I am talking about the collection of articles that Apple refers to as its Knowledge Base. The problem is not with the content of these articles (which tend to fine), but with the ability to locate specific information, especially if what you want is to track recent articles.
You may be the type of user that visits Apple's Support site only when you seek a solution to a problem you're having. I often use the site that way myself. However, I also want to be able to track all that is new at the site, especially to the Knowledge Base. This assists me in staying up-to-date with the latest advice from Apple, and thereby deciding what new troubleshooting findings are worth writing about in my columns and blogs. This, in turn, helps you (as a reader here) stay informed — without having to scour through Apple's Support site yourself.
Unfortunately, you won't even find the words "Knowledge Base" on Apple's Support home page. Downloads, Manuals, Discussions, Specifications, and How-To articles all get separate links, but not the Knowledge Base. In fact, there isn't even a way to specifically search the Knowledge Base from the home page, other than as part of a more general Search of the entire Support site.
But let's ignore this relatively minor quirk. My concerns go deeper:
No more "created" date. Years ago, every Apple Knowledge Base article included two dates: The "created" date (when the article was first posted) and the "modified" date (when it was most recently updated). Apple also provided a way to generate a list of recently updated articles, with new articles separately identified from modified ones.
For articles described as modified, Apple did not (and still does not) list what had been changed. So, unless you had a saved copy of the older version to compare against, you'd be hard-pressed to know whether a change was trivial (such as a typo being fixed) or significant (such as a critical correction to a procedure).
Still, it was a good system overall. At the very least, it made it easy to identify truly new information. Until Apple started messing with things.
At some point, Apple stopped listing the "created" date, leaving only the "modified" date. This meant there was no longer a quick way to separate totally new reports from updates to old ones.
Making matters worse, Apple often releases several dozen articles in the space of a week. Only one or two of them may be truly new. Trying to extract the new from the modified pile can seem a bit like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
No more "modified" date. Apple is in the process of updating its entire Knowledge Base. All articles will eventually sport a new look and new URLs. Here is an example of the new approach: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1717. In contrast, here (at least until it gets updated) is an example of the older format: http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=306723.
One of the changes in the new format is that the "last modified" date has been dropped. Now there isn't any date information associated with an article. This can make it difficult to tell if an article is even relevant anymore. For example, suppose an article describes a problem that affects Mac OS X 10.4 but not 10.5 — but the text does not clearly state this (as is sometimes the case). If the article included a "last modified" date, and that date preceded the release of 10.5, you might at least suspect that it is not a current issue. Without this date, this is much harder to figure out.
The newly formatted articles also no longer list the article number or its associated keywords. These often assisted me in searching for a specific article. No more.
Harder to track recent articles. At one time, the Search engine for Apple's Knowledge Base allowed you to search by date. This is no longer the case, and has not been so for quite some time. So if, for example, you wanted a list of every new or modified article Apple has posted in the last month, you cannot use the Search feature to get this information. As far as I can tell, you only have two options left:
• The first is to check a special Knowledge Base article that lists all the other "articles modified in last 7 days." Unfortunately, this article is currently "out of order." If you check it out today, you will see that it lists zero modified articles in the last seven days! This just ain't so (at least not by the standards Apple has been using).
I am not sure what is going here. If Apple intends to permanently abandon this special article, why not just delete it? Perhaps Apple has only temporarily stopped updating this listing because, at the moment, so many articles are being modified — as part of the transition to the new format (more on this point in a moment). But that's just a guess. Who knows? Maybe this article is truly dead, adding yet another way that Apple no longer supports its support articles.
• The second option is to subscribe to the Weekly Apple Support Update. If you do, you'll get an email each Saturday that lists all the updated articles of the past week.
By the way, there used to be an option for getting a Daily Apple Support Update. It's still mentioned at the bottom of each weekly email. But, in yet another move by Apple to make things more difficult, this option no longer exists.
The weekly email is okay as far as it goes. Of course, you have to wait until Saturday to get it. And it doesn't distinguish new from modified articles.
An added current irritation is that all articles that get converted to the new format, even if there is no other change, are apparently listed here as modified articles. As a result, recent weeks' listing have had as many as 100 articles (which is how I know that the "zero modified items" listed in the special Knowledge Base article is wrong). Almost all of these articles have no substantive changes. Trying to find a truly new one from among the entire list is once again — you guessed it — a bit like looking for the proverbial needle.
The end result is that what should be a simple, speedy and mundane task — keeping up with Apple's latest troubleshooting documents — has become unnecessarily time-consuming and sometimes nearly impossible. And the entire reason for the problem can be laid at Apple's doorstep.
This leads to one final question: Why does Apple appear to go out of its way to make this task so difficult? Frankly, I don't know for sure. And Apple certainly isn't saying. But the conspiracy-seeker in me sees a possibility:
As a matter of policy, Apple does not like to publicize any bugs or problems with its products. This is why, for example, when Apple comes out with a bug-fix update to its software, Apple is often vague about what exactly the update fixes (sometimes saying little more than it "increases reliability"). While this is understandable from a PR point of view, it runs counter to much of how this industry operates. And it is a frequent source of complaint among Mac journalists, administrators, developers and even many users. Still, I can imagine someone at Apple thinking that making it hard to track what is truly new in the Knowledge Base would be consistent with Apple's general policy. That is, if people can't easily find Apple's new confirmations of problems, it is less likely that such information will get publicized. I'm not convinced this is Apple's rationale (and I admit to some problems with the logic here). But I wouldn't be shocked to learn that it is.
If you have other theories (or facts) as to what is behind Apple's policy, feel free to let me know. Even better, if you have any suggestions on how to get Apple to change its policy, I would definitely want to know.
Addendum: May 24: Good news!! Just 48 hours or so after posting this blog entry, I noticed that Apple restored "last modified" dates to their new-format articles. If you click on the above link to the HT1717 article, you will see what I mean. The old and new article numbers are also now included.
That's not all. The "special" KB article that lists "recently modified" articles is working again. In fact, it has a new URL (http://support.apple.com/kb/index?page=articles) as well as a new and improved format.
Coincidence? Or did someone at Apple read this blog and respond?