Autodesk to kill NNTP discussion groups

Autodesk to kill NNTP discussion groups

As of 4 June, Autodesk intends to update its discussion group software to something that does not support newsgroup (NNTP) access. From an email by Autodesk’s Eric Wright to NNTP users:

“As an active NNTP user, we wanted to reach out to you directly. We recognize this will change your experience participating in the forums and want to help you transition to the new web interface. Improvements include a simpler, more intuitive interface to post & reply, bookmarking and e-mail notification features to track favorite posts, and more powerful search tools and filtering. While not a substitute for the NNTP experience, the streamlined capabilities of our enhanced RSS feeds can also provide an alternative offline forum reading experience.”

As you can see, we are significantly investing to improve the platform behind the web-based experince to address many of the shortfalls reported by users over the last few years. Rich text vs Plain text confusion, formatting issues (like I just experienced cutting and pasting this message), logout issues, search, in-line image support, and robust RSS capabilities are just a few areas of improvements in an update planned for June 4.

A public announcement will be posted in the forums in a few days. I hope you will give it a try after launch, and provide any feedback or best practices to help in the transition.

Eric Wright

Product Manager – Support & Learning
Web & eBusiness
Autodesk, Inc.

The public announcement mentioned above can be found here.

As you might expect, this decision has been a hot topic of conversation. A survey has been set up (by Tony Tanzillo, not by Autodesk), and the running results are here. I’ve added a poll of my own (on the right). Feel free to express your views here, too.

I have some sympathy for Autodesk in this situation. One of the reasons the disastrous discussion group update of 2008 bombed so badly is that Autodesk was restricted in what software was available that supported both NNTP and web access. By taking the decision to dump NNTP, there is a much better chance of providing a system that works adequately (although Microsoft appears to be able to manage both). Whether an adequate web forum system actually happens or not remains to be seen, but I can understand the thought process that would lead to the decision, which Eric admits was “difficult and bittersweet”.

On the other hand, I am in no doubt that this is going to hurt the discussion groups. I don’t have any figures on the proportion of users that use NNTP, but I do know that a very significant number of the most active and expert users use NNTP. They do this because it’s vastly more efficient to work that way when dealing with large numbers of messages. Occasional users like myself are content enough to hop in from time to time and browse around using the web interface, maybe answering a question or two. The people who live on there, the people who are the groups’ primary resource as a free-to-Autodesk support mechanism? NNTP users, mostly. And what’s the point of a self-help group without a knowledgeable community of people to do the helping?

Adobe went through something similar a while back (links courtesy of CAD Panacea). I don’t know how many good people Adobe lost or how many Autodesk is going to lose now, but I know it’s going to be greater than zero. It will be interesting to see how useful the Autodesk discussion groups are after this change, and not just in terms of the interface and access to existing content. How useful are they going to be as a place to ask questions and stand a chance of getting a knowledgeable answer? I know Autodesk has been experimenting in having some support people respond in the new Installation & Licensing group. Maybe that’s the plan for the future? Time to start hiring back some of the 10% of people Autodesk lost early last year?


  1. Steve,

    Another thought provoking post.

    I hope that this move would not put the more experienced members off. As you have so rightly pointed out in the past, the Autodesk discussion group webforum is hard to work with. As long as the new webforum is easier to use (ie better/faster searches, easier to log in e.t.c) I, for one would support it.

    P.S. I use google reader to pick up on the forums RSS feed, which works out pretty effeciently for me…

  2. First we lost GO:ACAD, but we gained so much with the self destructing dual-personality NNTP/WebCrap interference based news system.

    So, get rid of the things that work. Standardized interface, self-contained help system, real newsgroups, Mechanical Desktop, and the older crowd who volunteer their own free time to help the new kids get up to something resembling productivity.

    Any idea why Autodesk is so set on self-destruction? Is this because Carol really did have more real business sense than she was given credit? It’s really sad to watch this happen especially since it never had to. What a waste.

  3. Actual web based Autodesk’s forums are so poor in functionnality and so badly designed that improving them is not a choice, it’s the only way to go, specialy if NNTP is to be abandoned. Compare to a Simple Machine Forum (SMF), Autodesk’s web based forum are just a joke, sorry to be so direct.

  4. “They do this because it’s vastly more efficient to work that way when dealing with large numbers of messages.”

    Also, because NNTP is what we have been using for the last 15+ years. It’s simple, fast, lightweight, and it works.

    If they were going to vBulletin, like virtually every other successful web based forum out there, I would feel a lot better about this.

  5. David Kozina

    Since at least 1999, I’ve used Outlook Express to access the Autodesk discussion groups. I’d like to think I tried to give back at least some of what I obtained from them (I know I haven’t, but I’d like to think so), but I’m going to pass on accessing/using them via the web. I am a member of AUGI, and I have used their web-based forums a few times (and probably will use them again in the future) – they’re okay, I guess, and there are some good resources there, but their web interface just ‘doesn’t quite work for me’ – I’d MUCH prefer they were available through a newsreader. (If they are, please tell me how!) So this so-called “public” announcement has not been a very happifying one for me (for some reason, I never saw it posted to the discussion groups themselves(?) — rather like the ‘hyperspace bypass announcement regarding earth’s demolition’ mentioned in Douglas Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

    I haven’t decided yet, but I am considering using The Swamp (web-based, I know), or Owen Wengerd’s forums – I know there is much talent to be found in those forums. They are less moderated, but I frankly haven’t seen a very good job of moderation being done in the Autodesk groups recently, either.

    In an interesting parallel, recently our CableTV service provider, Comcast, has been eliminating blocks of channels every few weeks, but the scrolling announcement they’re using is rather amusing… ‘We are upgrading our system. If you can read this message, your television is not equipped to continue receiving this channel after mm/dd/yyyy. Please contact Comcast at ###-###-#### to find out how you can maintain your current service.’

    The amusing thing for me about this announcement is that by eliminating the channels I’d like to see, I am considering ‘upgrading’ my service with Comcast as well…

  6. I read via RSS, reply via the web and haven’t missed NNTP for years. Cant use it at work so adopted the same approach at home.

    More of a concern is the loss of constributors when any major system change is made. One other forum I use seems a lot quieter since it changed systems and required the users to migrate to the new one.

  7. Brent Daley

    I’ve tried a few different methods with the Autodesk newsgroups, and at this point I’m using Google Reader as well to keep tabs on them. So far it seems to be the best solution for me.

    I defintly see the point that users can make though about not having internet access. The last company I worked for monitored internet activity so I was very restricted to being able to actually get solutions to issues. I feel for anyone in this situation, talk about putting the brakes on production when you are unable to quickly find a solution to a problem your having. Granted not everyone wants to search out on their own and do some investigating, but everyone should be given the opportunity to at least be able to make that choice. /end rant on internet access.

  8. There is a lot more to NNTP than just finding forum software that supports it.

    Look at all the visual-puzzle tricks blogs & forums use to lock out the bots & spammers, and we still end up needing mods on the forums and to DIY on our blogs. Take another look, this time at the spam-filter service for your email. Hundreds, every day! Spam is a hassle on the forums and blogs, but a complete nightmare on the email side. And that’s all NNTP really is – email.

    Autodesk hasn’t said anything about it that I’ve read, but I can tell you that keeping the spam out has been a huge drain on resources. In just a few days, the undesired content can reach such a high level that a search for a legitimate subject (like fixing a corrupted AutoCAD user profile) will bring you 8-10 pages without a single hit you want – unless you are anxious about the size of your “equipment”, or having difficulty controlling which way that equipment points.

    In the discussion groups, we might view 1 or two hits like that with humor – and a quick note to the group mods to delete the post. But remember that the groups are tied in to the Subscription Center search engine, and thus to that little comm-center search function right there on your AutoCAD screen. A single spam hit could escalate up the gripe-ladder a LONG way. Maybe on your end, too, if the boss happened to be peering over your shoulder while you were paging through the stuff.

  9. M

    Let’s revisit this. Several years later, the world hasn’t come to and end, the forum is at least as alive as it ever was, and whiners have gotten over it or have gone somewhere else (good).

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