Wondering about the changes to the Support Center web site?

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As mentioned in previous posts on this blog, the Support Center home page is being updated to improve usability while retaining familiarity. The first round of improvements is out, and you can expect more improvements in the future.

If this is your first time visiting this blog, please read the Welcome post to learn more about what this blog is (and isn’t). Subscribe via RSS and you’ll not only stay informed about upcoming changes, but you’ll also learn tips and tricks for using the Support Center more effectively, and be able to participate in special community feedback opportunities.

A new survey will appear on the Support Center home page in the next few days, where you’ll be able to tell us what you think of the updated home page and banner. In the meantime, take the new home page for a test drive. And, if you haven’t already, you may want to read some of my earlier posts to learn about the changes and why they were made.

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A Few Scattered Pieces

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This week I’ve got a few scattered pieces of news to share:

  • Out of the Desert… I made it back safely from a week of slot canyoneering in Utah, despite sandstorms, snowfall, and one of my friends twisting his ankle. I can now honestly recommend visiting Little Wild Horse Canyon, but be ready to get your feet wet.

  • … and Into the Classroom. SharePoint Bootcamp is happening at ESRI this week, and I’m attending because we want to use SharePoint to help automate and expedite some of ESRI Support’s internal processes and workflows. The end result we’re aiming for is a better overall support experience for you.

  • Home Page Changes Really Are “Coming Soon!” It looks like the changes mentioned in last week’s post are slated for rollout sometime this month, possibly very soon. These particular changes are designed to improve the usability of the Support Center without alienating those of you who use the Support Center on a regular basis. Once the changes are rolled out, there will be a survey asking for feedback on the changes and suggestions for further improvements.

  • And Speaking of Surveys… Thanks to those who’ve taken the time to complete the survey found at the bottom of last week’s post: What Do You Think of the Support Center News Blog So Far? I’ve added a link to that survey in the sidebar to the left, and will leave the survey open for another week or so. Based on the results so far, it looks like most of you find this blog useful, with posts that are of good length but perhaps not quite as frequent as one might hope.
I’ll see about posting more frequently. Maybe some shorter posts on how to do/find things on the Support Center. Anyone have any questions they’d like answered (related to using the Support Center web site)?

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Coming Soon – Home Page Changes

Picture of Jason H
Hello from Utah, where I’ve been enjoying some spectacular scenery… just ask Google Images.

Home Page Changes

At the end of a post earlier this month, I hinted that there may be some changes to the home page coming soon. These changes will be geared towards improving usability while retaining familiarity — in other words, if you’re a new visitor, the home page should be more intuitive, and if you’re a frequent visitor, the changes shouldn’t leave you feeling lost, especially after previewing the changes here.

Note: Most of the Support Center pages and content will be unaffected by the upcoming changes.There are only two changes that will affect every page:

  • The Search bar will be available on every page that includes the Support Center banner.

  • The left sidebar will no longer appear on any page.
Some items that used to appear in the left sidebar will only appear on the home page (like Featured Areas, for example). Other items from the sidebar, such as the Site Map, will be moved into the banner or into the footer links that appear at the bottom of every page in the site. No sidebar means more space for content in the main area of the page.

Rather than attempt to list all the changes (many of which are subtle, like slight improvements to color contrast), here’s a draft screenshot of what the revised home page will probably look like. I didn’t clear my browser’s cache before I took the screenshot, so some of the links show the “visited” color (brown). Also, some of the text has been intentionally blurred out to avoid confusion, since our development server’s content database holds a mix of older info and meaningless test entries.

Draft Screenshot of the Revised Support Center Home Page

Click to view full-size image.

Now, it’s like they say: You can’t please all the people all the time. We’re going to continue to improve both the home page and the rest of the site over time, based in part on your feedback. And on that note…

The First Survey

Here it is: the first opportunity for you, the readers of this blog, to let me know what you think. In the future, I’ll be seeking your feedback on the changes previewed here, and asking for your suggestions for future improvements… but this first survey is about the Support Center News blog itself. So please take a few minutes and let us know:

What Do You Think of the Support Center News Blog So Far?

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Tweaking the Search Tool

Welcome. If this is your first time visiting this blog, you may want to read the Welcome and Intro post, which explains what this blog is all about.

This week we’ll look at some recent and upcoming changes to the Support Center’s Search. Results from an online survey conducted last September indicate that roughly 80% of Support Center visitors primarily use the Search tool to find information on the site. (The other 20% prefer to use the tabs and links to browse for information.) Given that searching is so important to so many of us, we’re going to be (and have been) giving the Support Center Search tool a good bit of attention.

An important note:
Everything posted here is subject to change and nothing posted is guaranteed to actually happen. If you speak legalese, you can get the same message from the Support Center’s Terms of Use page. That said, the information presented here should give you a reasonably good idea of what’s going on.

– What Won’t Change —

Before getting into the changes, let me assure you: We fully understand that major changes in the behavior of the Search can cause serious problems when you’re trying to find answers to critical issues and time is short. We won’t make significant changes to the core behavior of the current Search tool without giving plenty of advance notice here. Here’s what I mean by “core behavior”: a search on a particular set of keywords should return basically the same results, in basically the same order, as were returned prior to the change. None of the changes currently in the works should negatively impact the core behavior of the existing Search… but if you find that a search you did before no longer returns the desired results, please let us know.

– Recent Changes —

A couple subtle changes have been made in the past few months:

  • It is now possible to find specific public bug articles by searching on the bug number; for example, NIM005296 or CQ00287204. Note: This isn’t exactly what Matt asked for recently, but it might be considered another small step towards a published bugs and enhancements list.

  • If you perform a search using just a five-digit article number (like 29129), the desired technical article will appear at the top of the search results list. Previously, the article could have appeared anywhere in the search results.

– Upcoming Changes —

You’ll soon be seeing some changes that should make the Search tool easier to use. Here’s what’s happening:

  • The Search will move into the banner area, just below the tabs. The benefits of doing this include:

    • Increased availability. The Search box will be available from (almost) anywhere on the Support Center, even on pages where the left sidebar disappears.

    • More room to type. The Search text box will be much longer, allowing you to see more of the keywords you’ve entered.
    In addition, the new placement means we’ll have more room for displaying advanced search settings.

  • “Remember my search settings” option. We’re working on an option to have your customized search settings remembered between visits. Actually, the existing Search will already do this: If you click the “edit search settings” button, make changes, and then perform a search, your selected settings will still be in effect the next time you visit the Support Center. What we want to do is make this an option and let you decide whether you want to use it or not.

  • Indicate when search settings have been customized. Each time I visit the Support Center, I always forget that the customized search settings from my last visit are still in effect. I could be the only one who has this problem… but just to be sure, we’re going to put a small label below the search text box to help remind you (and me) when custom search settings are in effect.

  • Support for special characters. Our search engine recently received a minor software upgrade that allows us to configure exception characters. In a nutshell, this means that you will soon be able to do searches for C++, C#, AT&T, and other keywords that contain special characters that have historically been ignored by the search engine.

  • Improved Help. The Search Help will be revised for improved usability.
All of the above Upcoming Changes are still under development, but I can share the following draft screenshots with you. Yes, these are draft and subject to change. That said, the two images below should give you some idea of what the revised Search tool will probably look like.

Here’s a shot of the new Search area as it appears by default. Note the word “(customized)” below the text box to indicate that my custom search options will be in effect when I perform my search.

Click to view full-size image.

When you click the “Open Search Options” link, the new Search area expands to show the options. Note the three small tabs near the top (“products”, “areas” and “display”); these tabs will show the same options as the current “edit search settings” button, but in a more user-friendly layout:

Click to view full-size image.

You might have noticed the “Welcome” text and “Login” link on the right side of the above screenshots. Upcoming changes to the Support Center login (and why anyone would want to log in) will be the subject of another post in the near future.

On a closing note: We are also considering possible revisions to the search results page, to make them easier to filter, sort and read. I’ll keep you posted on developments regarding the search results page, but at this time, we’re focusing on the Search interface on the home page (and indeed, on the home page in general) — stay tuned for more information!

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Welcome and an Introduction

Welcome to the ESRI Support Center News blog. My name is Jason, and I’ve been a member of ESRI Support Services since 1999. A few months ago, I was tasked with understanding the online needs of the ESRI User Community and working to improve the ESRI Support Center and our other online support resources.

The ESRI Support Center is an essential tool for many of us in the ESRI User Community. We here at ESRI are committed to making this tool more effective and useful, and that means occasionally changing the way it looks and operates – adding new features, reorganizing content, or removing something if it isn’t helpful. Changes like these can be difficult to adjust to, especially if the changes catch you by surprise when you’re under pressure to get work done.

This blog should help keep such surprises at a minimum. I’ll also be drawing attention to new (and some old) Support Center features so you can take full advantage of all that our site has to offer. Subscribe to this blog via and stay up-to-date about what’s going on with the ESRI Support Center. (Wondering what RSS is and how to use it? I think Dave Taylor explains it well.)

I’m excited about this opportunity to share news with you, and about my new role here at ESRI. I believe it’s vitally important that ESRI explore new ways to actively listen to and interact with the user community. I believe in making incremental changes and checking with the user community along the way. Oh yeah, I also believe in minimizing surprises.

My goal is to post weekly on Fridays; posts may actually happen more or less often, based on circumstances. As for comments: you’re welcome to leave them, and I intend to read them… but there are many, many of you and only one of me! In most cases I won’t respond to individual comments, but there are three ways you’ll be able to tell that we’re listening:

  1. You’ll be seeing more online surveys where you can tell us what you think. I’ll be posting the survey results here from time to time so you can see what the community thinks overall.
  2. My posts may sometimes include Q&A-type responses to a handful of the more interesting comments or questions we’ve received from the community.
  3. As much as possible, I’ll be sharing how your input is helping shape the changes to our online support resources.

So stay tuned; my very next post will highlight some recent and upcoming changes to the Support Center.

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