Creating Passionate Users is talking about building an online community. One particular point bothered me: getting people involved sooner by having them answer questions as son as they pass newbie stage instead of waiting until they are experts. There are billions of bad answers out there, clogging up forums all over the net. Someone has to come up with a solution before things get much more out hand.
Recently, I’ve been in the WordPress forums looking for answers to pretty much the same questions everyone else is asking. The problem is not the people, it’s the way the usual forum software (blog and phpbb) and their ilk operate. Tagging questions is good, marking them closed is good, but there is no good way to hide bogus answers, broken code snippets, etc. Not that we want to necessarily remove comments/tips/hints, but with the evolution of software, related plugins and so forth, it’s often the case that last week’s answer becomes next weeks problem all over again when some supporting software is upgraded.
Case in point, the original Feedburner support forum post for integrating Feedburner with various blogs was something like 10 pages long and chock full of misinformation which sent people down the wrong path for hours at a time. Now, FB has cleaned up the forum with lots of sticky posts that don’t allow comments.
The optimal solution is somewhere between closed stickies and forum comments. Start with a simple way of filtering the conversation based on a particular setup, installed plugins, etc would be a good start. So would a Corrections tag. WordPress forums mark entire entries as “needs help” but who wants to write an entire page? Too meta. Much of the information at WordPress is for version 1.5, which is ancient, but still requires lots of support. Talking about 1.5 and 2.0+ on the same page is a nightmare and leads to more wasted time.
I’m not picking on WP or FB, these are the most obvious places in my online world that I go to often and walk away scratching my head more often than not.
When it comes to conversations, blog comment systems are the worst, but thats for another day.