Microsoft Considers MSDN Revamp

Microsoft task force seeks to improve MSDN by soliciting developer feedback and boosting search features.

Don't look now, but Microsoft is finally working to tune up its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) site. The effort promises to resolve long-running frustrations developers have encountered working with the online library and resource.

RDN has learned that Microsoft has assembled a task force to determine how it can improve MSDN, a site that aggregates much of Microsoft's technical content for developers. The task force, which spent the third week of April in New York interviewing developers, made a stop at the NYC .NET Developers Group's monthly meeting. The task force revealed its effort to a group of more than 100 people attending the meeting.

Developer Feedback
"There's great content there; it's very thorough. But from a practical standpoint, it doesn't really meet peoples' needs," said Brian Hsi, a product manager involved in the effort, who made his pitch at the monthly meeting of the developer group. "It's kind of static; it's really a library at the end of the day."

Hsi underscored that Microsoft was only in an information gathering stage and offered no timetable for when changes will be implemented and how extensive the MSDN revamp may be. But he did say his team intends to interview developers throughout the United States to determine what they like and dislike about the site. One thing Hsi did indicate is that MSDN will evolve from the more "static" resource that it is now to a more community-focused effort.

"Historically we've been pretty much a content-driven site," Hsi said. "We're really talking about moving toward broader involvement from community members. It's not so much that there's people that offer content, it's everyone's in it together."

Search and Complain
Indeed, Hsi was rather blunt in his critique of MSDN. "It's often tough to find out if something is accurate or relevant," he told the group. "People just want answers."

Complaints About MSDN
  • Weak search makes it difficult to find information
  • The answers to technical questions aren't always available
  • Sites need to support more community participation

The biggest criticism of MSDN is the ability to find content spread across the various Microsoft services, including CodePlex, CodeGallery, Channel 9 and the various forums, libraries and blogs. It's a situation that motivated several developers at the meeting, held in Microsoft's New York offices, to express frustration with the challenge of finding information on MSDN.

"It's kind of ironic that the internal search never finds anything so I have to go to Google to find things," said James Curran, a senior programmer for LLC. "I'm really looking forward to an improvement because there's a lot of good information that's tough to find."

But even those using Google and other search engines can't find terms that use, say, the "#" sign or a URL. Another attendee lamented that when Microsoft launched MSDN in 1994, the site promised if a developer didn't receive an answer to a question posted on a newsgroup or forum within three days, Microsoft would guarantee an answer. "We can't get that anymore," the attendee said.

Hsi acknowledged that search has been a key bugaboo with MSDN. He said the company has integrated its own Live Search interface on MSDN, while having editors tie together content from CodePlex and other sites within MSDN.

"There are definitely improvements along the way," Hsi said. "I know it's not perfect -- I'm not here to tell you that it is, but we're making some progress."

The move comes about a year after Microsoft introduced improvements to navigation on MSDN's TechNet. Key was the implementation of tabbed, contextual navigation.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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