Autodesk discussion group update – what do you think?

On 4 June 2010, Autodesk turned off NNTP access to its discussion groups as part of the process of updating its software to use a different engine (the new one is from Lithium – here are its own forums). I am preparing a large post about what I think of the new web interface, but for now let’s hear from you on that subject. Please vote in the poll on the right, and add your comments once you’ve had a chance to put the “state-of-the-art web experience Autodesk customers have come to expect” through its paces.

In related news, I have now closed the short-lived poll about the end of NNTP access to these groups. The results were:

Should Autodesk shut down NNTP access to its discussion groups?
Yes (8.8%, 5 Votes)
No (59.6%, 34 Votes)
Don’t care (31.6%, 18 Votes)
Total Voters: 57

This is a small sample and must have some self-selection bias, in that those who cared about this move were more likely to read my post on the subject and vote about it. I attempted to temper this by including a “Don’t care” option, but some bias is still bound to be there. There is also likely to be some bias in the opposite direction, because people are less inclined to bother voting to try to fight a decision that had clearly already been set in concrete and which was never going to change.

That said, it does seem remarkable that only 5 people could be found who supported Autodesk’s decision to drop NNTP access. According to my long-running What is your relationship to Autodesk? poll, There are at least 25 (claimed) Autodesk employees who are active enough on this blog to respond to its polls! Without wishing to compromise the private nature of my polls, I can reveal that the 5 Yes votes included Autodesk employees and at least one non-Autodesk person (that’s as specific as I will ever get). There did not appear to be any attempt to distort the voting from either camp. I mention this because the survey mentioned in my previous post was disrupted in this way.

10 comments to Autodesk discussion group update – what do you think?

  • Matt Lombard

    NNTP is a dying breed. A year or more ago several ISPs got together and dumped a big section of usenet. The SolidWorks newsgroup comp.cad.solidworks has devolved into a spammer site. I’m not familiar with the Autocad group, but NNTP all over is going the same direction. I suppose RSS is probably a step up from NNTP. If NNTP was going the route of Google Groups, its easy to see why it has been so widely abandoned (aside from people trading warez and kiddie porn).

    The nice thing about NNTP to me was that you could use whatever reader you wanted to use, and there are many good news readers with a wide range of capabilities. They will never give you those kinds of options in a web interface. There are some good RSS readers available, but the generation that produced RSS is more into cosmetics than the generation that produced news readers. News readers like Xnews had a ridiculous level of functional detail.

    I know this is off topic, cuz I’m not really an Autodesk discussion group participant. I just like to mourn the passing of a method that I grew up with, so to speak.

  • The RSS reader I use isn’t perfect but I find is fine for reading the Discussion Group feeds. I won’t miss NNTP as haven’t been able to access it for years at work. I don’t like the web ui for consuming the Discussion Group but find it’s ok for responding to RSS read messages

    http://rcd.typepad.com/rcd/2005/05/working_with_au.html

  • David Kozina

    I’m finding that one good thing about this change is that I’ve found a bit more time for other activities…

    I tried looking around the web DGs a bit, and the speed seemed fair, but the formatting just doesn’t work for me. Perhaps there are some additional controls when signing in (I didn’t sign in) but I couldn’t seem much to control how threads were viewed, nor any sort of navigation tree sidebar, to allow me to jump from one DG of interest to another – it ended up being drilling down, then through, then drilling up, then down, then…

    I may check back in a few months, especially if I hear that things have improved, but for now, I’ll just skip them altogether.

    So, you might say that the change has been a boost for me to be less generous with my time in helping others.

    Somewhat OT? – something I’ve noticed about my feelings toward Autodesk (and not just them): Why is it that whenever a new product is released I always involuntarily cringe? The only answer I’ve been able to figure out is that since I’ve been ‘bitten a few times’ in the past by ‘new and improved’ stuff, I worry (rightly or not) about what might be broken now that wasn’t before. I just want things to work as well as it did before, or better – and a new product always comes in at least partly surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty.

    Comments, reports, and blogs can HELP dissipate that cloud some (or intensify it), but the ‘fear factor’ still exists.

    For me, certainly how Autodesk responds to matters/criticism also is a factor in HOW MUCH cringing is involved…
    Aloofness, pod-people-speak, or alternately, smug self-confident assurance = “OMG, we’re all hosed!” on the ol’ cringe meter.

  • Brent Daley

    I haven’t had any issues yet with the updated discussion boards. I have started using Google Reader though just for the fact that I can access it from anywhere I want and get my feeds in one location. Of course if I need to post back, or make a new post then I still need to go to the discussion boards themselves, but it’s worked out fine so far, and I haven’t been detered. I could imagine if you were someone that just used the website for the discussion boards it might be a little cumbersome to patrol them, so the newsgroup reader was probably a lot more beneficial.

    Like with a lot of things the past always seems like it was better times. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move forward with how things are now. I guess with regards to things like this I find it a lot more of a waste of time to complain about how things were, then taking that time and focusing it on what things are now, and learning them. I highly doubt they are going to change the format back because of people wanting it the other way, it’s already cost a lot of money to make this change. Kind of like the whole subscription thing, when your on a website with only the people that have an opinion on things it seems like it is a vast majority, and it is easy to think that everyone thinks a certain way, where in fact it is a small minority of the whole world of Autodesk users.

    So I am moving forward with the change because I want to make sure it is a positive influence to others in the company that may want to use it. What if it’s their first time…will they like it, or will they ask themselves if there was a more simpler newsgroup type reader format that might make it work better? I think things will work out just fine.

  • I can only comment from the viewpoint of an exclusive former NNTP user, and that is NNTP was far superior for me. Is that a personal bias? Sure. I’ve been accessing the adsk newsgroups using a newsgroup reader for… I don’t even remember for how long, maybe 12-15 years? In the context of the AutoCAD world, maybe this is like someone being forced to move from R12 to R2011?

    I’m not going to blanket condemn the new adsk groups because obviously the far majority of people are OK with it. I might stick my head in there every now and then, but I don’t think I’ll be near as active as I was using a newsreader.

  • Matt Stachoni

    As a longtime participant on the Autodesk NGs, I sadly note the passing of NNTP. I’ve been using newsreaders for a long time (I’ve had a Giganews Usenet account for well over 10 years) and I cannot see how an HTTP-powered groups could provide a better level of service to the community. NNTP is a perfect delivery mechanism for threaded conversations – that’s what it was BUILT for. And a dedicated newsreader is the perfect consumption application.

    Every day I would click one button to get all of the new headers in all of my subscribed groups, and read them at leisure during the day. I could skip over the posts (and replies) that I knew weren’t interesting. I could flag replies by particular people I knew I wanted to read first. I could download everything and read it offline if desired.

    Again, what we are seeing is a shining example of how Autodesk obfuscates a “problem” (reading and posting forum articles) in order to push for a wholly inappropriate “solution” (a web-based forum architecture). The truth is that no one had any real problems in accessing Autodesk’s discussion groups; the deficiencies of the web interface will always be there, and using a solid newsreader was not a problem.

    What REALLY irritates me is that, while the best we could hope for is parity with the AUGI forums (or any number of existing online groups), the usability of the new groups is just stupidly horrible. It’s slow, clumsy, and the whole experience is ruined, not improved.

  • Martin Shoemaker

    Matt said it well. Also R.K. and David. I find the new forums harder to navigate, and it takes much longer. I also have a problem with tiny teal print on a gray background — it’s too hard to read, plus they waste a tremendous amount of space with their layout. With NNTP I used Thunderbird, set to show threads with new posts. One key to expand the thread list and I could identify the new posts and not waste time trying to figure out which posts I had seen and which were new.

    With NNTP I checked around 10 forums several times a day because it only took a few minutes to do so. As Matt said, the HTTP forums are slow and clumsy. I don’t think I’ll be spending much time in the HTTP forums.

  • David Kozina

    I’m curious about the sole (as of 6/22) Fantastic vote.

    Was it just for fun? cynical? or truly sincere?
    Was it an Autodesk employee doggedly trying to make their case?

    If it WAS sincere, I’d sure like to know their reasons why they felt that way.
    Certainly they could ‘Leave a comment’ if they wanted. (Perhaps they have.)
    I know you won’t say who, so alas, the world will never know.

  • Actually, in this case I can’t tell who that is, because the IP is from a “black hole” private group:

    NetRange: [Removed]
    CIDR: [Removed]
    NetName: PRIVATE-ADDRESS-ABLK-RFC1918-IANA-RESERVED
    NetHandle: NET-[Removed]
    Parent:
    NetType: IANA Special Use
    NameServer: BLACKHOLE-1.IANA.ORG
    NameServer: BLACKHOLE-2.IANA.ORG
    Comment: This block is used as private address space.
    Comment: Addresses from this block can be used by
    Comment: anyone without any need to coordinate with
    Comment: IANA or an Internet registry. Addresses from
    Comment: this block are used in multiple, separately
    Comment: operated networks.
    Comment: This block was assigned by the IETF in the
    Comment: Best Current Practice document, RFC 1918
    Comment: which can be found at:
    Comment: http://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc1918.txt

  • David Kozina

    Steve,
    Dead horse or not, but now that there are a few more Fantastic votes in your poll, I think it would be nice of you to offer ‘Guest Editorial(s)’ to any of the “Fantastic 4″ willing and able to explain their reasoning on the issue. Inquiring minds want to know! Enlighten us!
    I don’t know if that’d be possible for you to do – but my guess at this point is that it’d probably be easier for you to accommodate them here in lieu of Autodesk trying to do so…

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