In the past, I highly recommended the Excel newsgroups as a place to go for help. Earlier this month, Microsoft shut down their newsgroup servers, where thousands of people every month had gone to post their Excel questions. Over the past several years, I spent lots of time in those newsgroups, reading and answering questions. I was able to help people, and learned lots from the questions and answers that were posted there.
The people who visited the newsgroups on a regular basis might have noticed the announcements about the impending shutdown. But most people probably visited the newsgroups only a few times a year, when they needed help. They didn’t see the shutdown coming!
It’s not like going to your favourite store, and finding a “We’ve Moved” sign, with helpful directions to the new location. No, it’s like going to that store, and finding out that the building has magically disappeared overnight. There’s no clue as to what happened, or where to find them.
Where Do You Go Now?
Since the newsgroups disappeared, several people have emailed me, to find out where they went, and where to get Excel help now.
One option is to use the web-based forums that Microsoft has set up:
- Answers – http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/office/forum/excel
- Technet — http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en/excel/threads
- MSDN (Excel Developers) — http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/exceldev/threads
- MSDN (VBA) — http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/isvvba/threads
[update 2010/07/01] There’s a list of deleted newsgroups, and links to their related web-based forums here:
To post a question or answer in the Microsoft forums, you’ll need to register, and sign in, using a Microsoft Windows Live ID. After you’ve registered, and set up a profile, you can follow Ron de Bruin’s step-by-step instructions for setting up and using the Community Forums NNTP Bridge. The bridge lets you connect to the forums with a newsreader, like Outlook Express or Thunderbird, which I prefer over the web interface.
Public New Servers
If you don’t like web-based forums, you can use a public news server, like http://www.aioe.org/ to access the Excel newsgroups. Even though Microsoft pulled the plug at its end, other servers carry the newsgroups, so there will still be some traffic, although much less than previously.
Google Groups Search
If your search skills are good, you can use Google to find an answer to your Excel questions, with either a general search, or a newsgroup search. If nothing turns up there, the Microsoft Knowledgebase is another good place to search for Excel solutions.
Cry for Help in Twitter
As Twitter becomes more popular, people even post their Excel questions and comments there. There are examples every weekday in my Excel Twitter posts.
Get Good Results
If you’re posting a questions in one of the forums or newsgroups here are a few suggestions for getting the best results:
- search the forum first, to see if your question has already been answered
- some forums have multiple sections for questions — read the overviews, and select the best venue for your question
- in your question, provide context, such as what version of Excel and operating system, any error messages, etc., and show some sample data, if possible
- explain what you’ve tried so far, and other suggested solutions that didn’t solve the problem (include links to those suggestions, if possible)
- check back frequently, to read any replies and answer any follow up questions
- even if you’re frustrated, stay calm and polite, and remember to thank the people who helped, or tried to help you
Other Microsoft Resources
There are plenty of training resources on the Microsoft site, including some for Office 365.
When I posted about finding Excel help last summer, commenters recommended Stackoverflow.com as a good place to get Excel help. There are other Excel forums too, like the Excel User Group, which is run by Excel MVP Nick Hodge.
[updated 2010/07/01] You can also ask questions on the Excel-L list:
Where are you finding or providing Excel help these days, now that the Microsoft newsgroup servers have been shut down? Please share your suggestions in the comments.