Points: 20
Davide Dolla
Points 1,143
Replied On: Tue, Oct 30 2012 1:57 PM

Rob, thank you for reply to your old post that I've missed!!!

I'm also a decade-customer of IG and I SUBSCRIBE ALL of your statements in your main posts. You have done a great job with great content, many thanks for having wrote the "thinking" of most of us.

 

PS: Microsoft it's a non standard company ... they are bigger but they move forward their brain ... not always ;). If you use VS2010 I really suggest to you VS2012, MS team have done a great job.

Regards and have a nice Halloween,
Davide

 

 

Davide Dolla neoDD69
  • Post Points: 20
Rob Hudson
Points 5,348
Replied On: Wed, Oct 31 2012 6:51 AM

Thanks Davide, it is good to meet another Infragistics fan!

I have not upgraded to VS2012 yet... I have to migrate our SCC to TFS first.  We have been using SourceGear for SCC.  Their heart is in the right place, but it's just too buggy.

No reply from Infragistics yet...  It is possible that they have their hands full, with Hurricane Sandy disrupting the country and all.  Hopefully they'll get around to this in a few days.

  • Post Points: 20
craigshoemaker
Points 746,259
Infragistics Employee
Microsoft MVP
Replied On: Wed, Oct 31 2012 8:42 AM

Great to hear from you again, Rob and nice to meet you Davide!

As you can see from the new site, the new search and other we've been able to make public much of what we had cooking behind the scenes when this thread started. As for the code repository, that is still something we haven't had an opportunity to implement yet. We have some new folks on our web team and I will make sure they read this thread so we can continue that discussion.

Best,

Craig

Craig Shoemaker
Product Guidance Manager
Blog | Pixel8

  • Post Points: 20
Rob Hudson
Points 5,348
Replied On: Wed, Oct 31 2012 9:54 AM

Hey Craig, hope you are doing well.  I know you are busy, and don't expect your personal attention.  If you want to pass this to a henchman, that is fine with me.  Infragistics has provided you with a hidden lair and henchmen, haven't they?

 

Some initial feedback for the henchmen: 

Search:

I spent some time exploring the new support site this morning... I put in the same "real world" searches that I did last year, to see if the results are better.

I searched "webdatagrid summaryrow behavior" to see if there was anything available for customizing the output of the SummaryRow.  The results were mixed, but better than last year.  While only two results were returned, both of these results were related tangentially, and maybe useful... Both were "How Do I" documents, one of which was a "How Do I" video, and the other was a blog post that contained a video.  Both were very general to WebDataGrid, and not very specific to Summary Row.  There were no links to the documentation or forum posts that might be relevant.  No links to the samples browser that might also have an example.  No links to the sample applications either.  I would have expected search results to return both documentation and forum posts as possibilities.

I see the use of tags is improved, with the inclusion of the "How Do I" tag.  Love that.

I searched "webtab javascript change tab" to see if there was any info on how to change the tab from JavaScript.  No search results returned.  I tried again with "webtab CSOM change tab".  No results returned.  I tried again with just "webtab change tab".  There were links to general WebTab documentation, but the top level links didn't include anything on using JavaScript.  The user will still have to dig into the documentation.  The forum post where this question was answered specifically did not appear in search results.

I wanted to find out if there was information on how to customize the output of individual cells WebExcelExporter.  I searched for "webexcelexporter customize".  No search results were returned.  I searched for "webexcelexporter cellexported".  No results found.  However, several possibly relevant results were returned if I just searched for "WebExcelExporter".

The new search feels finicky, and I haven't yet received relevant information on a first attempt.   It feels like work, and a gamble.  Maybe the strategy for using search is to not be specific in the search phrase... but I want to be specific so that my search results will be relevant. 

 

Documentation:

I do like the layout of the support page, where you can tab between "Search" and "Control Specific Help".  After clicking "Control Specific Help", and selecting my environment, I was instantly drawn to the "Popular Blogs" section.  It's the first thing I noticed, and I felt compelled to explore some of the blogs before I even started looking at the documentation.  Several of them were highly relevant to me.

I can see how selecting options in the "Control Specific Help" basically returns results from the same Search engine that drives the Search window, however these results all appear specific and informative.  I don't have the same complaints when working with this interface.

The layout is awkward, but forgivable.  Try this link:  http://www.infragistics.com/products/aspnet/data-grid/help?page=2.  On my screen, the results start at the bottom of the page, forcing me to scroll down just to see them.  If you click the link to get the next page of search results, you are placed back at the top of the page and have to manually scroll again.  I can live with that, as long as the results are relevant, which they are.

 

I am struggling a little with the color scheme.  Light-blue links on white background looks terrific on my desktop, but on my laptop it is hard on the eyes to try to read.

I am a little annoyed that the forum is aggressively removing markup from posts.  I love to use bullets, and the HTML editor has bullets in the toolbar, but they are stripped out of forum posts.

 

My one piece of advice is this:  While you guys are fine-tuning the organic search function, you should make the support page default to "Control Specific Help".  Don't make people spin their wheels with organic search when the drill-down tool is presently much more helpful.

 

  • Post Points: 20
Davide Dolla
Points 1,143
Replied On: Wed, Oct 31 2012 12:37 PM

I agree with Rob, but not on this:

"The layout is awkward, but forgivable.  Try this link:  http://www.infragistics.com/products/aspnet/data-grid/help?page=2.  On my screen, the results start at the bottom of the page, forcing me to scroll down just to see them.  If you click the link to get the next page of search results, you are placed back at the top of the page and have to manually scroll again."

IMO IS NOT FORGIVABLE, the User Experience is emabrassing ... especially by those who promote it as an added value, which is ;)

This issue on their WEB UI probably shows that it is more difficult to create a full UI that the individual components.

I always had a feeling from IG ... that it is a bit "away" from the real world of theirs customer, but is a my sensation ... not the reality ;)

However, congratulations, you have made progress, but do not stop!
The leadership must be keep it! I think Rob has given you most valuable advice, more than a cold consultant ;)
Best,
Davide.

Davide Dolla neoDD69
  • Post Points: 20
craigshoemaker
Points 746,259
Infragistics Employee
Microsoft MVP
Replied On: Wed, Nov 14 2012 1:31 PM

Rob and Davide:

I apologize it's taken me so long to follow up on this thread...

I have asked our Web team to follow this thread so they are hearing from you directly. Your feedback is not only greatly appreciated, but very valuable. We're continually working the site so please feel free to share anything else that can help us improve.

Best,

Craig

Craig Shoemaker
Product Guidance Manager
Blog | Pixel8

  • Post Points: 5
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