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If I Seem to be Getting Smaller...

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Bill_French
17 - Neptune
17 - Neptune

... it's because I'm walking away.

I have honestly and with open-mindedness tried to use the new "community" in a productive and supportive manner, but it's just not working for me. There's something about this new Khoros platform that makes it difficult to engage and produce responses at a quick pace with smartly formatted information.

The hallmark of a great community is pervasive and free-flowing conversation, but to have that, it needs to eliminate composition friction. This is not the case in the new and improved Airtable community. Rapidly responding to questions requires a lot of effort. Pasting images used to be a breeze. Rapidly composing with your silent but powerful Markdown friend was a pleasure.

Composition simplicity is achieved through a minimalistic design. Khoros tries to be cool and hip at the expense of function and flow. Discourse has studied the art of simplistic content composition. Why Airtable rejected it, is a mystery.

28 Replies 28

HI Bill, I agree - I don't want to be negative, as I'm grateful for the work done, but the community is very hard to interact with now.

Ironically I was writing a report about how AirTable is a good example of community, pointing to a range of psychological things that were in place on Discord and also their implementation of it. The update means I have to change my recommendation, because those things are gone!

Hi Bill, I just wanted to say that I learned a lot from your posts; a lot of the times I'd end up going down rabbitholes while Googling things you mentioned, and I've picked up concepts that have completely changed how I work from you

Your post about avoiding insanity while filtering with JS in Airtable was super helpful, and sometimes when I implement hash indexes I think about it heh

Thank you very much for giving so freely of your time and knowledge

And buggy!

@Bill_French I've tried to PM you directly about  something but those PM don't seem to appear. Bad UX or bug, I cannot say. 

Unrelated to the present topic, I'm having an unfortunate issue with Airtable, and find myself in need to speak with an actual support person, and thus I am looking for a "contact", a way to get in touch with somebody who could help.

Issues are:

- Synced table stopped syncing, no reason given "Unable to sync this source. Unable to sync new data" (not so helpful)

- Tried to fix it, but broke the whole thing, need to revert the table to a previous state, not sure if that's even possible... Can't really use Snapshot because they create a whole new table (and that doesn't work so well with Stacker/Softr/Noloco tools)

These reply bugs are killing me. But - report them so that they can be fixed. If they're not fixed - then Airtable will have a problem on their hands...

Keep in mind Bill, that were you to walk away now, you risk the obvious...

Where did Bill French go? ... he he he, Uranus.

>>> If they're not fixed - thenAirtable will have a problem on their hands...

If other contributors are feeling these sentiments, Airtable already has a problem. My engagement here is about 10% what it was with the Discourse version.

The economic drivers of engagement are delicate; the slightest friction can have a dramatic impact on those give their time freely to help others.

Imagine if a food bank with a vast network of conveyors asked its volunteers to distribute food and supplies by carrying everything from the deep recesses of the warehouse. Volunteers would dissipate quickly.

The Khoros search trainwreck...

The new “community” search seems unable to — well, find anything. Seriously, it thinks I posted far more than the most prolific contributors. What’s up with that?

In the late '90s (the previous century) we came to understand how to do search really well. In 2002 the science of search was greatly advanced with the Lucene open-source project. Today, you can integrate an inverted Elastic-like search engine into your site for free, and it is able to perform fuzzy queries, wild card searches, and field-level boosting. Khoros looks and performs like something from the early 90s. I just don't understand why companies fall down so much with search.

Bill_French_0-1670968019927.png

 

Yeah, I tried to use it, too. And the short version is: it was better before.

Finally I found a thread where I can express similar sentiment.

UI feels genuinely slower 

The page loads feel visibly slower and there are plenty in-page element loaders that take time. Even to the process to tag some one (like @Jordan_Scott1 here for visibility 😊 ), seemed slower.

Opening attachments feels slower, so is the code editing (and now 2 clicks to get there). Clicking "Reply" -> takes 2-3 seconds for editor to load. I just checked and it is instant on Discourse.

I had a quick peak at technologies visible behind the community website (using builtwith.com) -> I see Angular and jQuery (plus support for Shockwave Flash!). Nothing wrong with old tech (if it works well), but clearly the move to this platform was not influenced by cutting edge stack used.

More difficult to see overview of threads

The current thread tiles are massive - I see max 3 at a time on my screen. Makes it more difficult to fish out interesting threads. Now it is just a lot of scrolling. Also in the past ability to see the little tiles of who engaged with a thread was an indicator of interesting discussions happening. 

Seeing unread threads

The unread tab was very valuable to follow discussions I was reading. Now it sort of gets lost somewhere down the line. 

 The editor keeps having issues with my HTML...

The essential part of the community - editor is based on implementation of https://www.tiny.cloud/ which is one of better commercial WYSIWYG editors.

Greg_F_1-1671338337135.png

Somehow I keep seeing the HTML bug warning. Looking at button design this implementation seems to be using one of the older versions of TinyMCE

Bugs
literally as I was writing this:

Greg_F_2-1671340271949.png

It it is clearly discouraging to loose all information typed before suddenly your "Authentication Fails"... 

Links on personal profile
Or rather not having them. Not a massive source of traffic for me but it did get me for sure some interesting inquires and Airtable projects. I can imagine there are plenty of contributors that would like to have an option to link to their businesses, projects, applications. 

So overall Discourse seemed to be doing better job. The main improvement I see here are the rounder buttons 😁

Right and not being to able to edit a post? 🙄
I make spelling/word missing mistakes, some of which are somehow only visible to me after posting... What are we here - twitter? 🤣

Yah, these new forums are killing me. I'm not sure what Airtable make of the situation, they can't be impressed - that's for sure. The old forums were actually very good - if it ain't broke, why ... replace it?

@Greg_F  Excellent digest. All very key friction points.

@Karlstens Follow the money. Key investors in Khoros are also key investors in Airtable. This is not uncommon to see partnerships emerge through these types of relationships.


@Bill_French wrote:

>>> If they're not fixed - thenAirtable will have a problem on their hands...

If other contributors are feeling these sentiments, Airtable already has a problem. My engagement here is about 10% what it was with the Discourse version.

If there could be any disaster at Airtable 3 years after the discovery of the Beta block scripting wormhole in a confidential email that I never finished hoping for, it is this!
What a birthday party !

If you don't react to this, @Jordan_Scott1  for Airtable's Board of Directors , don't wonder about the rest of your mission, we have already lost our Captain! And probably other great Officers!

Please consider the seriousness of what is going on here! And be creative as a top priority to fix this problem first!

ALARM: "terrain! pull up!"

oLπ

Thank you all for your feedback. We hear your and other members' sentiments about the new community experience and we look forward to iterating on this with the community’s ideas in mind as we move forward. 

We want to provide further clarity on the decision to migrate the Airtable Community to a new platform. We spent time listening to members and understanding the opportunities and pressing areas where we needed to improve to provide a community that enables customers to easily engage with their peers to be inspired, learn, and make valuable connections. 

Overwhelmingly, a common sentiment among members was that there has been a lack of consistency when it comes to communication, product feedback, events, and recognition which has caused friction, confusion, and a feeling of not knowing how to get started among users. There was also a sentiment that people wanted more from the community than just a forum, and we feel it’s important to provide a unified experience to our customers. Our research team distilled that many Airtable users were not utilizing the community as a place to learn Airtable today because the previous experience felt overwhelming but wanted to find ways to utilize it more in the future and we see this as a huge opportunity as the community evolves. That being said, we all learn and engage differently, so I understand if that is not a sentiment shared by every user. I also want to acknowledge that many of the things mentioned are more than fair and less about the platform itself and more about UI updates and I promise that we are being creative about the best ways to solve these items. We are future-fitting for a world where we can have a vibrant community with numerous opportunities to engage and unfortunately, while we also love a lot of things about Discourse as well, it simply does not scale to being utilized for more than a forum technology at this time.

The process included the hard decision to migrate platforms and we understand how unsettling these changes can be especially when there are many initial bugs, however, we want to reassure you that the team is diligently working to resolve them as soon as possible. Transparently, the software version we went live on was a new version and our launch has uncovered bugs across the platform as a whole and not just the Airtable Community - we apologize for the friction this has caused, and we agree with a lot of things that have been shared here and we have tickets already submitted or in progress for many of them. We will make sure we are providing updates as we are able to roll out changes.

Our mission with this revamped experience is to provide a cohesive, engaging, and valuable community by expanding our capabilities to include but not limited to; education content, betas, enhanced support, groups, events, member content, improved search that allows people to not only search community, but the help center as well, and an ideas exchange with the flexibility we need to innovate over time that also enables the Airtable team to be more active participants in the community experience.

We are 100% focused on continuing to invest and iterate on the community to make it the best that it can be. With that, we are building this community together. Your contributions and impact as members are extremely appreciated and valued so we encourage your feedback. While the Feedback Form is our current process to capture input, we absolutely agree with your suggestion to provide visibility into the feedback submissions and we will be sharing a public-facing version soon where any PII is protected. We are asking for feedback to be submitted via the Airtable form so that we can streamline the process and all feedback will also be sent directly to the Khoros team. I’m also excited that @ChrisShernaman is here to support us through this transition - he is a Khoros expert and is committed to spearheading a lot of these updates.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate these changes together - I hope everyone knows that we have nothing but the best intentions for the future of this community and are committed to getting this to a place that is effective for as many people as possible.


@Jordan_Scott1 wrote:

Transparently, the software version we went live on was a new version and our launch has uncovered bugs across the platform as a whole and not just the Airtable Community


Ahh, that explains it - going live with a new version, sometimes there's nothing worse! But on the flip-side, hopefully it has a lot of whistles and bells that make the venture completely worthwhile.

Thanks for sharing the Community Feedback form too - I've started posting suggestions.

Merry Christmas Bill and the Airtable team. 🎅🏻

@Jordan_Scott1 
Thank you for taking the time to share this response. I was directed here by @ChrisShernaman from another thread with feedback about the change. It's helpful to learn about the team's goals in making this change.

I'm curious about the user research Airtable conducted to reach these conclusions. Who did you talk to? As Airtable grows, surely there are a wide range of types of folks trying to engage and learn. For me, when I started supporting clients who were working with Airtable 3 years ago, the Discourse-based forums were a near-perfect fit to provide the help I needed. This year, Airtable work made up nearly 50% of my billable hours, and I have brought several of my clients to Airtable based on my positive experiences with the platform and the community. I'm sure there are others who would benefit from additional forms of learning and engagement, but there's a very solid core of folks who have thrived with the community as it existed - and many folks who'd benefit from both!

I struggle with one of the things you wrote:


while we also love a lot of things about Discourse as well, it simply does not scale to being utilized for more than a forum technology at this time.

Having an active, civil, useful discussion forum where users can get tailored help from experts in near real time for free is an absolutely massive asset to Airtable. A lot of software ecosystems would LOVE to have a community like that. It's not something that can be built overnight or through sheer force of will. While the other methods of engagement will be an important opportunity for future grown, they shouldn't come at the expense of the core experience of an excellent technical discussion forum.

I don't have access to analytics to back this up (I bet you do!), but my subjective experience is that the volume of posts on the new forum is about 1/3 of the old, and posts are getting fewer, slower replies. Granting that Khoros will provide other workloads for engagement that Discourse doesn't, it isn't on anything close to an even level of parity with Discourse when it comes to the discussion forum.

Discourse's advantages in this space at present are not a matter of bug-fixes or UX polish. They are deep conceptual differences in what a discussion space is meant to be. If Khoros decided they wanted to approach parity with Discourse in this space, I'd estimate it would require heavy sustained investment in design (not the "gorgeous visuals" kind but the "what are users trying to do and how do we make it as frictionless as possible" kind) and development for 2-3 years. To put it bluntly, the new forums add too much friction for me to want to spend much of my (unpaid) time here contributing help to other, newer users. This friction is present across the whole gamut of functionality:

  • Efficiently getting up to date on recent content to find topics of interest/expertise
  • Finding existing relevant discussions about a particular topic
  • Writing clear and well-formatted technical questions and responses
  • Connecting related topic threads and people
  • Keeping the community well-organized and free of off-topic conversations and spam
  • Feeling appropriately recognized and rewarded for helpful participation in the community, and incentivized to continue contributing

I would have loved to see new avenues of community engagement light up alongside a thoughtfully designed, vibrant, and full-featured discussion forum. I remain (and have grown increasingly) skeptical about the Khoros's ability to provide such a discussion forum in the near future.

There's a clear appeal to having a full kit of community engagement workloads integrated into one tidy platform; That level of integration adds value. I ask you to consider the possibility that the superior experience and engagement of Discourse's forums over Khoros's is so significant that you'd get more overall value from having a less-tightly-integrated experience across two platforms: Discourse for discussions and Khoros for other workloads where it excels. 

I've so enjoyed getting to work alongside others who have deep knowledge and background working with Airtable. The experts and intermediate users in the community are a valuable asset whose interests overlap with Airtable's quite a bit. I hope your response above marks the beginning of a period of increased transparency and collaboration between these groups to benefit us all.

Apologies for a few typos above but... I can't seem to edit the post to correct them 🤦‍♂️

Jordan,

Happy Holidays, and thanks for the words of assurance.

I really enjoyed the depth and details, but I'm still sceptical that @ChrisShernaman can transform what seems to be a marketing and support outreach platform into a conversational tool where each contributor's information is treated as a first-class information object.. I'm optimistically guarded about the future because this is a classic square peg/round hole problem.

I'm sure you're looking at the data - perhaps mine as well; I have essentially refrained from trying to support users with the Khoros platform. I can now count on one hand the number of engagements I've made since the cutover. This is not likely to change until someone in another Airtable Slack community mentions your system is much better.

In any case, Khoros appears to be a fine platform for the other things that leadership has leaned into. And on that note, please share with us how we might (as consultants) leverage those features. Are you looking for feature writers and unique content? If so, how should we publish in the new framework? I understand the Show & Tell feature, but I'm thinking about a more visible outreach that creates vastly more discovery.

@Jordan_Scott1 I apologize in advance, as I'll be blunt/harsh and straight to the point, but what you've written above is what I call "bull**bleep** marketing". Really well-written and politically-correct, but doesn't really address anything. The TLDR could be "we know it sucks, but that won't change".

The new community space is worse than before, and will lead to less engagement. What does it address, really? What has been improved? Because about everything I notice is worse. There hasn't been a single "Oh, this is better than before" feeling.

So, if you want us (or at least, me) to "accept" that this is gonna stay the way it is, you better come with actual and strong indicators of what's better now. Because I don't buy it.