I have suggested these solutions before in part in various threads, but decided I'd lay it out in all it's simplicity here, for it to be trashed in favor of the broken status quo.
1 - Members not reading stickies and asking questions which have been answered a million times before.
2 - Volunteers having to waste their time answering the same questions they've answered a million times before.
3 - Questions about one thing being categorized as lots of different things, meaning the "search" feature is almost useless.
Changes & Reasons:
Change - Scrap the tag cloud in the forum in favor of strictly pre-defined categories, it works against you. Instead force them to choose their topic via two context sensitive drop down menus (broad and detailed) with scripts showing a "is your question listed below?" page with a "no" button BEFORE they can post a question.
Imagine six questions in one hour about AdSense, each with a different chosen tag as above....are they listed as one topic? No, they're listed as six. This hinders any search feature.
The Tag cloud is about the most popular topics, if the topics are manually defined this "popularity" is pointless, and counterproductive (as demonstrated by the same questions over and over again).
Imagine that no AdSense question or topic response has happened in two days by the time I go to ask.....there's no tag in the cloud about it, there's no topic on the front page about it...what do I think? That I need to ask?
The double drop down menu in more detail:
This is up to you to work the exact menus out, and you know that many subjects span over various areas, so this needs to be very versatile. But to give you the idea of the principle, I've listed a few.
Menu 1 - Broad categories - CSS, Themes, Widgets, TOS, Advertising, How-To
Menu 2 - Detailed categories (context sensitive depending on what menu 1 selected) - (based on "Widgets" being chosen) Flickr, Meebo, AdSense, Calender
Notice I've included AdSense despite wordpress.com not allowing it...this is intentional. By "Widgets" I include ALL widgets people have on blogs from ALL blogging platforms.
This way if I want to know how to add AdSense, I am forced to choose from the menus....first either "Widgets" or "Advertising" then see "AdSense" in the second menu.....when I click that I see a few links as a "is this your question" One of which is a "Can I use AdSense on wordpress.com?" which I can click and be told "no" and why not.
This answers my question WITHOUT me having to ask it in the forum, and avoids the question appearing in the forums for the volunteers to answer yet again.
For these menus to work, they have to force the user through a set of hoops BEFORE supplying a text entry box and a submit button. The user HAS to be forced to click a "no, none of these answer my question" button to get the text entry area.
Change - Prepare a "how-to" for EVERYTHING. "How to set up Flikr" "How to change themes" etc and refer to them NOT by URL, but text links used in a context sensitive way as shown above.
Reason - In the forums being shown a URL is not great, yes you can click it and it will take you there but it does not look very professional. Sometimes the link is to another forum thread on a similar subject or to a members blog entry....this looks even messier.
By using the context sensitive menus when submitting a question they can return a search on behalf of the member listing the text "How do I use Meebo?" etc with the link leading to the URL of the how-to. Instead of showing the URL itself, it shows the title. This may be a minor point but it looks much more professional, and is more user friendly.
Change - On the main forum page, replace the Tag cloud with set pre-defined categories mirroring those in the drop down menus for consistency.
Reason - It makes the search feature work, allowing people to find things on their own BEFORE they need to ask. It keeps all discussions on topics organized and practical.
Change - Include a page number on EVERY page of the forum INCLUDING the first page.
Reason - If people look down the list of the "latest activity" and see that it's apparently only one page (since no page number links are seen) they assume it IS a single page. How do they know it's just page one.....or how to go to page two?
How do these solutions help?
They shove already answered questions in front of the faces of the questioners giving them their answers and saving their time asking and waiting for an often sarcastic (yes, guilty as charged) response.
They give the volunteers the respect of not wasting their time having to answer the same questions over and over again allowing them to get on with their own lives knowing that they're not leaving other bloggers in the lurch with an unsolved problem. It also allows them to concentrate in addressing NEW issues not yet covered......which can then be built in to the forced context help....thus allowing wordpress.com to evolve.
I've been sniping for a little while about redesigning the forums to respect all, and been too busy until now to lay out what I meant. My PC died last week and I was left for 4 days with NO PC...that was the day I realized I had an addiction lol. I know the idea of "freedom" is great, I agree with it in principle myself, but there are situations where freedom is counterproductive and has to be restricted for the good of all.
Lastly, I apologize for the length of this post, but it felt right. These types of changes need to be thought out, and then coded and tested...they can't appear overnight but is it not a much more efficient use of time to work on a system that saves you a LOT of work in the future than to continue to run the same race over and over?
The drop down menu could be a single menu instead of a double but it'd need to be very long. It'd be very unwieldy for the members but an easier shortcut for the coders. Personally I only offer this as a third rate solution....the double menu would work much better.