Social Enterprise

Welcome to a peek behind the TechRepublic scenes

In the very first "peek behind the scenes" post, Senior Product Manager Brandon Seltenrich shares news about upcoming search improvements on TechRepublic, thanks to Google's Custom Search Engine.

The process of redesigning a large commercial web site is akin to the political process. There are many constituents and stakeholders that need to be heard and, often times, compromises to be made. This doesn't mean that the when the site finally does go live, the results can't be great. They can, and in the case of TechRepublic's latest redesign, they are.

For example, in the month since our relaunch, we've seen user visits and membership sign-ups go through the roof. Sharing via social networks like Facebook and Twitter have similarly peaked. And the time that you all, our users, spend on the site reading and engaging with our content has increased as well.

We're proud to have been able to bring you the new site, and we're grateful that you've embraced it -- but most of all, we appreciate your feedback. Delivering a site redesign is not a one-time ordeal that we finish and then move away from. Launching the site is just the first step of the process. Listening to you is the next step, and we have been. As many things as we believe we've done right in the redesign, we know that there are other things we haven't. You've made no bones about telling us that, and we thank you for it.

I'll be penning these posts in an effort to help you see a bit behind the curtain, as it were. We want you to know that we've heard you loud and clear, and we want to tell you what we're doing about it. In each post, I'll focus on one or two items that we're actively working on right now for the TR community. I'll also try to give you some background information on how we work to bring you our sites.

Let's start with a little background: Why does it sometimes take so long for fixes and changes to make it onto the site? Like many media companies, the people who work to bring you one product are also working on several others. Behind the scenes at TR, many staffers, myself included, work on various other projects and properties -- mobile, community, social media, and even other sites. This shared responsibility doesn't mean that we can't deliver you the best site possible, but it may require a tad more time to do so. Rest assured that we review all of your feedback and are working hard to make the changes you want to see so that your experience on our site only gets better.

One of those changes that we're working to bring you as soon as possible is better search.  Lean in for a moment, because I've got a secret to tell you. Our search sometimes isn't very good. Sure, it's great if you're looking for something within a narrow vertical, but we've got hundreds of thousands of pieces of content spread across blog posts, white papers, discussions, and more. On occasion, I even use Google to search our site. Soon, though, we'll all use Google -- Google's Custom Search Engine (CSE) to be precise.

Google knows search, and they do it well. So, we shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel. As I write this, we have approximately 1,000 lemurs furiously working to integrate Google CSE into our site -- or it may just be a handful of API engineers working on it... I can't quite remember the details. Either way, soon you'll see a remarkable enhancement in the usability of search on TechRepublic. We know that searching our site has long been a pain point for many users, and we're ecstatic about being able to deliver this new feature to you very soon.

When we roll out the search enhancements to the live site, we'll make an announcement so that you can begin taking advantage of them immediately. I look forward to being able to use this space to tell you about all of the great stuff we're working on for you. It's only with your continued active feedback that we can work to make the site the best it can be. Let us know how you'd best like us to use this space every week in the comments below.

26 comments
megamanx
megamanx

Troll Alert: If we want to use Google for searching, we simply use Google. Why force-feed their search engine? Custom or not it's still their search engine. I have to keep using the work around by typing "TechRepublic (search query)" on Yahoo! search. Seriously, I wonder how much Google pays you guys to user their services, but it must be a lot. It's not about it being the best or popular, it's about your decision based on what the majority is using, or in this case suppose to be using, their engine. It's a no-no. Edit: After reading all the comments, no one has seemed to take it out on that decision. I am the only one using another preferred engine, I guess. Well, for those that don't use Google, there is my solution to search without using GCS. :)

AV .
AV .

I don't know why, but every time I try to post a discussion, it doesn't take. The button doesn't work. Has anyone else had this problem? I'm using IE7. I can reply to discussions with no problem, but not start a thread. I know this may not be your area, but maybe you can let me know who can help me. I'm starting to get a complex. AV

gpopkey
gpopkey

While some of the changes you have made are good, I have a couple of things that don't please me as a person who does access TechRepublic for information. When I click on a link to download an article or to download software, I used to be taken to a download page (containing a Download Now button) providing a more detailed description of the article/software to be downloaded which contained: 1. for an article, frequently a link to a blog version of an article which in turn contained links to TechRepublic subscriber comments and which are not available in the download (*.PDF) version. 2. with regard to downloading software, again the download page showed a more detailed description of the software including size and costs. Now though the download page is bypassed . What happens now is the download article appears in Adobe Reader directly without going to the download page first. This is not so bad for a *.PDF article but irritates me when I am not shown software size nor the cost of software that I may/may not want to download. Then when I try to use the Search facility available on the TechRepublic site, I cannot locate the appropriate download page. I am frustrated but I hope to see improvements in these items/feature soon.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

At least you can in Firefox. Open the options dialog and click on the Applications tab. Scroll down to the "Adobe Acrobat Document". Click in the Actions column next to it and select your desired action (Save File, Always Ask, etc.). This won't fix the problem of the page not coming up, but will give you the choice of whether to download or not.

al
al

1. Dump the junk between the articles and the discussion (especially the "just in" section). They are distracting and makes it hard to navigate. Besides, seeing the content twice (or more) does nothing but confuse. It takes a bit, but if you can mark the entries as "new" for those that have not been seen before by this customer, that is much better. 2. Provide "previous and next" buttons at the top AND BOTTOM of each post. Long posts cause you to read the response, then scroll back up to go to the next one. Very annoying. 3. I'll chime in on the "my posts" thing already mentioned. If someone is interested enough in a subject to comment, they are more than likely to be interested in the responses they get along with others on that subject. Remember - time on site does NOT always mean that your users are more interested. It more than likely means it is taking them longer to navigate to what they want, along with it being harder to do things on your site.

aeiyor
aeiyor

Good Day All. First my Kudos to Brandon for providing a medium to address various updates and upgrades. I have attempted some searches within TR and found the searches to be interesting. I believe this is a great venue for the one of the improvements. If it is possible to do dynamic searches whereby entered data would begin scanning through a site or web location, that would be great. Some of these features are embedded within browsers as of late. However, to have a dynamic one present within the article/discussion/topic would be fantastic. I am sure the heuristic technology for search will advance with the GSE (Google Search Engine) implementation. I am also in agreement with some folks here about being able to see all the responses and notes within a given topic or discussion. A reference and search-able field of date/time stamp would be great. Alternatively not sure if the information of an article/discussion could be referenced in the same way a newsgroup is such that either email or newsreader can scan it and produce the article hierarchy in such a way as to provide ease of reference. Another thing would be to have dynamic tagging of the article for the quick searches. Just a few possible thoughts or brainstorms involving the update/upgrade. Sincerely, Satori.

brandons
brandons

Dynamic searches: We've been playing with many of the features that Google's CSE has to offer, but to get us out the door, we'll likely go with a more standard implementation. As for tweaking and enhancing it after launch, we're always looking to see how we can improve our offerings. Article hierarchy: While we can't make any design commitments at the moment, part of the reason we're taking our time to evaluate how to improve the layout of the forums is so that we can fully examine all of the options we have and which would resonate best with our users. My personal mantra though is that simple works. Dynamic tagging: This is one of those often discussed reoccurring themes in any enterprise where you're dealing with large amounts of data and content. About as much as you'll get out of me today is that we are discussing this reoccurring theme. :-)

Michael Jay
Michael Jay like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

the onsite search has never worked well, and I am good with that, the same goes for the Microsoft onsite search, not good by a long shot. Whenever I need to find something I use Google, fast and effective. To save you a lot of time and work, just remove the search box. The one thing I want to see more than anything is the removal of the top rated and just in posts at the top of every discussion, useless they are, I have learned to just skip them and move on. The second most important to me at least, is to be able to see all of the thread, no going to page two. And in questions sometimes you need to see more posts, What! I came here to see them all, not to click on show more posts. And to make it a triple, the profile page, needs to have all content, it needs to be arranged by time and date, with the title of the original thread. I have been learning to use post counts to divine the thread title but that is hit and miss. Sorry to be blunt, but that is what you want, honesty.

brandons
brandons

We gave you a new experience and you're providing your feedback on it. As long as the feedback is constructive and clear, we appreciate it. So, to get to your questions: 1. Google CSE: This will save you having to open a new tab just to see search results on our site. I'm fairly certain that scientific evidence can show that over the course of one year, the time saved will be equal to the time it takes to get one cup of coffee. 2. Highlighted comments: We're evaluating this option and variants of it. No promises one way or another, but we're listening to everyone's feedback on this. 3. Show all comments: Short answer - You and me both, brother. Long answer - We've purposefully been conservative in making this change due to initial performance issues we experienced. As the site stabilizes and is optimized, do expect to see this change be made available. 4. My Updates: Cf. my reply to @NickNielsen entitled "My Updates, nee My Workspace."

Big B
Big B

They have a lot of graphical elements that would make the page very slow to load if there were a lot of comments. That said, I agree with you. I like to see everything on one page. You can set this in your community profile. I have mine set to expanded and 100. They don't have a default for showing all comments, but you can change that at the top of the discussion.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen like.author.displayName 1 Like

Keep the improvements coming. Aside: Everybody else has been too polite to ask, but is there any kind of timeline on returning at least some of the discussion tracking functionality? I'd settle for something that resembled the old Workspace.

brandons
brandons

While I can't give you a timeline for it yet, we do have a complete set of specs already written for a really well fleshed out My Updates section. As compromises for bringing projects in on time go, having to give up this particular section for the initial launch of the site was a great personal disappointment for me. I am really excited about it, however, and look forward to being able to bring it to you all soon.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

S'all I'm sayin'. :-) Edited - Dammit, wrong branch again! What do I find so confusing within the new layout that has caused me to hit the wrong branch more this year than in all other years combined??? That's it; I ain't moving this one!

Tigger_Two
Tigger_Two

I for one am very open to giving all of us some time to figure out how best to use this new tool. I agree, Palmie- Search isn't really a top priority to many of us. That said, I realized immediately why Brandon addressed it- they wanted it ready for the launch and it wasn't yet. I think for the team, it was something promised but undelivered and they tried to address that. I think that we have to accept that there will growing pains as we figure out how we want to see this information and WHAT information we want to see. Feedback is- as always- the best vehicle for getting to the right thing. Regarding replies to the wrong branch- I am still doing that too often myself. I think that it may be because we tend to read all the content in a thread and then just go to the open reply window to respond to something and not go back to the comment that we are responding to. I think that it is more common an error when you are responding to the last comment in a discussion- I nearly made that error in responding to you. I'm thinking that we need to get you a megaphone to go with your hard hat. I don't know why, I just think it would be "you". Edit- It's cocktail hour and I'm tired.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Frag figuring it out for myself; now we're back to my wanting a 'TR for Dummies'. If there's a way to navigate the forums as effectively as I could the old site, I'd like it explained to me. Please use short simple words; I'm Southern. Ditto the 'last comment' issue. I also think I'm clicking on something new located where my cursor expects something old to be. I know when I'm already editing a comment I hit 'Edit' again when I'm done because that's where 'Save' used to be.

Tigger_Two
Tigger_Two

I think that this is what Brandon and the TR team are trying to give us, at least somewhat. I need to believe that we are all capable of learning. I still think you need a megaphone. I don't know why. It would be so... you.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer like.author.displayName 1 Like

Brandon, I think this blog is a great idea, but I'm not sure why you choose to address Search in your first post. I agree it's been a problem, but it's been broken for years and there are ways around it. I was hoping to read about steps being taken to address what members have screaming about most for the last six weeks: the crippled functionality of the forums. Improvements are good, but could we get an update on getting back what we recently lost? Maybe next week. Thanks.

seanferd
seanferd like.author.displayName 1 Like

"So, what is the difference here from doing a site search from a regular Google search page?" If the answer is that the search is simply on a page in the techrepublic.com domain, then all I've got is "whatever". (I know that is blunt, but is it being rude? I don't mean to be rude.) Sweet to have an update blog - thanks for addressing this chunk of your core user base.

brandons
brandons

Some changes and fixes are innovative and sexy; some are more pedestrian. Search is definitely the latter, I won't argue with you there. :-) Still, it's a solid foundational change that will be immediately noticed as soon as someone uses it, so we're happy to finally be on the cusp of delivering it to you.

brandons
brandons like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

We know there's plenty of potential to further improve the Discussions and Q&A sections, and we're committed to making changes that will foster everyone's ability to use and enjoy them. Taking input from you the users, we're evaluating several different tacts available to us for the forums. As of right now, though, we can't provide you with a solid line-up of changes and a timeline for making them. It's for that reason that I did not address the forums in my post. When I come to you, I want to be able to give you concrete examples of things that we know you will be able to see on the site very shortly, not things which may be in flux or not yet decided on. However, I hear your request here. -- Even if we don't yet have a firm plan of action, it would be nice for us to acknowledge the issue. Duly noted. Next week, I will again address an issue which we're close to pushing live but I will also make sure to address an issue or issues which we're aware of and working on, so that you can be sure we're listening to you. Thanks for the feedback and please do keep it coming!

Tigger_Two
Tigger_Two

In my opinion, it will be very helpful to have a single place to voice issues, concerns, and feedback as the site improves. Hopefully the TR membership will think to post here about the things they are seeing. Having all the feedback in a single place that is renewable week after week will keep these threads from becoming unreadable and give you one place to go for this information... instead of a whole bunch of threads in a variety of places. It would be worth much to me to see Santee in the number one spot of the top three. That's just my input on the situation. (Sorry Santee. I had to do it! :x ) Edit: fix little smiley thing...

brandons
brandons like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Having one authoritative place to raise change requests or problem reports is a great idea. Let me work with the Editorial team to get these started and then socialize them out to the community.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Drop everything. First, get my name off the list of Power Users. Put your own at the top. Then, feel good about what you're doing. I know I'm feeling better for it.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I'll kick off this discussion by letting everyone know that we're quite fortunate to have Brandon as TechRepublic's Product Manager (a title that is code for "he coordinates all of the stuff that goes into actually running the site"). Brandon oversees project management, site planning, the bug queue, the community platform, and all of the other logistical aspects of the TR site. He understands our site and our business and is great with all the details. Oh, and did I mention that he also has a background in IT and Engineering? The guy is the perfect fit for working on TR. I'm glad that he's agreed to take some of his time to do these weekly blog posts in TR Out Loud in order to keep all of you in the loop about our latest site plans and updates. I trust you will use this opportunity to pepper him with really good questions. :-)

AV .
AV .

I found this thread accidentally after clicking view more on the discussion page. I think this should be a featured discussion so that people can find it. Here's my 2 cents worth. The search function has never been robust on this site. It doesn't have any good way to narrow your search so you end up pulling up too much. I use it more now than in the past because its the only way I can find some things. I agree with getting rid of top rated and just in. Its confusing to look at and takes up valuable space. Ditto for the power users box. I'd like to see you put the browse categories list back in. It was so quick to find certain types of discussions that way. In My Stuff, I'd like to see my most recent posts. I'm not seeing them consistently and it makes it really hard to find discussions I participated in. Thats all I can think of right now, but I will check back. AV

brandons
brandons

I appreciate you taking the time to list out some of the things that you'd like to see change on the site. I will make sure that over the series of weeks that I write my posts, we provide updates for all.