MS Answers 2 – a disaster in progress

If MS Answers mk1 was broken, that term has been taken to new levels by MS Answers mk2. I have no idea what server setup Microsoft is using or did use, but one thing is for sure, something is not right. There are times when it is very fast, and the rest of the time it will not let you in. Not exactly good makings of a help forum, eh.

Assuming that you have been able to get access, the first thing you will get for posting or answering is a badge which you can’t ever lose. Does anybody care?

You get a Community Star if you give good and correct answers. Ninety nine percent of contributors do this as a matter of course. You can lose the Community Star if your content dries up or is wrong. Does anybody care?

You can get a Sherriff’s star if you report enough abuse, but isn’t this the job of the forum moderators? And does anybody care?

A computer user comes into the forum, asks a question and then hopes that a working solution will be posted quickly in response. That’s it. That’s what he/she wants/expects. If it comes from a Community Star, all well and good. If it comes from a first timer, all well and good. Who it comes from is not as important as the fact that it will come.

So, how do the answers arrive, and who gives them? Well, there is a veritable ‘army’ of contributors, some almost doing it as a full time ‘job’. It is very rewarding to commit to a community and share knowledge, so don’t feel sorry for them.

In the beginning, there was MS Answers 1, and the contributors used the same interface as anybody asking a question. It was not exactly fast, but there were devices which enabled an answerer to track what had been done personally, and follow-up was possible. One could also opt for alerts which came by email, but they were very slow appearing.

The Microsoft MVPs were given a way to access the forum through newsreaders after a bit of pushing and shoving and, for the first time, it was easy to answer, follow up, track and get alerted all in one newsreader. We didn’t need to have the forum open in a browser, didn’t have to wait for it to constantly refresh, or have multiple interfaces open in order to monitor what was happening.

Newsreader access doesn’t suit everybody, but for the reasons above, I liked it. It had an added advantage of being separate from the browser, and made it easy to do research before answering without accidentally closing the forum down or losing it in a sea of browser tabs.

MS Answers 2, for reasons only known to the developers, has moved away from ease of use for those wishing to answer multiple questions across multiple groups. The slowness and lack of features which enable us to track what is happening in real time have gone. Our fast newsreader access is for now a dead duck. To be brutally honest, it has become a nightmare.

The developers want everybody to have fun, but it is not fun. The badges and performance rotators do nothing for those asking or those answering. The rotator which shows the week’s most important answer is almost an insult because, to each person who submits a question, their answer is the most important.

As you can see, the pre-requisites of a ‘professional’ answerer are a little different from those of a computer user looking for a single solution. The only common ground is a desire for a speedy response. This is why ‘one web interface fits all’ doesn’t work and never will. If anything, it will drive some of the most knowledgeable people out to forums where getting answers out to people who desperately need them is more important than pointless performance checks and gimmicks.

Of course, Microsoft are going to do all that they can to resolve the issues facing MS Answers 2. I just hope that they resolve the issues on both sides because that is what it will take to make MS Answers the place to go for problem solving. It may even become fun again.. 

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