Associated Content made great strides in the two years I’ve been with them. They’ve also made several boneheaded errors. Until now the only one that really got me riled was the damned interlinker. Their latest change has just stolen my joy.
The AC forum was my favorite hang out. Then some genius decided to fix what wasn’t broken. I don’t know who came up with the new design, who sold it to AC, or how they thought it was an improvement, but it’s a complete and total cluster fuck. I don’t say this because I’m resistant to change. This is the opinion of a professional web application developer. Let me break it down:
The only reason AC gets 1 out of 5 is because a zero means the site is down. Just being up gives anyone a default 1. The new AC forum is a bunch of folders within folders with no way to navigate between the 4 master forums. There is no tree navigation and at certain points even the header hierarchy links are missing parts of the path. I’ve taken to opening the master forum (well 3 of them at least because “AC Connect” is a useless waste of disc space) in tabs and refreshing from time to time. That’s too much damned work AC! Their solution? A subscription feature that will email me when something changes. Bugger off! I don’t want to wait for email, jump over to my email client, and open the mail to find out someone posted something new. I’m in the forum and I want to see what’s going on while I’m there. Besides, the email that I get is useless. It says “Click here to see,” but there isn’t a hyperlink. It might as well say, “Something is new. Now go try to find out what it is shmuck! AhHaHaHaHa!” I have enough useless shit about cheap Viagra in my inbox. I don’t what more email.
Web applications should be intuitive. A forum user should be able to glance at a forum list and easily find what they need. AC’s new design requires the user to have prior knowledge of the layout (folders within folders) to find what they want. Unless you think exactly like the dumbass who came up with the system, you’ll never find the right thread. The thing makes less sense than the Dewey Decimal system.
AC included none of the features common to most forums. They have completely ignored the first rule of web design: “People learn how to use the web by surfing other web sites, not yours.” In other words, do things like everyone else so the user knows what to expect. AC has no “what has been posted since my last visit/refresh” feature like every other web site on earth. They don’t have “at a glace what’s new” visual indicators. For this you have to remember the timestamp of the last post from your last visit and do the math in your head.
Forums, above all, are communities of like-minded users. AC has turned their forum into pigeon holes for simple-minded users. Why the hell do I want to go to the forum of a writer’s web site to discuss my aches and pains? But AC has gracious buried a “Health & Wellness” forum deep in the bowels of the new design. If I want medical advice, I’ll go to WebMD. If I want to talk about writing, I’ll go to AC. Keep it simple AC. This design does not foster the community. It segregates. The design encourages people to stay in one folder. You can’t be all things to all people.
User involvement 0/5
AC steam rolled this new design out without so much as a by-your-leave. The frequent forum folk have been giving AC suggestions for improvement for years. None of of these suggestions were included in the new design. Here they have a steady stream of input from the people using the software and they totally ignore everything, subcontract the design to some DeVry Institute dropout, and force it down the community’s throat. Not even a beta test was done.
Hope for change 0/5
After the rollout, AC asked the users, “TaDa! What do you think?” The overwhelming feedback has been “This sucks. It’s hard to navigate. I can’t find anything. It’s all confusing.” There have been dozens of suggestions made on how to rectify the situation. How high are my hopes that AC will listen? Not high. Given that they didn’t listen to us prior to the change and given that the only response to the current cries was “Give it time. You’ll get used to it.” tells me AC has no real intentions of correcting anything. They obviously spent a lot of time and money on this. There is obviously someone’s job at stake here. Whoever that is has to defend the blasted thing to the bitter end. Yeah, I’m eyeballing you, Darnell. I doubt AC would change at this point if Obama dropped by their Denver headquarters and gave a speech about the importance of change.
AC has always been a self-moderated forum. Their new design requires way too much overhead. They are going to need several moderators to keep the place clean and the newbies happy. Forum participation by AC employees has never been something they were very willing to do. Without it, the new forum will quickly implode. The experienced AC users who used to answer the bulk of questions are not willing to take the enormous amount of time to do so. My prediction is hundreds of unanswered newbie threads and ensuing user disgust with AC. People will leave in droves.
Overall Score: Cluster Fuck
AC has taken what was a cozy Rick’s Cafe and turned it into TGI Friday’s, only they forgot to install a kitchen or restrooms. So now that I ranted, what could they do to make it better? Simply put it back the way it was and listen to their community. I suspect this design is supposed to align with some bigger marketing plan, but not all parts of a company or site need to fulfill some larger goal. A forum is just a forum. Keep it simple. Keep it clean. There are dozens of constructive suggestions at AC’s disposal. The only problem is these suggestion were left in the AC forum and are next to impossible to find. Even the AC employees haven’t seen half of them and if they have, they’re being damned quiet about it.