From the Grumpy Old (Re)tired Man: The forums are dead, long live the forums
It’s clear that the forum system, in its current form, is like a terminal patient for whom euthanasia in order to put it out of its misery is a valid consideration. Of course the situation is not quite as extreme as all that, I’m only putting it this way in order to stress how unbearable the current situation is and how unworkable things currently are. So what are these symptoms?
- People are posting questions without thinking. It’s not that certain questions aren’t allowed in the forums, but it’s the manner in which things are formulated. How does one expect to get a proper answer when one puts ‘Hi’ as the subject and then formulates a question that doesn’t actually look like a question and then fail to provide any information on the problem that one has? I wonder what these people produce at work and/or how they can fool their bosses and/or customers, but if their output at work is of the same quality as they way in which they write things down…
- People don’t bother to search before they post questions. Does everyone really think that they are unique and that they have that genius question that has never been asked before? If that was really the case they wouldn’t get an answer anyway, because nobody will have been thinking about it or have encountered that specific situation anyway (but more on that in the next item). I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, posting new questions should be limited in such a way that one is obliged to carry out a search first before being able to actually post a new question. This could be done in different ways. One could opt for the way the OSS message system in the service marketplace works. Or one could have a system where you post a question and then the next step is that the system itself looks for an answer, and only when the proposed answer doesn’t satisfy your needs is it posted. I’ve seen the latter in multiple (payable) support systems and they work very well. You would be surprised how many questions can be solved without human intervention. That implies a good Knowledge Management System, or search functionality and, let’s face it, SDN sometimes makes a mess of this. It’s not that the search tools aren’t sufficient – many people, among them my alter ego, have been publishing enough tools for that – but the results aren’t always satisfying. It seems that the indexing of the clutter doesn’t always give the desired results.
- People think that the forums are a free support system and post questions that should be solved by the service marketplace or a consultant. On top of that one demands that things get solved quickly and put ‘Urgent’ in the subject. Forums remain on a voluntary base and as such there are no guarantees on a time frame, an answer or even the correctness of an answer.
- People expect that the forums will do their work. I’ve seen a lot of threads where people ask for someone to write their code or to solve the certification questions in their place. If it were possible, some would even like others to sit the exams in their place. What’s the use of that? Would you ask someone else to solve the theory questions for your driver’s license? Would it make you a good driver if someone else passed all the exams in your place in order for you to get the license? That would be very dangerous for both you and all the other drivers on the road. Well, that’s the same for the SAP certification. Would you be able to look your boss and/or customer straight in the eyes if you’d cheated during the certification?
- People think that the forums are a kind of torrent site where one can share all kinds of material regardless of any legal issues. The forums are considered to be a kind of private message system and people ask for material to be posted directly to them at their e-mail address. It’s not only against the ‘spirit’ of sharing knowledge, but also dangerous. See other Grumpies for details.
- People are posting answers without checking that their answer to the question is correct, as if they don’t want to admit that they don’t know the answer. Why post things anyway?
- People are posting answers by copy/pasting various bits of text written by various other people and leaving it up to the poster to pick out the correct answer.
- People are posting answers by copy/pasting answers from other sources instead of just referring to it and pretending that they have worked out the answer.
- People are posting questions and answers just for the points. Yes, we come to the knotty problem of the point hunters.
As you can see, there is nothing to be proud of. In fact, one seems to find the SDN forums rather ludicrous and far from professional. I guess one is hitting the nail on the head.
What can one do about it? Some suggest scrapping the point system as with the above mentioned system by the competitors. I can agree with that as long as it only applies to the forums. All the other contributions should be rewarded and that includes a more practicable version for the Wiki. After all, one can spend a lot of time creating original content. And this is in direct contrast to the forums. I don’t see much originality happening in the forums. Everything has already been said and done endlessly. So why bother?
I would even suggest making the current forum system a read only system for archive purposes and concentrate on the other content. I’m sure that a lot of questions would be solved if one looked at that content and things can be reduced to RTFMs. The contention of finding answers to your question within X minutes/hours can still be true when one cares to search for things and not expect ready-to-eat (or in this case already eaten) chunks dished up.
If one doesn’t want to go that far, I would suggest a solution Dries Horions came up with.
The problem with extending this is having a server with enough bandwidth and the community doesn’t need to pay for the problems caused by others. He made an RSS reader for the forums. It allows him to mark certain threads on 4 criteria:
- The poster is a points hunter
- The poster can’t search
- The post concerns interview question
- The post concerns illegal request for copyrighted material
The tool keeps statistics for each user for each of the criteria. The RSS feeds are filtered according to this threshold for each of the criteria. If a user has 70% posts for a criteria, all threads from this poster get filtered from the RSS feed. When he keeps posting and his/hers percentage drops below the threshold, posts start reappearing, but recidivists get filtered out again.
I’ve seen Dries’ application and it’s wonderful! A step further would be that the community could add filters. It’s a bit like the Cloudmark tool, a spam filter where the filters are kept centrally and where the customers can mark messages as spam. When it reaches a certain threshold, it is considered to be spam and will be automatically deleted for all users. The problem with extending this tool as such is finding a server with enough bandwidth and not forcing the initiator to pay for the problems caused by others.