As of 4 June, Autodesk intends to update its discussion group software to something that does not support newsgroup (NNTP) access. From an email by Autodesk’s Eric Wright to NNTP users:
“As an active NNTP user, we wanted to reach out to you directly. We recognize this will change your experience participating in the forums and want to help you transition to the new web interface. Improvements include a simpler, more intuitive interface to post & reply, bookmarking and e-mail notification features to track favorite posts, and more powerful search tools and filtering. While not a substitute for the NNTP experience, the streamlined capabilities of our enhanced RSS feeds can also provide an alternative offline forum reading experience.”
As you can see, we are significantly investing to improve the platform behind the web-based experince to address many of the shortfalls reported by users over the last few years. Rich text vs Plain text confusion, formatting issues (like I just experienced cutting and pasting this message), logout issues, search, in-line image support, and robust RSS capabilities are just a few areas of improvements in an update planned for June 4.
A public announcement will be posted in the forums in a few days. I hope you will give it a try after launch, and provide any feedback or best practices to help in the transition.
Product Manager – Support & Learning
Web & eBusiness
The public announcement mentioned above can be found here.
As you might expect, this decision has been a hot topic of conversation. A survey has been set up (by Tony Tanzillo, not by Autodesk), and the running results are here. I’ve added a poll of my own (on the right). Feel free to express your views here, too.
I have some sympathy for Autodesk in this situation. One of the reasons the disastrous discussion group update of 2008 bombed so badly is that Autodesk was restricted in what software was available that supported both NNTP and web access. By taking the decision to dump NNTP, there is a much better chance of providing a system that works adequately (although Microsoft appears to be able to manage both). Whether an adequate web forum system actually happens or not remains to be seen, but I can understand the thought process that would lead to the decision, which Eric admits was “difficult and bittersweet”.
On the other hand, I am in no doubt that this is going to hurt the discussion groups. I don’t have any figures on the proportion of users that use NNTP, but I do know that a very significant number of the most active and expert users use NNTP. They do this because it’s vastly more efficient to work that way when dealing with large numbers of messages. Occasional users like myself are content enough to hop in from time to time and browse around using the web interface, maybe answering a question or two. The people who live on there, the people who are the groups’ primary resource as a free-to-Autodesk support mechanism? NNTP users, mostly. And what’s the point of a self-help group without a knowledgeable community of people to do the helping?
Adobe went through something similar a while back (links courtesy of CAD Panacea). I don’t know how many good people Adobe lost or how many Autodesk is going to lose now, but I know it’s going to be greater than zero. It will be interesting to see how useful the Autodesk discussion groups are after this change, and not just in terms of the interface and access to existing content. How useful are they going to be as a place to ask questions and stand a chance of getting a knowledgeable answer? I know Autodesk has been experimenting in having some support people respond in the new Installation & Licensing group. Maybe that’s the plan for the future? Time to start hiring back some of the 10% of people Autodesk lost early last year?