Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Debug mode for MOS

Had an SR in which I learned about a debug mode for FLASH MOS (tried it in HTML, no go *grin*). Hold down the Control key and click on the Oracle My Oracle Support Logo in the upper left-hand corner:

Here is a short video, using Oracle's recommendation of CamStudio:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

MOS 5.3: Search and Knowledge

After my initial MOS 5.3 post, I received some most excellent feedback and an opportunity to speak with Jan Syssauw. He was exceedingly gracious and honored me with a 1-hour phone conference in which we covered many different aspects of Search. In response, I thought it would only be appropriate to follow up here.

I have a lot of respect for Jan (pronounced Yan). He is a very good listener and has a very professional demeanor, accepting my comments (and sometimes criticism) without belying how personally he cares for his team and his product. And yet he does - Jan very much wants Search and the KB to be an awesome experience, so I appreciate that he is reaching out to see what at least one user thinks.

In retrospect, I think I may have disproportionately emphasized certain features or areas by leveling the playing field (from my point of view) and perhaps giving the impression that I thought all areas were equal and required an equal degree of attention. Let me say that I wish to correct this. :) And I'll focus first on what I think the big issues are, and leave the small things for another time.

Search Suggestions

First and foremost, "Search Suggestions" are a huge improvement. I initially called these "type-ahead" or "autofill", but the proper term (so I have learned) is "search suggestions". I really like the direction they are going with this. We talked about some of the nuances; for example, the issue with versions I raised in my initial post (typing "Oracle server ent" gives me several suggestions, but none of them are 11g and only one is 10g). The reason Jan gave for this was that there are lots of suggestions that kind of fall off the end of the list - if I set my preferences to see only 5 "search suggestions", then even more of those suggestions would fall off the list. Jan hopes that the more popular and more relevant suggestions will start to percolate to the top of the suggestion list. I still find it odd that Oracle 7.3 would supercede 11g.... *grin*

Need for Speed

Ok, so FLASH is REALLY slow for me, and I REALLY do not like the way FLASH was implemented for MOS. However, setting FLASH aside and focusing on Search, I was struck again by a need for speed. I think these are both very related, but I am going to break it into two different paragraphs to help spell it out.

First, there are times when typing in a somewhat generic term (ie, "install"), I have to wait several seconds (I counted 9 seconds to retrieve 1.1 million records). What about first_rows_k?? *grin* Seriously, Oracle's flagship product is supposed to be the database, and they call themselves the "Information Company". While 9 seconds out of my life is peanuts, other companies (do I need to spell it out?) don't have you sitting around for a few seconds wondering how your fingernails got a little dirty. I have even filed a bug on a case where you can do a search on nothing and the backend server times out - as if I wanted to see every single document. *laugh*

Second, Jan mentioned a couple times when we were talking about setting limits for maximum number of Search Suggestions and Number of Records to Display that setting the limit higher would negatively impact performance. How much? If I want, let's get extreme, 100 search suggestions and 1000 results per page, will my search slow down to 10 seconds, or 10 minutes?

Search needs to be fast! Freakishly fast. They need Jimmy Johns to come and tell them about fast! *grin*

Preferences, options, filters....

This one is quite tricky, and I partially found the right words when I spoke to Jan and I hope I communicated it clear enough. I and other customers have asked for more options, more flexibility, more controls. And by golly, Oracle delivered! We know have Preferences, various ways to set filters via PowerView, Product, Task/Intent, etc. In my opinion, the way these options are presented to the user are a bit confusing. Take for example PowerViews. PowerViews came out a little while ago (MOS 5.1, 5.2?) and thus are a separate form of customization than, say, refining a search via the Knowledge Browser options (by Product, Task, etc). If I set a PowerView to view only Solaris platforms, that affects all my searches. So even though the PowerView summary is at the top of the page, I often forget I have a PowerView set and I rather puzzled when various search results are filtered out. Imagine trying to look for patches specific to Red Hat if you have a PowerView set for Solaris. :)

I do think it is awesome that Oracle is giving us, the customer, this much flexibility and control, and I applaud that. I only hope that we can work together to make the presentation of that power and flexibility more aesthetic and easier to grasp. In some ways, it is almost like going from a FPS game with simple controls to a Flight Simulator with tons of controls. I think this issue will be a matter of acclimation and user training for advanced users that want to take advantage of such knobs and levers; all other users wanting a quick, "just get me the results like Google" approach should not have to worry about these extra bells and whistles. Perhaps one possible way to approach this is to have an "Advanced Search" preference, and consolidate all such advanced features in one area. Maybe. At the very least, have the one preference to toggle the kitchen sink on and off. :)

And some lower-priority items

Some other low-hanging fruit we can take advantage of might be to reduce confusing by consolidating the use of "Task" and "Intent". My guess is that a bunch of folks got together and brainstormed on what to call this, but could not come to a final decision without offending others, so they compromised. :) So I will say, as one customer, just call them Tasks. Forget about "Intent". In my mind, "intent" sounds like you want to practice your ESP or something. But you knew that before I typed it, right....

Redo the way an article is displayed. For a while now, the articles slide in from right to left, squeezing the left-hand side. Either get rid of that effect, or make it happen in .4 seconds max.

I like the "intent" (tongue in cheek) behind the "auto-detection" features. When on the conference with Jan, he demonstrated what this auto-detection is currently doing; for example, if you type "install" in the search box, you wait a few seconds than get a screenful of suggested articles. At the top of the list is a box asking you to clarify your intent (hmm... there is that word again), which can be used to help filter results. A similar thing happens if you search for database (refine by product, for example). This is somewhat similar to what we developed at "The Bridge".

Thursday, July 14, 2011

MOS 5.3

re: Document 1326487.1.  My Oracle Support Release 5.3 Features

I knew that new features/enhancements were coming to MOS this past weekend, and I was looking forward to seeing what they were. I had heard that Search was improving. So when I read this Release Document, I was just a little underwhelmed at the level of detail. The "Release Highlights" all sound good, but I wanted meat. And then just today I realized that the details are actually in another document, My Oracle Support Release 5.3 Detailed Benefits Table (Doc ID 1329876.1)

More details in this document. But still not quite what I was hoping for. None-the-less, I decided to look into them.

Please note, I am a bit cynical in my comments. I realize a lot of hard work went into these enhancements, and there is a ton of "stuff" going on behind the scenes that I do not know about.

[EDIT: Egads, Blogger really mucked up my tables!!! Holy off-the-page, batman!]

Knowledge preferences
Customize your preference page
Knowledge preferences page on the Settings tab allows you to customize your knowledge settings

There are only 4 things you can customize, "Search Term Suggestion" (and associated number, max of 10), "Search Intent Clarification", "Search Result Set Length" (with a measly max of 25), and default "Searched Sources". That's it. I am disappointed. The "Searched Sources" only has two options, either the KB or ALL. Some preference. Better than nothing, I guess.

Support Identifier ManagementAbility to delete multiple Support Identifiers at onceNew window added for sizing control to change number of rows displayed for Support Identifier and managed users

meh. Could be helpful for organizations with really large numbers to manage. Glad we don't.

Search ImprovementsSearch Term Suggestion; search box has a type-ahead feature offering search suggestions using our knowledge base dictionaryFaster search results

Here we go, the fabled Search Improvements!
I have put this to the test already and it does help a bit. The only downside is that it is only available in FLASH (of course), since FLASH slows things down for me.

Message Center on the DashboardThis new feature consolidates all the pending user action for Automated Service Request, Configurations, and new user Support Identifier requests

I had to look carefully for this - it is really small, and in the upper right-hand corner, and often occluded by the annoying green slider message box that I was told was going away. Automated Service Requests (ASR) are the domain of Sun products, thus not relavant for me personally. I could care less if a "pending user request" popped up, since I get mailed about them anyway. I am actively looking for a way to make this "Message Center" go away. Not sure why this is under the "Search Improvements" section.

Auto-detection of product namesQuickly refine your search results for a product

This is still a bit buggy. When I type "Oracle server ent", I get 8 products, 6 of which are more than 6 years old, nothing for 11g or 9i, only one for 10g. "Quickly refine"?!? Or maybe I am simply using it incorrectly - not really obvious to me.

Auto-detection of common tasks and intentsQuickly refine your search results based on selected task 

Not exactly sure how this works. Obviously, not relevant for the search bar on every page, since there is no "task" selected. And it seems you can only select a "task" once a product is selected, no way to skip right to it. When I did look for a "task", the "Customer Recommended" document was #23 out of 25. I see that it is sorted by date, but not finding any way to sort by, say, reverse date, or even "Customer Recommended" for that matter. Or even by rating. The "Refine Search" bar on the left is really slow.

'Customer Recommended' indicator on search hit listBenefit from the feedback of other users who liked knowledge base documents

Mentioned above. It is not clear exactly how a document gets the fabled rating. Seems similar to the "like" button.

More comprehensive and intelligent search tipsAdditional guidance to get the most out of the search engine

Not much to say about this one - I'll have to take their word for it. The "type-ahead" auto-fill thing is probably the most visible aspect, and I like it so far.

More search sources in the form of additional product documentationExpands the knowledge base of possible solutions

So, now, I can search for JDEdwards and Sun documentation. Umm.. yippee?

Ability to set default search source to "All Sources" (in preferences)Expands the knowledge base of possible solutions

Mentioned above, but don't oversell it. A small step in the right direction. :)

Browse / Navigation ImprovementsRedesigned Knowledge Management tab with new "Browse Knowledge" regionEasier to find content that solves your problem

Not seeing how this works. Thus not easier at all. How do I do a search for a specific product and a specific intent with my keywords? Seems like when I enter keywords in the search bar, it completely ignores what I selected for product and intent. Where are the enhancements?

Direct navigation to "premium content" using task, product and release refinementEasier to find content that solves your problem

Easier, eh? Still can't find it. I must be really stupid. :)

Removed product browse tree (in favor of Knowledge Guidance)Easier to find content that solves your problem

Umm... they just replaced "tree" with "hierarchy". And moved it into a drop-down button. Oh wait, they had that before as well.

Health RecommendationsAbility to set lifecycle (Production, Stage, Test, Development) of multiple Systems at once Easier to maintain and manage Systems and Targets

Interesting. I guess that is a good thing, and it seems to work. Gotta love the little warning message (which should be removed, imo):
"The change will take approximately 2 seconds to complete. A message will inform you of the final result."

I am not going to comment on the other 5 sections of "Health Recommendations" because I do not use them. For folks that do, I can see how these might be good things, but given what I have see so far with other "enhancements", I have to question how much of an improvement this actually is.

Guided ResolutionTask-based Advisor helps to guide through a series of steps in a taskHelps you solve problems based on the process or workflow

I have no idea what this means. Where does one find this "Task-based Advisor"? Going to have to skip this whole section because I have no idea what they are talking about. It does recall to mind the old Libraries they used to keep. Again, sounds like a good idea, just not really obvious. Or maybe I really am dumb.

My Oracle Support CommunityNew user profile enhancementAllows user to enter biographical or specialized information and the ability to control emails sent from Oracle.

Not finding anything I want to fill out in this "profile enhancement". Provide my education?? Manage Certification logos? Gah! And the only knob for "controlling emails" is a radio button that says "receive emails based on your community subscriptions". Not what I was expecting at all.

Ability to upload documents, pictures, and videosAdd information in the format that communicates your question or situation clearly 

This sounds like a good thing - I did not realize you could not do that before. But I only have 8 Community points, so....

Allow users to view and manage the documents they subscribe toHelps to manage solutions so you can solve problems faster

This made me laugh.

General notes:

  • still see annoying green slider box in upper right.
  • when displaying a document, still see the annoying "slide left" effect that takes a couple seconds.
  • Good ideas and intention. Disappointed with the implementation.
  • still hate the lack of any decent "back" functionality (a FLASH thing). Clicking through breadcrumbs erases options I might have selected earlier. (Big problem with search!!)
  • new tab for "Advanced Customer Services". Really, an advertisement?!? How do I delete that?

To Do:

  • Learn more about Health Recommendations and Guided Resolutions. Dare I have high hopes?