Category Archives: Review

MSDN Blogs: A Look at How I Would Improve It

I was browsing through MSDN blogs after a very long time and I noticed a couple of things that seem very odd. Needless to say, there are some things I love about the blogs such as the richness of content and smorgasbord of people for various cultures. Now as I go through this, please remember I am not an expert or a professional critic. These are just a few suggestions that in my mind would make sense.

Design Issue 1: No Filters By Language

When looking through blogs, seeing a whole page of content I am unable to parse only prevents me from getting to the content I’m looking for.

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Design Issue 2: No Filters by Tags

As a user who has just showed up to the site and doesn’t have an account or doesn’t want to set one up, there should be easy filters provided such as Tags. They don’t exist anywhere but on the individual bloggers site as far as I can see.

Design Issue 3: Leaderboards are slow to load

I have seen this take a few seconds to load up and in a Web 2.0 world this is really not the best. Slow loads should be cached and performance in general should be tuned. The slower the page loads, the easier you make it for readers to get agitated / bored and go away.

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Design Issue 4: Leaderboard ranking numbers

These numbers are HUGE and distracting. Also they are right next to other icons and information that clutters the page and makes reading much more difficult.

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Design Issue 5: No use of Keyboard keys

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If you use paging, especially in a blog, allow your users to use keyboards for navigation. See my piece on Keyboard UX For the Web.

Design Issue 6: Menu Incongruity

Notice the difference in these images below. When in the blogs, the text shows up in the menu. And when I click on home, the blogs link goes away. Standardize the menus across MSDN so as to promote it and provide uniformity to the end user.

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I may be too critical here but it seems that the blogs need more focus on data management and presentation. The whole point of having a blog system the size of MSDN Blogs is so you can present information from your developers / other employees straight to the readers / potential hires.

Things I would change

1. Remove Leader Board and Commentator list from the pages.

Make it a link if necessary but don’t waste so much space.

2. Make appropriate use of space.

If I have a 1920 x 1200 resolution, use that space. Also, limit the scrolling one must do if you are going to use paging. Show a single page worth of information and allow the end user to navigate through the list easily.

3. Provide appropriate tags and filters.

If I am looking for information on Marketing or Human Resources, how do I get to it. Segment your content on at least this basis:

  • Country / Region
  • Language
  • Department / Product Area

Once you do that, provide landing pages for certain departments. By doing this you increase the likelihood that readers specific to HR go there more often.

4. Open Data.

Provide this information as OData or some other format that your readers can use. I would envision some great blog reader apps for the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace that worked off this principle.

5. Featured Blogger.

Introduce your featured bloggers to your readers based on the filters they choose.

6. Utilize keyboard navigation.

Your audience is going to be very technical. Give them the tools to navigate your site and limit the time it takes them waiting for loading and clicking.

7. Improve search.

The whole point of the system is to allow users to find data quickly. Perform a search for ‘human resources’ and the first thing to show up relates to Great Plains. Make search more friendly and useable.

8. Prioritize.

Some posts are more useful that others. Bloggers highlight those in a best of category on their pages. Provide a best of category that depicts the top posts of a blogger. Then, let me explore your bloggers by their name and their content. It will allow me to clearly get a feel for what content they produce and whether they are something I would consider following more closely. Something like the image below but scrollable left and right (mouse + keyboard). (Note: image below is an example created using paint. Its jus supposed to convey a look that content slides would be.)

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9. No Limits.

Never limit the level of content your bloggers can provide. Ever! I ran into this today and it’s not likely that I will follow through to the new content unless I’m desperately looking for something. ‘We blog too much!’ Reward these people somehow. Show them that their time is appreciated.

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10. Help me.

As a new user to MSDN Blogs, imagine going to the site and seeing the list of Leaderboards. Then as you move your mouse, OH LOOK! The names are links. That was not obvious to me. Ok Click the name. OMG! That is a great stats page. How would I have known to do that. It wasn’t obvious the last few times I came to the site.

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I’m sure this is already obvious by now but the help needs more content. There are 6 items written and its just not enough. Here is what Popular topics should look like according to the help.

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And here is what it actually looks like right now.

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So with that I’d say I’ve been a big enough ass to the fine people of MSDN Blogs. I hope they see this as a means of improving what is already a fine section of MSDN. And if I can offer my help in any way, please let me know.

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Skype Devices

I have been a long time user of Skype and love it. I call locally in the US, and internationally to Europe, Asia and Africa. It’s convenient to call someone up while working on the computer. Since Skype introduced the flat plan for local US calling, I have invested in a multitude of dedicated Skype Phones and my experience has been mixed.

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Belkin Wi-Fi Phone for Skype with Boingo Hot Spot Manager ( F1PP000GN-SK )  starstarstar

Pros:
Wireless so call from anywhere in the house
Skype Contacts list to easily dial from
Charge lasts a few days
Incoming calls, voicemail etc are all available on this phone

Cons:
Wireless is intermittent. This impacts the call quality
Wireless needs WEP. I don’t like to keep my network so vulnerable

I gave up on this phone because the call quality was just so horrible. Even locally in the US, people were having trouble hearing me.

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D-Link DPH-50U Skype USB Phone Adapter star

Pros:
Cheap.
Works by plugging in a home phone into the VOIP socket

Cons:
Usability is horrible. You have some weird number sequence you have to press to make a call. And even then, it doesn’t work until you try it for about 20 minutes
Call quality is poor
No Skype list to call from
Tethered to a desktop. Which means you have to have the machine on all the time

I gave up on this phone too. If making a call requires 20 minutes and an always on computer, might as well just use a headset on the computer.

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Belkin F1PP010EN-SK Desktop Internet Phone for Skype (Black) starstarstarstar

Pros:
Slim design
Skype contacts list
Connects to your router
Incoming calls, voicemail etc are all available on this phone

Cons:
No wireless which means you are tethered to its location
Call quality is semi-decent

I settled on this phone because it seems to just work. I find that after a few days of usage, you have to turn the power off completely for about 30 seconds and then call quality is acceptable again. After searching the internet on ways to hack this, I came across Wiretrip Hardhack which was very revealing. The phone is actually a server which means you can see a UI that will let you update its firmware. BTW, there was NO mention of this in the documentation that came with the phone. Believe it or not, I setup QOS and also tried putting this phone in a DMZ in order to improve call quality before I found the power cycle fix.

From a security perspective, running a server is bad especially if the username is admin and the password is blank. Anyone can get in and if they have a hack for the firmware, upload a malicious firmware which will let them snoop on calls and get access to the rest of your network. If you have this device behind a router with a good firewall (I use DD-WRT) then you should be ok.

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