Friday, November 4, 2011

Design Sense : ASP.NET New Website Design

A few days back I stumbled upon Scott Hanselman's blog post about the availability of new Beta ASP.NET website. I hated ASP.NET website for a long time and even complained a bit earlier. My biggest complaint was about the lack of RSS Feeds with Video files as enclosures. There is no easy way to get updates on new videos and watch and/or download from any RSS feed reader. (Hated it so much that during one of our training classes, I built a web crawler to create RSS Feeds with enclosures and in a later session, built a web application that will let anybody create a RSS feed from resources any where on the web).  And then, I haven't visited the site a for a long time. So, I was eager to check it out and did it at last.
On a related note, there were many properties, particularly around Microsoft, did not offer such RSS feeds with enclosures. I complained about MIX and PDC 2010 some time back. I think they offered RSS Feeds later on for some of those. I was particularly taken aback when I saw this note on MIX site.

If you’d like to download all of the keynote and session content, download a recent build of cURL (~250K), and extract it to your folder-of-choice. Then, download (1.39KB) and extract the MIX10Downloader.bat file to the same folder. From a command prompt, start MIX10Downloader by passing it one of the following parameters: WMVHIGH, WMV, MP4, PPTX. Then wait. For files that aren’t available, cURL will download a file that is around 1,245 bytes in size (if you change the extension to .htm and open it, you’ll see that the file is simply an HTML "not found" error page).

To rename the files, first, download (4.09KB). Then, extract the MIX10Renamer.bat file to the folder that contains your downloaded files, and from a command prompt, type MIX10Renamer WMV to rename all of the .WMV files to the full session title. By changing the parameter, you can also rename your PPTX and MP4 files.

Anyways, here is what I thought when I looked around the new (still beta) website. I am not a designer and currently learning about interaction design on web applications. So take my comments with a pinch of salt.

As highlighted in Scott's blog, information has been re-positioned quite wonderfully in the 'Learn' pages of the site. Oh, no, you will not find a link to 'Learn' on the front page. Click on any topic links on the top (say Web Forms). Nice and clean grouping of content organization into tabs, chapter menu and quite a clean list. Pluralsight videos have been featured as 'Essentials', rightly so.

Just one quirk though. I kept clicking on each of those tabs to view the content in each section. But once I hit 'Forum', suddenly I felt like totally lost the context.  No more header, no more tabs. It totally feels out of place. The only way, you can comeback to context was to use the back button. It should have been a link rather than a tab. Semantically, I expect the content to be opened within the tab, preserving the tab position in the tab group.

Community Page is also organized quite cleanly with variety of content from the community eco system. Floating navigation bar at the left deserves to be mentioned too.

Other than that, I did not find any thing impressive. But here are some more thoughts on how it could be done better.

Front page is Wasted

Copywriting is quite essential for any web application. If somebody new visits the page, there is not much to take away from the page. Leave alone, impress the user to explore further. The front page totally fails in this aspect. There is no conversation started and no conversation to continue. This is the least expected of a Web development community.
If somebody visits the front page, the first question that should have been answered is what is ASP.NET is all about and why it is worth exploring.

This is what ASP.NET site looks like. Visit the page and Try to answer the question, What is ASP.NET?
Compare it to RoR (Ruby on Rails). View the following snapshot or Visit the page and try to answer what is RoR?
Or Compare it to jQuery. View the snapshot or visit the page and then try to answer what is jQuery?
If you are not convinced, visit the front page of ASP.NET site, visit Ruby On Rails Front page and Visit the jQuery front page. Quite obvious. Isn't it?

I think the front page is totally wasted. I do expect a much seriously higher bounce rate from the top page than any other page.

Why Community Spotlight so important wide, front and loud on the front page? And two large banner ads to go with it? I don't understand why Microsoft has to resort to dumping so many ads on the community site.

A little test of Usability and Information

Have a friend of yours that doesn't know anything about ASP.NET and visit the site and see what he/she can say about ASP.NET. Try the same with jQuery, Ruby on Rails or any other site for that matter and see what they can gather. I did. I tried with two friends who have been working in a Telecom industry for about 10 years and haven't heard of any of these : ASP.NET, RoR and jQuery.  Now they are obsessed with RoR and jQuery in that order, but couldn't scratch the surface yet when it comes to ASP.NET.

And lastly, ASP.NET still doesn't seem to have RSS Feeds with enclosures. It seems, they have lot more interest in eye balls rather and still care so much about advertisers.

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