Forum ponderings

This started as an additional comment but then I typed a few too many words, and it’s about the WP forums.

Initial thought: How is success going to be judged ? Without that it could be stumbling blind so if nothing else we need to create the goals ourselves. People WILL shoot afterwards so we need to set a goal.

Second thought – this isn’t complete, but it’s a start eh ?

Right now, if you have a problem there is one place to go – the forums – and inside the forums, there are only so many places to post. There the problems start. We have too many people, with too wide a set of problems trying to fit inside a very small place. Inevitably the system fails.

Why is it failing ?

  1. Too many people in one place.
  2. Search fails for many reasons, part of which is arrogance on the part of forum helpers that a Search will actually help – it may often not. (Yes – I’m guilty too)
  3. The signal/noise ratio is not where it needs to be. This is due in part to each of the following:
    – too much reliance on the front page
    – bumping because of the above AND because we just do not have the answers
  4. People who would help with some issues do not want to wade through newbie stuff to find the “choice stuff”. I find this attitude arrogant but maybe it needs accomodating.
  5. Guidance for posters is needed.

To think about:

  1. Create additional forums but with a tiered aspect. The system does not fail because of BBPress though, arguably it fails because there isn’t enough of it about. Create another complete forum but without the Your WordPress and Misc sections, call it “Advanced” or similar. Guidelines for this MUST be clear and very visible. A disadvantage of this will be the inevitable elitism that some helpers will feel when they move in to inhabit the higher reaches. Bear in mind that complete idiots will also feel that they too belong to the php gods section.
  2. Search … needs revamping but as I’m not expert there I’ll pass. (I could argue that the current forum be mothballed. Create two new sets of forums and leave the mothballed forum for searching only. It has lots of old information in but shouldn’t be deleted. This could encourage full answers, correct Codex links and mark a clean spilt between the then / now).
  3. Remove the front page. Use the space for announcements, a link to the latest post AND the latest reply in each section, Codex news.
  4. Moderators for each tier, with super-mods too. The ability to move posts between areas is essential as people will spam the boards to get answers if nothing else (as demonstrated in the last 2 days).
  5. The b2evolution forum has a half-decent guideline.

And please resist all the idiots who want avatars, little stars, post counts, rankings and all that other stuff that kids like.

In the end though, the forums fail in part because there are too many people using too small a resource, but also because there just is not enough help.

17 thoughts on “Forum ponderings

  1. Here is my 2 hap’orth. Does not WP now deserve a web site. ? Useful info. Links to official resources. Multiple forums. Handy howtos. PR stuff. Approved hosts. Advertising aplenty. Road maps. Where to go’s. Interviews with the boss. All that stuff ?

  2. What would also be helpful would be a FAQ which we can refer people with common issues to. The way I would handle this would be a sticky forum post which is closed for comments. Only moderators would have the ability to post to it.

    One comment per question (which will mean we can link to individual question/answers).

  3. I’m with you on the website Root. If nothing else it would be a good place to filter the different forum layers. As for “kids” Mark, I think you have to keep in mind that blogging has become somewhat of a “kids” past-time. I know you, Root and I just go to prove the exception, but if you create a blogging app. you’re going to get kids. Without them your user-base would drop through the floor but I agree that the forums should do without all the crud. With a user-base the size that WP has now (and it should only increase) the forums will have enough to cope with just keeping up with the posts. Keep the strain to a minimum.

    The main thing, I think, is to filter posters so that different skill levels end up at the right forum and I can see the problem with people going to the wrong forum because they think that they are more skilled than they really are. The moderators should be able to say “Not here thank you” and move the post to the appropriate forum. Eventually people will learn to do things properly.

    As for the search facility I think these built-in ones aren’t too good generally. One of the guys over at our forum came up with a Google search purely to search the forum and it does a far better job, so unless you can come up with something special for BBpress maybe something similar…

    Talking of kids stuff Mark, when are you going to get rid of these emoticons? 😀

  4. I think we could do a better job in supplying help actually with the download – even a comprehensive text file would be damned useful for heading them off at the pass (so to speak).

    Not sure what you guys mean about a site .. and the smilies ? they are here by popular demand so they stay 😛

  5. I’m not sure about including it in the software download. It would depend how big it is I think. I mean we’ve just been discussing paring the thing down. I always thought the wiki was a bit muddled. I think they’ve done a better job with the TXP wiki though it isn’t finished yet nor can be really till 1.0 is released. Something along the lines of the PHP manual where you can go on-line and reference it or download it if you prefer. When people post to the forum the first thing they could be asked is “have you read the bloody manual?” especially if you know it is a question that is covered in there. Again people will get used to this reaction and it will prompt them to read the manual before they come and ask a silly question.

    Go on then, keep your smilies. 😀 I don’t care. 😛 I know you love them really. :love: I’ll say no more. :secret:

  6. This might seem a bgo but WP does not have a home. It has a forum. Every time there is a spat in the forum for example the mods say its OT. Which it is. But where is WordPress discussed ? In a blogging format? Its not.
    There is irc I know. There are hackers lists I know. But if I want to shout my 2 cents where do I go? And Matt consciously or not has meticulously kept all discussion about WP firmly out of the blogoshere. There is no dialogue. Now that maybe a good thing. It is certainly his call. No problem there. But I know that there are loads of guys champing at the bit to do stuff. NM and Mark to name but two. Now if this was a company (God forbid) there are certain types of activity that you would now expect to see going on. And that activity can not be carried out by one guy no matter how clever he is.

  7. I can relate, partly, to this as I’m a forum admin for HaloScan. The most common annoyance I have is answering the same questions over and over and over.

    I think having a split of forums would be an idea, but you need to remember that, no matter how much information you provide (manual, wiki, homepage, whatever) when people have a problem they will hit the forum, then post first and question later. It’s the same in real life. You have a problem with something at work? Most times you’ll ask a co-worker when you KNOW the info is available. Forums work on the same basis.

    So make it as easy as possible for the administrators, provide common links to the Wiki or a manual, and keep a pinned “posting guidelines” topic up top. Half of the work in a forum is educating people about helping themselves, not answering their question per se.

  8. Root, I’ve actually been playing around with an idea where the mailing lists are completely eliminated and everyone just blogs the conversations back and forth. It would need a much better way to show threads across blogs, but I think it’s something we could do within a year or so.

    More on Mark’ suggestions soon…

  9. I think one of the biggest problems with the forums really is that it’s outgrown itself. With so many people posting with various problems (whether new or old), the traffic that the forums get really tends to overwhelm a lot of people. I think it’s very intimidating for a newcomer, especially with the limited search that the forum itself provides – and I don’t think it’s clear that a Google search can be used. (Though frankly I haven’t had many great results from a Google search…)

    Honestly, and I’ve said this before I think the Latest Posts needs to be ditched. I think far, far too many people rely on the front page and never crawl through the actual categories because why bother when right there are 30 posts. I think a better way would be something similar to vBulletin’s new posts since last visit search – something that forces people to actually READ rather then hop right into what’s there without even using a brain cell.

    And after re-reading Craig’s post – one thing I’ll say about the new Sticky posts…they don’t really “stick out” to me. I’m sure it’s a vision thing…but to me if you’re going to stick a post that is important at the top of a forum, it should jump out at you (and slightly bigger and bolder text doesn’t say that to me, especially when it’s basically the same as a post without replies).

    Wow…this got wordy, sorry….

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