AC · Associated Content · rant · writing

Stupidity at Associated Content

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:

Usability 1/5
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.

Intuitiveness 0/5
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.

Features 0/5
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.

Community 0/5
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.

Maintainability 0/5
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.


26 thoughts on “Stupidity at Associated Content

  1. CHEERLEADER!!! Wait, what?

    Excellent summation. But you left out the part about them abolishing heavily-used, highly-appreciated sections & the info & discussions therein. I know they own the place, but didn’t that stuff sorta belong to the users?

    They made it harder & more frustrating to help. I assume that means they don’t really want our help. I’ll see what they do after the holiday weekend, but as it stands, this will seriously curtail my participation there.

    Because I hate it & their approach to it & their attitude about it.

  2. Amen! Preach it, Barefoot! I only hope that sometime during the Labor Day weekend one of the CMs wanders over here or onto the right places on the AC forum (if they can find the forum, that is) and feels the heat. ‘Course any of them that do will be instant blackened toast. Tuesday is a long time for us to wait for someone to fry.

  3. I am right there with you Barefoot. I too will not visit it much if it remains this way. My problem is that I question if they have made this kind of change to keep those who are there often away more. The old conspiracy theory….

  4. I’m glad you posted this, Barefoot. I couldn’t believe it when Darnell told us to get used to it. I also couldn’t believe it when Mike pointed out the shiny new icons. It’s completely retarded and I hate it.

  5. This is an excellent case study in how to destroy an online community quickly. Once again, it’s not just the change that is the issue but the communication (or lack of) surrounding it. The forums will go back to being the Wild West where people get lost in the maze and eventually find a different writer’s site with a better forum.

  6. You guys may complain all you want, but the truth is as long as you keep on going there, things aren’t going to change. AC doesn’t hear complaints very well, that’s established. But they’ll really hear the footsteps of everyone leaving and going to different forums.

  7. I’m with Ann on this, and everyone else too. The New forum SUCKS a big one (and not in a good way) but until we turn it into a ghost town, AC isn’t going to do anything about it.

  8. Oops I hit the submit too soon.

    Anyway…I’m all for better organization and grouping relevant information together but make it easy to find.

    FOr example

    AC Connect
    General Discussions
    Forum 2
    Forum 3 etc…group all the related categories and sub categories together, but don’t have a lot of nesting going on. It confuses people and with the abundance of trolls on the forums further chaos is the LAST thing we need

  9. I’m a real newbie on AC so I didn’t have a chance to see the old forum. What I can offer is that I was a frequent contributor to one of the About dot com forums. It was a gathering place where you could mix, mingle, and vent. There were also some pretty awesome (and heated) discussions. Out of the blue they changed the forum design. The powers that be said people would get used to it and those that left would be back. It’s been three years…no ones back and the poor forum design is still there.

    Guess they don’t realize, there’s a million forums out there for us to choose from. Just my 2 cents. Diana

  10. even newbie web designers know how easy it is to throw a forum system together and most of them understand that the first rule of thumb is to make things easy to find. this sucks. it completely changes the atmosphere of the place.

  11. Hmm, maybe they did it on purpose. Drive these writers back to their word processors by giving them such a crappy forum they won’t want to spend time there! I can’t stand the new design either.

  12. I’ve never really had time (or patience) to visit the AC forums much, and this “com-pu-tor” stuff is actually very new to me.

    But when I did visit, I usually got help from someone (you even helped me ferret out a glitch in one of my submissions, Randy, and again, I thank you for that).

    When I went there the other day, though, I felt like someone blindfolded me, took me to Tijuana, and dropped me off there thinking I could find my way home through the maze of unnamed streets!

    Their rabid defense of this lead balloon reminds me of when the execs at my workplace ordered the new computerized inventory system and installed it themselves a few months back.

    It made everyone’s job so much more difficult, and is full of glitches, including huge chunks of down time we often have to make up on our weekends!

    And yet they defend it to the death, claiming “It’ll get better” and “You’ll get used to it”. Like you said about AC, someone at my plant has their balls on the chopping block over this new and improved folly!

    So living in denial is what they continue to do!

    As far as the analogy of taking a Rick’s Cafe and making it a TGI Fridays, though? Actually, I think it’s more like taking Rick’s and making it a Chuck E. Cheese’s, where noise, confusion, and headaches abound!

  13. I’ve been out of the AC forum loop lately, and was really disappointed to see the new layout. You definitely hit the nail on the head, Barefoot (did this expression kill our friendship? I can’t remember).

  14. Randy, I’ve been busy and haven’t been in the AC forum much lately. After reading your summary of the changes and browsing the new forum, I think I’ll be happier spending my time in Michy’s forum.

  15. I haven’t gone to the AC forum in months. I did stop by the other day – completely ignorant of the recent changes – saw the new design, clicked on one of their fancy-shmancy headings, and then left.

    The person who designed this is like a kindergartener all excited about his new crayons. “Look what I can do!” Never minding the fact that no one cares what they can do, just as long as they don’t make a mess. I’m not too sure, but there may have been some paste-eating involved too.

  16. That’s exactly why since my sign-up I haven’t submitted anything to AC. My confirmation email had a broken link, which told me all I need to know. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who feels this way about AC.

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