A critique of the forum

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

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@isaiah - Thanks for this well thought out post.

I would very much like to see a “Vote up/down / Accept answer” type system not unlike Stack Overflow.

This would let negative or ill-informed responses be overshadowed by correct and more helpful responses.

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There is a “This reply solves the problem” button - I’m currently not sure if everyone can see this option or if it’s just admins…

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.

I’ll look into this.


I guess only the OP can see/use it.

Even a simple vote system a-là Disqus would be welcome.

I have seen some users are already flagging their questions as complete. I see this button also. But I guess only a limited number of users know that there is such a functionality…

Is the thread flagged as “solved” somehow?
Is the chosen reply highlighted?
Could you please send me a link to a “solved” thread?
I didn’t see any.

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Thank you, it seems pretty clear.
Perhaps some custom CSS styling could highlight solved thread in a better way.

I’ll start teaching OPs to flag correct replies.

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FYI: I’m not seeing an option to mark posts as solved. I only see the ‘like’ (heart) button. I’ve checked in my preferences but don’t see any option to turn it on or off.

I broadly agree that the option to upvote posts via a ‘was useful’ or ‘solved my problem’ buttons would probably be of help in promoting the best content.

I guess you only see that button underneath your own comment to the original post.

@instacks - yes. that seems to be the case.

that seems useful, for sure – but it’s a very limited amount of feedback. literally one bit of feedback per post, at a maximum.

i suspect that in order to have an impact on user-behavior we’ll need to collect more opinions from more users. and those opinions/votes/whatever will have to translate to meaningful feedback to the user in the form of benefits and limitations.

i suspect that the more feedback that’s collected, both positive and negative, the more valuable the data will be.

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