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Summary:

According to an announcement at Apple Discussions, “very soon” we can expect more easily accessible and friendly “Apple Support Communities” for all our free troubleshooting needs. Expect to get what you pay for; The Introductory FAQ doesn’t give the impression that will change much.

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According to an announcement at Apple Discussions, “very soon” we can expect more easily accessible and friendly “Apple Support Communities” for all our free troubleshooting needs. Expect to get what you pay for.

While I’ve been able to troubleshoot problems with products using Discussions, it’s seldom been easy. Besides the antiquated search engine, the quality of answers for a given question can vary widely. The Introductory FAQ for the new Apple Support Communities doesn’t give the impression that will change much.

However, change will begin with the new customizable homepage. Current and new members will be able to access expanded profiles that will include photos and avatars, and will also be able to “invite your friends to join in the discussion.”

Less social and more relevant to the concept of technical support, members will be able to customize their “View.” The View appears to be a means of tracking discussions of interest, like discussions you are participating in. While browsing products is still possible, there’s an emphasis on asking questions, which will be possible from every page, and sorting information accordingly.

To that end, widgets are member-created filters for your View that will no doubt be shiny, but also (hopefully) helpful for finding answers. For example, one could create a widget for questions on the iPhone, perhaps focusing specifically on the iPhone 4 antenna. When an answer appears, such as “you’re holding it wrong,” problem solved, next question.

That brings us to the topic of the sometimes heavy hand of moderation at Apple Support. When Consumer Reports recently declined to recommend the iPhone 4 because of the antenna issue, some discussions regarding that article disappeared. Of course, whether Apple lets people rant or not isn’t the real problem.

There’s enough uncorrected misinformation in Apple Support Discussions that it’s probably better to pick up your phone and call AppleCare unless you’re knowledgeable about the topic you’re researching. What Apple Support Communities really needs is an investment from Apple, not a soliciting of customers to provide support. At the very least, Apple technical support representatives should be regularly answering questions and correcting misinformation, but that would take a bite out of AppleCare, so instead welcome to the technical support social.

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  1. Mark Hernandez Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Agreed! What we really need is innovation in online support. The online forum is an old antiquated system that no amount of avatarization and social graphing is going to fix. We need something worthy of the second decade of the 21st century.

    The problems start with the use of the English language for search, a really inadequate means of finding answers that exist. And because it is so awful at finding information, the second line of defense is to have legions of people willing to answer the same question over and over and over and over again. I guess someone figures that if you give them an avatar and “widgets” that direct traffic to them and points (strokes) for trying to help people will stick around.

    But it will end up becoming like all other forums — good information unfindable, questioners still unable to give enough information for the helper to be truly helpful, unskilled but helpful people not being all that helpful because their answers are too brief or inconsiderate of the profile of the person asking the question, and a big pile of information that cannot be re-organized, or ever cleared of old and wrong information, or clear out the 70% “noise” that accumulates.

    There is a better way.

    Mark Hernandez
    The Information Workshop

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    1. Chuck Brickford Wednesday, August 18, 2010

      The big problem I see with the Communities discussion groups is that they only serve as the digital age “panic button.” I used to have one of those in the 50s; you could buy them in the prank stores, next to the whoopee cushion.

      I have been using Apples Communities are for quite a number of years and I can only say that the results have been quite mixed, mostly on the down side.

      As Mr. Hernandez says some answers are brief, the helpers are inconsiderate and those seeking help have the most unhelpful way of expressing their problems.

      For example, some will come up with the brightest question of all: I need help with the iMac.

      Sheesh! Don’t we all? Why can’t people just say what the problem is and get a quicker answer? Are we the users all idiots?

      Sometimes there are no answers. In some forums someone will come up and say it clearly: We have no answer for your question, we never faced such a problem.

      When I got a Windows 7 Dell computer, to go with my iMac, my Apple Laptop, my iPod, etc., I had to seek help from forums galore to get 7 to behave. My favorite forum was one that specialized in Windows 7 ( http://www.sevenforums.com/ ) and every question was answered.

      Yet, the Apple communities were really full of fluff. You notice that some questions have hundreds of views but few if any replies.

      Don’t get me wrong. Some of those answering the questions are real workhorses and they will stay with you until the very end.

      An example: OS4, a problem very real to owners of 2nd generation iTouch. Do a search and you’ll see how many problems are being faced by owners of 2nd generation iPods. A rush job, no doubt, by Apple. The battery drain is one of the most pressing issues yet there is no official response from Apple. The upgrade should not have been recommended because there is a very real possibility you will not be able to downgrade to a previous version of the OS. Believe me, I’ve tried and still can’t.

      But, I digress. I’m a firm believer that Apple’s forums are just an inexpensive way for Apple to give those with problems room to weep and rant.

      Whether Apple monitors such forums is a mystery to me.

      Thanks for allowing me to rant.

      Chuck

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