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Let Us Not Blame the User

Just recently Jim Spath and Thorsten Franz were ribbing me on Twitter and Facebook (making fun of me or teasing me) about a blog I wrote quite a few years ago called:  Why Don’t They Let Me Blog .  (Jim actually wrote an excellent blog five years later on the same topic called: Bloggers: “Write Frankly And Fearlessly, But …”

I re-read my blog post and was rather appalled at how it was written back then. Why?  It sounded like I was blaming suggesting that users weren’t taking the time or effort to properly submit their blog applications and were spamming the moderation queue with requests to blog when they really hadn’t a clue about what blogging meant or what they wanted to write about.  It sounded like I was somewhat complaining about those same users wasting the valuable time of the moderators. 

While my early blog might have had a few valid points, I don’t think it showed much empathy or compassion for people who were attempting (and not fully succeeding) to use a blog tool we offered on our platform.  The blog premise ignored the challenges that some faced in understanding how to blog and additional issues they had in using the rather clumsy mechanisms for blogging in place at the time. 

We have all come a long way since then, both in our understanding of blogging and community and the ease of creating a blog on SCN, and yet I find myself re-visiting my own lack of patience with users and seeing (again) how confusion over how to post a query or discussion might now lead to people inadvertently blogging something when all they wanted to do was to ask a question. And no, I have no intention of shaking my finger at them again and writing a new post called: “Why Don’t They Let Me Post a Discussion Question?”.

Jeanne Carboni  wrote a thoughtful blog two years ago called: Be Careful How You Post to help clarify the “how” to post and I recall (with some amusement) how Johan Hakkesteegt responded in comments and with irony about “those pesky users” to Laure Cetin who suggested finding some “missions” for folks to complete to help in their understanding of how to use the platform better.  When Laure launches the gamification platform we will indeed have some wonderful opportunities for training and behavior guiding.

All of us seem to be focused on the same good end result of having folks understand how and where to post.  There continue to be many efforts around improving navigation, improving the labeling of actions, creating tutorials, training users and moderators.  You can find a plethora (large number) of contents by searching for “How to Blog on SCN” (This link does a search for blogs on this topic in the space About SCN ) and you could do the same thing for “How to Ask a Question”.

So yes, there is plenty of documentation out there, but obviously having the documentation on the website doesn’t fully prevent the confusion.

Instead of making the “failure to post correctly” the community’s failure, I’d like to explore why we might have a gap in understanding of how you, the user, is thinking, posting, and using the platform.  I’m thinking aloud how we, with your cooperation, can improve our understanding of how you, the new users especially, think and behave on SCN.

Many folks receive a Direct Message (DM) from me and other moderators explaining how their content has been flagged for moderation as a question not a blog and how we request that they repost their questions as discussions rather than as blog post.  Some of us have jokingly called this problem the “Notablog” post and our leadership has taken a real interest in seeing this issue addressed.


It dawns on me we should be directly asking the folks who post incorrectly, why they did so and rather than blaming them work with them to address the issue.

Dear Community, if you come across someone making that error please point them to this blog so that they can guide us better and we can understand:

  1. Where they were doing the posting from (ie the homepage create content drop down, the action box on right side of the screen on topic pages, the content tab in a space and the left side action box)
  2. Which of those 3 methods for creating a post did they use? (Create, Action Box on Page, Action Box on Content)
  3. What did they suppose they were doing when they posted a blog? (did they understand the word blog, the word discussion)
  4. How they might have avoided the mistake (what could we have done to help them understand better, what visuals might help)

I’m going to add to my future messaging of users while moderating an invitation to speak to us, the team and for us to gather more intelligence around how we can prevent these posting failures and how we can learn from our users without blaming and shaming them.

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  • Marilyn - I posted a link to your earlier blog, and labelled it "classic." That doesn't seem like I was poking fun. That blog was a step-by-step narrative on how bloggers at that time could get started. I didn't see anything negative in it (other than the amperand-ed quote signs, which I chose to ignore as they were inflicted by the Jive upgrade.).

    But I'm glad this turned into a new blog. Yes-a-blog.


    • Well, I think the Facebook exchange led to some fun poking from Thorsten Franz at my expense and definitely justifiably.  I sounded even to myself like a rather sanctimonious (self-righteous) bag of wind in that earlier blog.  But it served a purpose and here I am blogging again after a long break.  I hope folks will comment further and let me understand their pain of posting a discussion question, not-a-blog.

      Meanwhile there are many working behind the scenes to find creative ways to address the problem.

      Thanks for stopping by and thanks for continuing the journey with us.

  • Marilyn,

    you know how much I hate to disagree with you, but I violently resist putting this strain on the moderators. Their job is already hard enough, caused by the lack of support in technology.

    Every single moderation activity requires you to jump back and forth multiple times, using copy and paste and a notepad.

    This, just like submission of new content, is hampered by lack of support by the platform. Your 4 points at the end can probably be solved by the same answer - fix the broken UI.

    I myself still struggle with it, and I can understand perfectly where the notablog issue comes from. And how it should be fixed. I don't think this needs to be part of moderation and asking users, it's been clearly communicated from the start. The fact that we have a 'how to find stuff' link on every page clearly shows we already know what the problem is.

    Sorry for ranting...


    • You are not ranting.  You are speaking your truth which is the kind of truth and logic we are looking for from the new users as well.  In order to "fix the broken UI" those responsible for improving it or communicating those improvements to the platform team need to know the challenges that the users and the moderators experience. We can empathize with the moderators because we are also moderating along side them, but we may not have a full handle on the new user experience because...well...we are no longer new users.  There are also multiple ways of doing every action and understanding how most of the "mistakes" are happening can help us learn from that failure.  I disagree that we know exactly where the issue comes from.  Perhaps when we think we know and don't really get the opportunity to derive insights (new insights) from the user, we miss the opportunity to create real solutions and fixes.

      My initial idea was to just continue correspondence personally while moderating (and because I also use the interface I do experience many of those same challenges of moderation activity you describe).  But I am not a "new" user and I want to be able to have a real set of statistics about how the links are being used (or misused) by that population.  We know what the problem is yes, but I think we don't know how to fix it because we can only intuit or guess how to help.  The user experience shouldn't be a "guesstimate".  It needs more science and facts.

  • Hi Marylin,

    A little while ago I (an IT manager) had an interesting conversation with a cousin of mine, who is a PR manager. He was telling me how he, as a "communicative type", often has problems dealing with people in his IT department.

    I agreed with him that we techies do no communicate the way "normal" people do. You know, we think in equations, the shortest path between A and B, the ever elusive golden middle ground between accomplishing as much as possible, while doing as little as possible. And last but not least, for the most part, we do not get questions that cannot be answered with at least a modicum (a little bit) of mathematical precision. And more often than not, we do not even understand why they are asked of us.

    In other words, techies communicate differently, or perhaps better said, they interpret differently, because they have different expectations.

    How much would you like to bet, that the "mistakes" are (mostly) made by techies? You are facing a preaching-to-the-choir problem here. The users that you need answers from will never in a million years be bothered to read this blog, or give you answers.

    So in light of that, please allow me to try and answer them:

    You asked:

    1. Where they were doing the  posting from (ie the homepage create content drop down, the action box  on right side of the screen on topic pages, the content tab in a space  and the left side action box)


    The left side action box. That these other mechanisms were built is understandable, seeing the vastness of the SCN (and because it probably sounded like a cool idea to someone), but the techie will look through all options of accomplishing what he/she wants, and choose the one that requires the least amount of effort.

    So they found the forum (Place) they needed, added it to their bookmarks, and, expecting it to work as a technical forum, they just pressed the first link that allows posting anything, because they did not expect there to be other options than asking a question. Calling it "discussion" because you want to allow for a discussion as well as asking a question, is only confusing them.

    Add to this the ever increasing amount of Asian users, who's grasp of the English language is often minimal, and you may see that with the current semantical subtlety you are shooting yourself in the foot, with this user demographic.

    You asked:

    2. Which of those 3 methods for creating a post did they use? (Create, Action Box on Page, Action Box on Content)


    See answer 1: press first available link from the top left.

    You asked:

    3. What did they suppose they were doing when they posted a blog? (did they understand the word blog, the word discussion)


    They were trying to ask a question on a technical forum. They had no interest in blogging or discussing something, and they did not know (or care) that the SCN differentiates between content types. If they even saw these words, they didn't register. Again, they just pressed the first link that allows posting anything, because they did not expect there to be other options than asking a question.

    In the techie's eye:

    You asked:

    4. How they might have avoided the mistake (what could we have done to help them understand better, what visuals might help)


    Start looking at it from a techie's perspective (as well). Language that is open to interpretation to begin with, that is aimed at "communicative types", who like to blog and discuss, and who can associate, and are likely to try and interpret what they read from the writer's perspective, is simply going to confuse the techies (who are looking for straightforward answers to black-and-white questions). The ones who are interested in blogging or discussing something, do not make the mistakes.

    In conclusion:

    The SCN layout, logic and semantics were designed with the average "communicative type" user in mind. I am sure that is the largest user group, but it is not those users making the mistakes, is it?

    So, users who do not speak english very well. Techies (especially the ones who do not speak english very well), who expect the Content tab page of a Place to work as a technical forum. The way the old SDN used to work.



    P.S. Take a look at the Dilbert cartoons. A fun way of getting to understand how your average techie sees the world.

    • Johan,

      awesome and extensive analysis.

      I think the main issue is the concept of a "space" which is alien to almost every one of us still.

      Once you managed to acually find one you're so relieved you just want to drop your question as fast as possible. The distinction between discussion and blog is too complex at this point, as the discussions are not immediately visible.


      • Space and alien.  LOL.  I grok that.  Struggled with that concept, too at first.  "Beam me up Space Editors and save me from the aliens please."  But once a concept is adopted or accepted it starts to feel less "foreign".

        Naming convention changes are something many have learned to adapt themselves to in SAP, so I suppose we can do that in the community platform as well. Working hard to be flexible and understanding that the only thing constant is change.


    • Hi Johan,

      Isn't the first link top right under create content "discussion" ?

      Following your train of thoughts, these users should get it right and "ask a question" rather than posting NotABlog.

      There seems to be a small minority of people who stubbornly continue to click the "blog" option rather than the "discussion" option. Maybe they feel that a blog gets more attention (picked up in RSS feeds, broadcasted via twitter, etc...). More attention means: faster response. (even though it's entirely void as the blog gets deleted)

      Maybe, there has to be more emphasis on the discussion option? Or maybe, the other options have to be harder to reach? (extra step?)

      Are there a lot of "NotAPoll"s? Are there any "NotADocument"s?

      Why always specifically "NotABlog"?

      Get that question answered and we'll be able to figure out how to improve the distinction and usage.

      • Maybe we should put a box next to the blog submission button:

        "I hereby certify that I really wanted to write a blog and did not want to create a discussion question. Misuse will be punished by cutting my SCN points in half"

        And make users type YES to continue.


        • Although funny and at first glance even a viable solution there are a couple of problems:

          The culprits likely do not know the meaning of the word blog or at least not its purpose.

          And the people who care about their SCN points, do not post NotABlogs, because they know better.

          Perhaps a slightly adapted version of this solution might be to change that text to:

          'If you have a question, do not click this link'

      • Hi Tom,

        Very good point, in fact, the order of the links was already changed once to address this issue. The first link used to be blog. So you may well be right with your second paragraph.

        Perhaps the solution might be a simple combination of your suggestion of making the blog action harder to reach, and a simple additional action called "Question", preferably at the top, which would simply also create a discussion.

        An hour's work, and everybody happy.



    • Thank you Johan Hakkesteegt for rising to the bait (taking my challenge) with this thorough and thoughtful  and rather brilliant response. Brilliant too, for sharing your insights around the profile of a tech user.  Very entertaining and brilliant answers to my questions.  Brilliant to have this conversation in a public place.   You wrote:

      "Calling it "discussion" because you want to allow for a discussion as well as asking a question, is only confusing them"

      I agree entirely (guessing that the "them" are mostly non native English speakers or people for whom communication isn't the foremost interest) and also agreeing that few none of the folks for whom this survey is intended would easily find themselves reading a blog such as this, much less responding.  It might be is a bit naive to hope that others will point them here and even more naive to think they would wish to take time in helping us with a usability "survey".  Having been a developer myself, I also surmise that most of those folks don't care a thing about blogging and probably only want their questions answered, preferably NOW.  So my questions here are, of course, a bit loaded"  ....meaning they weren't entirely devoid of my own perspectives and pre-conceived intuitions because I know how difficult it will be to get real newbie answers.

      Yet our having this conversation IS important.  We've already changed some of the UI to place the blog option lower on the scale but it's obvious that "Question" which is what most wish to do, still isn't intuitive enough when the action is cryptically called "Create a Discussion" or "Start a Discussion". 

      Tom Van Doorslaer reminds us that we have to understand why folks persist in choosing blog over discussion in order to be able to address the problem of not-a-blog.  I wish to validate the why, not only by what we think, but by what "they" do.  Looking for my proof-points.  It will not be easy to find them from "the source".

        Gali Kling Schneider had a number of ideas around appropriate texts for the link choices and some of them were vetoed as being too admonishing (scolding).   But perhaps we should just start with making the action a question rather than a discussion.  Because each change request is time consuming and painful we need to know how effective the change to the UI will be before making it. (another reason to try to ask the folks making the mistake).

      I'm a recovering techie who is working to be communicative and I seem to keep writing these "long rambling communications"  (Ironically today's dose of Dilbert is all about just that). 😀

      So if we want to improve navigation we need to understand how people naturally navigate.  If they can't tell us, I'm glad there are caring proxies who do.

      My heartfelt thanks to Johan and others here!.


  • I was actually curious about the reason for blog creation instead of discussions too and had asked those users via Direct Messages in December/January period. But not a single user has ever given a reply on that question.

    I usually do not reject any content without sending direct messages. Not long ago I had one who re-created a blog after each rejection despite of the direct messages. I finally added my reply as comment to the blog because I had to assume that he did not even receive the direct messages. A minority is probably overstrained by all the features provided here., and they need longer as others to get used to it.

    But even professionals have difficulties. I was not able to get blogs in my communication stream for about 10 months. You can see numerous questions in the SCN support forum where experienced people (even from SAP) are swamped by emails or do not know how to follow a forum and how to receive or not to receive notifications.

    We make similar experience as we are currently implementing a social community platform in our company, even we give a one hour training for each matter like blogging, forum, documents, setting up the user preferences.

    I am personally the opinion that we should use more common terms instead of using special extraordinary vocabulary for every day commodities. Why not using "create question" instead of create discussion? why not using "inform moderator" instead of Report Abuse.? (if I lookup my dictionary on that word, everything what I get has nothing to do with what is meant here with it) .

    • Jürgen L wrote:

      I am personally the opinion that we should use more common terms instead of using special extraordinary vocabulary for every day commodities. Why not using "create question" instead of create discussion? why not using "inform moderator" instead of Report Abuse.?

      Could not agree more. By the way, I've already created an entry on "Idea Place" to rename 'Report Abuse' button as 'Alert Moderator', but I guess it's not getting enough support to get noticed. (By the way - can anyone find it on the Idea Place, which is supposed to be "integral part of SCN" but for some reason doesn't even have a link on the SCN home page?)

      To add to the point in Johan's excellent comment - I'm a "techie" type and I do like to take the shortest route to get an answer. It is called Google. Isn't it obvious that most if not all "notablogs" created by the same folks that don't search before posting and treat SCN as their personal help desk ("I'll just drop my question here and someone will take care of me")? Here is just one recent example (in case it gets moderated - the whole "blog" consists of "hi how to configure back order processing").

      Marilyn, you're very kind, but in this case I believe we actually should blame the user. My solution would be to simply restrict access to blogging. Not as much as on the old site, but at least have some basic requirements that need to be met before one can create a blog post. E.g. N days/months/years after registration, N points, a referral from another member, an additional button to click "please make me a blogger" - anything.

      I'd never want to see SCN becoming some kind of exclusive club. But it's a professional site with specific rules. If someone does not respect that, then sorry - they can't play with us.

  • It doesn't have to be hard to get input from new users.

    SAP works a lot with university students, both technical and non-techical. Organize a usability session for the SCN platform with a couple of "missions" like: "Ask a question"

    See how they figure out what to do, and ask them how it could be better.

    Using students does have the downside that your audience is rather homogeneous. But seeing as SAP is international, it should be possible to organise a couple of sessions in different cultures, both english and non-english speakers etc...

    Then, you can also ask some of your relatives to do the same.

    You won't reach the users making the mistakes today.They're already lost in the system and run away as far as possible. They're looking for an answer, not providing one themselves. Unless you can reach out to them physically, you won't be able to get their input.

    So it's easier to get input from future users.