i know not everyone shares my view of the forums. so i wanted to give people a concrete example that illustrates some of my misgivings and provide constructive feedback.
i’m sorry this is so long. i tried to make it short. but it’s a complex topic and i wanted to be clear.
i’m choosing a specific thread (linked below) as an example because i’m the bad guy in the story. if anyone screwed up, it was me. i let a bug fester for too long. (note: i’ve also worked 60h this week to fix it) i chose it to emphasize that this isn’t about any person behaving badly (except perhaps me).
i don’t think any of the problems are because anyone is doing anything wrong.
let me say that one more time: NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING WRONG
i don’t think more diligence, politeness, or anything else will solve these issues. i think the problems are due to the automatic behaviors of the forum. and should be solved by changing those automatic behaviors.
i’ve seen a lot of chatter that one dev should just be more polite or something. which is fine. we could all be more polite, but that’s a topic for another day… this post is not about that. help me keep this thread about the forum, NOT about the people using it.
here’s the thread:
this post is nice because it shows some specific things:
- a user issue that needs a specific answer
- this is a temporary issue. (fixed soon)
- the solution is also temporary (new beta soon)
- lots of chatter, some right, some wrong
- no trolls or irate users.
This forum post starts with a question about SEO-Rx: a user looking for help with the low numbers it returned for his site (due in large part to my bug).
First Response: Kryton suggests using warehoused images.
Like Zapping PRAM and fixing permissions this silver-bullet fix is given a lot but rarely helps. My expert opinion is that it would do nothing here. I think it would likely complicate the problem.
- this is a problem because it’s confusing, unhelpful, and listed first.
- this top post is “above the fold” and will be read far more than any other answer.
- there is no way to demote this post other than to flag it as inappropriate, which it isn’t. Everyone is wrong sometimes. being wrong not inappropriate.
- there is no way to let Kryton know, without direct confrontation, that his post was unhelpful.
- users that often post unhelpful things are not curtailed in any way – in fact the default behavior of Discourse is to elevate the user trust level for more frequent posts.
a few posts down: garageshop posts the beta URL
this actually solves the issue (the real solution – woo hoo!!!). he posts a direct link to download – the current beta (yeah!!!) — but by later today it will be out of date (boo!!!).
- people will click on this link forever. after today they’ll get an old beta or a 404 – and it will likely generate a support ticket.
*** i know what you’re thinking: i could handle the out-of-date URL problem with my web server and some clever redirects – but if the solution were anything other than “download this thing” then out-of-date info remains a problem. the general problem of out-of-date info is the what i’m highlighting – it just happens to be URL this time.
a few posts down: a user says he installed the beta but still has the same problem.
i’d love to get the details, but i know that would only add more soon-to-be-outdated info to the thread. setting a trap for more novice users to see extremely temporary beta problems/solutions.
- do i respond and help this user at the cost of all future novice readers?
- or ignore it and seem like a dick?
i honestly don’t know the answer to this question. i’ve tried both. catch 22.
In order to make this critique constructive here is what I see as specific problems and what solutions I try:
Problem: there is no feedback for bad behavior. chatty, trolling, flippant, angry posters are rewarded for frequent posts.
Solution: a reputation system that helps users find out that their behaviors are unwanted without direct confrontation or using nuclear options like banning.
i know discourse supports “trust levels” but i’m not sure if this is sufficient since those seem to auto-increase just by participation (not by the quality of the participation). i think there may be a discourse plugin for reputation. it’s at least worth a look.
Problem: temporary info remains on the forum forever.
Solution: a special area of the forum that hides posts from Google and/or forum searches. Or makes it very clear that the info in the post is out of date. so clear that novices can understand it. or a part of the forum that doesn’t save its history – temporary chat.
Problem: purely chronological order emphasizes quick posts rather than helpful ones.
Solution: a voting and/or ranking system for posts that hides/demotes low scores. i’m not sure if this sort of thing is available for discourse. Atwood has been very much against using discourse in a “fact/answer” system: https://meta.discourse.org/t/should-down-voting-be-core-functionality-in-discourse/40/21