My hobby horse
The worst thing about MSDN help is it’s so freak’n big. Search brings up useless stuff from everywhere, and so does the Index. Only the TOC allows you to explore just a specific area. That’s why users love the TOC.
For years MS have tried to apply the Google search experience to MS Help without much success. Users are still unhappy. Why? Simple… With a web search you are exploring a gigantic universe (similar to MSDN). Search results deliver some possibilities and you eventually end up in a smaller universe called a website. A book library is a similar experience.
With a website (or book) you are in a closed system where navigation, search, index (whatever the site gives you) allows you to quickly find things in a limited scope. But with MSDN you never escape this large freak’n big universe … search, Index and TOC are always full scope. Users need to be able to shrink the world down.
MSDN Library “online” has the same problem. For example: If I go to say UI Guidelines section of MSDN Library I’m in the area I want to be in. Yet to my great frustration… I can’t search just that area or book. Imagine a traditional library. After using search to find the book you want, you sit down and enjoy the smaller world of that book. But with MSDN you can never change scope. Only the TOC gives you some brief relief.
Imagine if the web had no logical boundaries. No websites. Just millions of pages. That’s the horrible experience we get from MSDN.
If MS followed the web or library experience (and not so much the Google experience), then MSDN would be a great experience. MS Help 2 was heading in the right direction with filters, but despite several attempts to rework the tags the system just never worked to any ones satisfaction.
In the web we can scope down to the website level. In MSDN we also need to be able to scope down to the book level. To easily flip between full MSDN and a book experience. Not by using millions of topic level tags (as in MS Help 2). Just tag your books, and let the pages inherit those tags.
It really is that simple. No more playing with tag clouds, lets get this right.
As much as the help team think they can solve this problem using data logic and tagging (like sorting different sized marbles), all they really need to do is let us find the relevant book. Then it’s up to the MS word-smiths to craft easy to navigate books.
How about ‘location’ or some other type of general content grouping metadata — for example that a certain result comes from the Visual C# documentation, or from the Windows SDK. Do you find that sort of additional data when viewing search results useful?
How important is the ability to scope search results based on topic types, or code language?
We don’t want complicated tagging. We never get this right. You already have content organized into books — Just let me see the book boundaries in the help and let me narrow my scope to one or more books.
Help is really simple. I want to find a book. Then scope down and explore just that book or related books. MSDN has quickly grown into a monster and there is no easy mechanism to scope down to just a book. Forget filters. Let me see the books in MSDN and create book shelves that I can live in without seeing the other irrelevent 99% of MSDN.