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Restoring the quality of our SCN Blog Stream

It’s been almost three months since the launch of the new SCN, and whilst I’ve really appreciated the ease of blogging and other new features on this new modern platform, I’ve been dismayed about the intrusion of direct questions into the ‘blog’ stream that in truth belong in the ‘discussions’ stream. The SCN blog stream has been one of the most valuable sources of learning for me in recent years.  I’ve followed this stream because of the quality content, learning and breaking news that the community contributes here.  Like many others I ‘watch’ the SCN blog stream religiously via my twitter account.  But in recent months I’ve been disheartened that the blog stream, almost three months after the SCN upgrade, continues to be filled with posts like these …

scn blog stream photo.png

The SCN team have made valiant efforts to tackle this problem with their own blogs such as this http://scn.sap.com/community/erp/blog/2012/03/12/how-to-create-question-in-new-format-of-sdn and this http://scn.sap.com/docs/DOC-26434 and this http://scn.sap.com/community/about/blog/2012/05/08/be-careful-how-you-post .

Nonetheless, I still see far too many ‘discussion questions’ appearing in the blog stream.  To convince myself that I wasn’t imagining it, I decided to download the summaries of the last 200 blogs up to 31 May 2012 and analyse the data. Here is what I did…

  • Downloaded from twitter the last 200 blogs using the following URL … http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/scnblogs.xml?count=200
  • Imported this into Excel and massaged the data so I was left only with the SCN blog texts (first 140 chars for each) for the past 200 blogs
  • Based on blog texts, checked the blog link for ‘suspect’ blogs to determine if they were legitimate blogs, or confirmed that they were actually questions.  Where the blog had been deleted by moderators, this was marked for statistical purposes as a confirmed ‘question’.
  • Collated the statistics of how many blogs out of the latest 200 were legitimate, how many were not, and of those how many had been properly deleted by moderators.

Here is what I found out of the last 200 blogs (based on the data up to approx 31 May 2012)…

  • 137 (68%) legitimate blogs
  • 63 (32%) questions that should have been posted as discussions. 
  • Out of the 63 questions, 55 (87%) had already been deleted by moderators.  Of the remaining ones, I noticed the blog creation date was typically within the last 7 days, so I imagine the moderators will eventually catch up with those.

chart of blogs.png

One of the indicators of a question is actually the first words in the body of the post.  Here is an analysis of the 63 questions I detected and what the first words were …

chart of blog start words.png

I’ve always had the utmost respect for our moderators who devote so much time and effort to the community.  In the old SCN, blogs were moderated before being released to the community.  With the new SCN this is no longer the case.  That said, our moderators are not gone, they are however (clearly) cleaning up after the mess has been created.  But I am beginning to think that perhaps proactive moderation may not be the best solution to this.  Likewise, I am thinking that the strategy to ‘train the users’ via explanatory blog posts, or telling the individuals creating the questions that they did so incorrectly, is not working to scale.  I believe that with a community of over 2 million, there are many community members out there who are yet to create their first question on the new SCN, so I believe without some alternative measures this problem will persist for a long while.  Instead I believe we should tackle the root cause in users misinterpreting what option to choose when asking a question on the new SCN, by simply ‘tweaking’ the user interface.

Lets look at what users currently see when they press the Create button on the SCN home page …

/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/create_button_107504.png

Looking at this, here are some possible ways I believe we could reduce the error rates in questions being posted to the blog stream …

  • Make ‘Discussion’ the FIRST option in the listing (I will assume that Discussions cannot be renamed to Forums).  I believe a number of people are simply picking the first option, not understanding the slight differences in semantics.
  • Alter the description next to ‘Discussion’ to state ‘ASK A QUESTION or start a conversation’
  • Change the description of ‘Blog Post’ to be ‘Blog’. I have a sneaking feeling that the word ‘Post’ is attracting some of the questions.

Alternatively, Tom Van Doorslaer makes a more obvious suggestion via twitter … “Would a huge button ‘Ask a Question’ help in solving the problem?”

Or even better, before taking any action, perhaps we should simply ask those people who have placed questions into the blog stream WHY they did that in the first place?  That way, we can find out specifically what caused them to choose the ‘Blog Post’ option rather than the ‘Discussion’ option.  Yes that might take some effort, but it also takes effort for our moderators to constantly clean-up our current blog stream.

I’ve now posted a link to this blog as a suggestion into the Idea Place. If you feel as strongly as I do that we should restore our SCN blog feed to it’s former glory, please vote for it in Idea Place here.

23 Comments
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    • Thanks Jarret, appreciate your comments.  I'm hoping that with this tweaking to the UI it will no longer be a pain point.  Fingers crossed!

      Regards

      John

  • John,

    Thank you for being so proactive

    I voted for your suggestion.

    I definitely now appreciate "old" SCN blog moderators who kept SCN "clean".

    Great analysis and great blog too.

    Tammy

    • Hi Tammy, appreciate your comments and the vote.  I've just noticed there are already 11 votes against the idea.  Lets hope it all works.

      And yes I've always felt the moderators have been the 'quiet achievers' behind the SCN (along with the SCN crew of course!). I'm hoping the change I suggested will give them more time to focus on more useful matters.

      Regards

      John

  • Super work, John. Why?  Data driven to prove a theory/hypothesis with facts versus a passionate opinion or narrow anecdotal evidence, thoughtful analysis of root cause(s), gracious appreciation and recognition for the moderators who are cleaning up after the fact, recognition that attempts have been (and are being) made to train the members the differences between blogs and discussions, clear workable recommendations.

    Happily, this work of yours aligns well with the next sprint by the SCN and IT team. Your recommendations will get a thorough review/consideration as they seem reasonable and workable... and I think they'll have a positive impact.

    Thanks for this great work.

    M.

    • Hi Mark, thank you for your comments.  When I set out to do this post I specifically did not want it to be a negative rant.  I was a beta tester for the new SCN myself and did not predict this would happen.  I also wanted to wait a few months to see if the problem would disappear first.  And in terms of my suggestions I knew that they needed to be 'light touch' - I was well aware that the SCN team would not want to fork any major modifications into the new system, as that would be a slippery slope towards the 'Frankenstein' (your description) system that the old SCN had evolved into.

      Of course, there was the geek in me (as well as the fact my wife had control of the TV remote) which caused me to spend an entire evening collating these statistics and writing this blog. I hope the recommendations (if actioned) help in some part to make the lives of everyone (those asking questions, those consuming blog content, moderators, and the SCN team) just a little easier.

      Regards

      John

    • Good data driven suggestions by John.

      It's a usefull indicator to automating a 'moderator alert' system.

      Mark, Chip,

      Can I also suggest that we have a link to one of the many excellent 'how to ask a question' blogs on the Create screen, above the ask a question link.

      thanks, John.

  • Another vote from me. I use Google Reader to follow the RSS feed for SCN blogs for the same reason you follow the twitter feed. I think the signal to noise (blogs/questions) ratio is better now that it used to be, but still it isn't great.

    Steve.

    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for your comments.  Yes I should have mentioned RSS feeds also.  I actually use them to consume into the Flipboard app on my iPad.  I actually wanted to see if the signal/noise ratio was indeed getting better.  I already have the raw twitter download of 200 blogs from early April.  But to be honest it took me so long to collate the statistics (looking at individual blogs) for the end May data that I shelved the idea of comparison statistics to get some idea about trends.  Especially when I saw the latest data had a 32% error rate, which was large enough in my mind to suggest the actions which I did, irrespective of trends.

      Cheers

      John

  • Thanks, John.  I do love many of the new features of SCN, but not being able to easily read 'my morning paper' (the blogs) without questions has been a pain-point for me.

    In particular, I voted this idea UP because I am willing to bet the hard-working moderators (bless them!) have their hands full, and cleaning up after-the-fact is probably a soul-crunching task.

    Fingers crossed for our next release!
    Sue

    • Hi Susan, thanks for your comments.  Yes, your description of the blog stream as your 'morning paper' resonates with me, as I expect it does for others also. Lets hope the quality of our blog paper will back to that which we know and love!  And thanks for the vote.

      Regards

      John

  • Excellent blog John!  Thanks for your thoughtful input.  As Mark said, we are working on it! Funny thing is that reading your solution proposal is like deja vu for me from earlier this week when we met with our IT team to finalize the next development sprint.  Thanks to work by Jeanne Carboni and the team, we have pretty much the same ideas written in requirement (epics/stories) for the next cycle.

    Looking forward to being able to launch them over the coming few weeks!

    Chip

    • Hi Chip,

      That is excellent news!  Really look forward to seeing changes coming through.  And please.give a shout out to the SCN team for me. I know they have gone through an epic transition, they continue to work hard to refine the new system, and their efforts are appreciated by community members such as myself!

      And by the way, it always warms my heart to hear about SAP using Scrum / agile practices internally.

      Regards

      John

    • Hi Vinod, thanks for your comments and for the vote.  I did include the link to Jeanne's blog in my blog above, however I just realised that its not obvious because I didn't tether the link properly (a consequence of cutting and pasting from Word). Just shows that I'm just as prone to 'user error' as others are!

      Regards

      John

  • Excellent blog. Glad you wrote what we've all been thinking: how the twitter blog stream has been reduced to spam! Good to see Mark watching as well...

    Maybe SCN should go back to pre-moderation. I still often see 1-paragraph blogs that have useless informational content and pre-moderation would help with that issue as well. Maybe it's hard to get moderators?!? I'd put my hand up.   😉

  • Nice collection of data, but why? All your ideas have already been reported, raised, communicated to SCN over the past few weeks / months. Changing the position and design of "create a discussion" definitely is not new, and SCN is already working on it, as that specific change was already communicated by several people as: we are working on it. The question is: why is it still not implemented? It's a rather small change. I think that issue + solution was raised shortly after the go live, that makes ~3 months for a small design change (not even talking about the search feature ...)

    Shortly after the go live there was something like transparency on what is going on. Sadly, that stopped.

    • Hi Tobias, I hear your frustration.  Yes I figured that the idea of making discussions more obvious to create would have been thought of earlier (and clearly it was).  Why did I collect the data?  To demonstrate that if alternative approaches were soley relied upon (such as explanatory blogs) to resolve the issue then they aren't necessarily working.  So, 3 months after the go-live of the new SCN, if we are still seeing an error rate of 32%, then perhaps the urgency of other measures should be escalated.  That is essentially why I wrote the blog.  That said, it sounds like from the comments by Chip and Mark that these types of changes were already in motion.  Lets hope we get to see them soon.

      Regards

      John

  • John

    Great job on this! I also liked the idea that I think, Matt Harding came up with is to throw an alert if the blog size is lesser than say 100 characters and doesn't have a link. This would cover the cross posted blogs but also help alert the creator that the entry they are creating could potentially be a discussion and not a blog.

    Also, I think changing the description of blog from 'Share you thoughts' to 'Share you experience' may intuitively make the creator think twice.

    Got to reading this blog just now, not sure why the idea place article is in "under review" status by you (can't vote). My vote is to go with your suggestions.

  • Odd that I didn't notice this blog before (must've gone missing amidst all the questions *giggle* 🙂 )

    Meanwhile, the "discussion" option has moved to the first place in the dropdown list, and the "blog" option all the way down. To my subjective feeling however, it still doesn't quite solve the problem. I have the feeling that there are still a lot of questions posted as blogs.

    It's maybe too soon to tell. Let's see how it evolves.

    • There are indeed still lots of questions posted as blogs. I still follow the "all blogs" RSS feed, as I find that a useful way of finding interesting content outside of the areas I subscribe to directly in SCN. There are days when half of the "blogs" should have been discussions.

      • Hi Tom / Steve,

        Yes, I must admit I'm a bit dismayed that people still click on Blog Post to ask questions. Perhaps we should also remove the word 'Post' like I mentioned in my blog?  Or like I did mention, perhaps we need to ask these people why they are still choosing to click on Blog Post to ask a question. Its the only way to get to the root of the problem.

        Thanks for your comments!

        John