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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…
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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?
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  • 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.
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  • 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?
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • People are posting questions  and answers just for the points. Yes, we come to the knotty problem of the  point hunters.
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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:

         

               

  1. The poster is  a  points hunter
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  3. The poster can’t search
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  5. The post  concerns interview question
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  7. The post  concerns illegal request for copyrighted material
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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.

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18 Comments

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  1. Thomas Zloch
    This article is right on the problem. It’s annoying, almost painful, how the ever same questions get answered by the ever same cut’n’paste jobs. And I am mainly looking only at the ABAP Performance forum.
    I made myself a white list of quality posters (Burbank, Heilman, Blag, Wohlfahrt, Boes et al) to find good content. I registered in 2004 and I have a massive 14 points and just one question asked during that time. Why? Because I am looking for existing answers for my questions first and feel little urge to answer other peoples vague and repetitive questions.
    Just my five cents…
    Cheers
    Thomas Z.
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  2. Alvaro Tejada Galindo
    Eddy:

    Another right in the face punch from the grumpy…Forums are getting quite annoyed…Specially for me as a Moderator…Having to read all posts and delete unallowed content and duplicated posts is a really a pain…Something must be done…Dries’s tool seems to be real nice…Any beta version for me??? Please -:)

    Greetings,

    Blag.

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  3. Brad Landry
    Hi,

    I think you are right.

    But I will be sad if the forums close. I search on them every day to find solutions.

    I learned a lot with them. I have a lot of fun in helping people in the portal migration section.

    A filter would be nice, it’s true that the copy/paste and “urgent” post are annoying.

    Brad

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  4. Anonymous
    I was planning on finetuning the tool I made to filter the forum feeds some more, but I just don’t have the time.
    I am using it for some time now, and it works for me.
    You can find it on : http://quodlibet.be/files/sdn/sdn.0.1.rar , without any documentation or guarantee.
    (configuration in config.inc, mysql database structure in sdn.sql ).
    (0) 
  5. Valery Silaev
    Eddy,

    Let me disagree with your vision that any extra-moderation or smart tool will fix the problem.

    The best system is self-moderated system. Like Nature without humans’ “moderation”. It’s designed for endless evolution and only best creatures survive here.

    Society is more problematic, it indeed needs some moderation in form of police, courts whatever else. However, the simpler rules society is built upon, the lower artificial moderation level is — the better society you get. Democracy is simple; it has relatively low official moderation level and very important self-moderation mechanisms (freedom of speech, fair election mechanisms for ex.). Tyranny is just the opposite, and tyranny rare survives death of Tiran him-/her-self.

    Trying to fix problem with more moderation inevitably leads system to death. Instead, I advise to SDN editors to remove points system altogether and see what happens. Just try for 2-3 months — I believe that situation will change dramatically even for such short period. Sure, at the price of lower overall traffic in forums, but with higher signal-vs-noise ratio ๐Ÿ™‚

    VS 

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      1. Eddy De Clercq Post author
        As said in the blog, I can agree with that as long as it only applies to the forums. All the other REAL contributions should still be rewarded. This is what keeps S(D)N interesting, not the forums.
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    1. Eddy De Clercq Post author
      As is IRL, self moderated forums don’t work. I’ve seen several forums trying this philosophy and all ended as disaster and (if still existent) needed intervention.
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      1. Valery Silaev
        Eddy,

        I saw just the opposite with several hardware-/mobile- related forums — there is rearely the case when moderation needed. Just ocasional re-addressing of topic author to FAQ or moving post to another topic.

        These forums are all driven by users’ interest rather then points. And more importantly, the rules are understandable, acceptable and enforced by comunity itself — no extra moderation effort required in this situation. Something that SDN forums / comunity lacks…

        VS

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  6. Dave Grundy
    1. When a post is first raised, it would be good if it were validated by presenting a list of previous posts that match key words, like OSS.

    2. Get rid of the points system. What’s it for anyway? A means to promote the responder’s employer?

    3. Eddy, any forum will necessarily attract time-wasters and the lazy / ignorant – it’s human nature. However, as a fellow grumpy old man I support your right to be grumpy about this. If we ran the world…..

    4. Totally agree with Thomas Zloch.

    Cheers.
    David

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  7. Anonymous
    I feel absolutely the same way about the arrogant and useless posts. However, in my opinion the Forums should not be simply dismissed just because of some (OK, about 50% ๐Ÿ™‚ ) of the users. I personally have found many very helpful answers on the forums and for some of them I had to ask very specific questions, even after doing a lot of research. So for me it is still worth it.

    The mandatory search option seems like a good solution though.

    P.S. One item to add to the author’s list: People ignoring even basic Grammar rules and using annoying abbreviations SMS-style, e.g. “plz” or “cud” (instead of could). Maybe Spell Check should also be mandatory. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Best wishes!

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  8. Mark Chalfen
    I answer posts on the Finance forum, and have done so for the last year or so. I can agree with most of this article.

    The thing that gets me is the e mail address leaving:

    Like I want to know about subject “X” please send me stuff to email address “Y”.

    Perhaps there should be a way of controlling the people that can raise posts on the forums.
    Should they all have an active OSS log on, and one OSS log on can only have one SDN forum member.

    For all of the guys that want to work in SAP, but not do the hard work, they need to understand, that SDN is not the place to come, get answers, lie on their CV and hope they dont get caught in their new job.

    On the subject of points, I see points as a useful judge of someone. There is no eye to eye contact here, as someone asks you a question, or provides you an answer, all you can see is how many questions they have asked, how many questions they have answered, and the amount of points people have awarded to them for useful answers.

    Personally, I believe, if a poster gets a response, even if it is wrong, they should have to perform some form of action. They should say, yes this is helpful, award points, or no, this is not what I want and give no points, or even minus points.

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    1. Paul Hardy
      The one silver lining is that the quality of questions on SDN is far better than that which you get in the “IT Toolbox” SAP forums, which tend to be along the lines of “I’ve just got a job as an SAP consultant, what is the IMG”.

      P.S. Are you the Mark Chalfen who used to be business systems analyst for finance at Pioneer Concrete UK?

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  9. Gianfranco Vallese
    In these beginning forums where a place where you could meet “real” experts … Now only a place where everybody posts daily problems to be solved by someone else.

    GFV

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