Practical redesign for the forums
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.
One other change I forgot to add in the original post:
Change – Before allowing the “submit” button to become active in submitting a question to the forum….insist that a website URL is supplied in a separate field. Set a script to scan this URL for the http://*.wordpress.com URL and if it does not pass that test, return the message that this forum is for wordpress.com blog assistance, and that their URL does not match it. As well as pointing them to the wordpress.org help.
Reason – This will avoid volunteers having to ask for a URL to help solve a problem, as well as people not being aware of the differences between .com and .org….and will allow them to go straight to the right place first time…instead of waiting to be told (often sarcastically…yes, guilty as charged again) that they’re in the wrong place.
– I politely disagree with the multiple categores. The categories are for the most part ignored as it is. Me having to categorize posts even more than I currently am would just be more for me to deal with. Been here for 10 minutes and I’ve already moved 4 posts.
– Add to that list the missing for me in IE6 edit, IP address and whois links for the first post in a thread. It’s a big pain for me and I don’t always have the option of pulling up source here.
– I do like the idea of replacing the tag cloud though. Gotta admit though that if folks aren’t reading the sticky, I’m betting they’re not going to read those either.
– Entering a website URL is probably not going to happen as too many blogs are marked as private. This is why I’ve asked for (and was told no) a user list of blogs that only the moderators can see on a posters profile page.
– As to point 1 and 2, please see my post in the off topic subforum about how I though bloggers were supposed to be intellegent, thinking folks.
If you have to choose the category of your question, and as a result of that menu it offers you a link to the answer of your question, can it be ignored? It’s not a “menu” or “text box”…..its ONLY a menu, with the options on that menu. If you need to jump through these hoops before a text box appears to ask your question, would you ask a question if you already found the answer?
The links returned by the drop down menu like my AdSense example could be worded in a “Why Google AdSense is not allowed on your wordpress.com blog”. It answers their question of “how do I?” or “can I?” if they click the link or not. It’s about getting creative with how it’s set up.
How many new threads would appear on the forum if people found answers without having to ask?
On the URL box, I didn’t know about the private option…but there’s no reason the script behind it can’t show or hide it and check it for the http://*.wordpress.com/ format too……is there?
An additional benefit for that feature would be to pick up on keywords in usernames/URLs which suggest a possible TOS violation like “casino” or “advertising” and returning a gentle reminder (not accusation) that their URL alone suggests they may not be aware of the commercial rules at wordpress.com.
Another change which would help is on the sign up page, stating that all commercial activity is a TOS violation. I don’t doubt it’s there tucked away in paragraph 300 of a 500 paragraph piece of text that nobody reads. Pointing that out AFTER the fact is kinda backward when you can make sure it’s clear BEFORE someone joins. Yes, some will still chance their luck, or assume it does not apply to them……but it will stop many more than now.
Well I won’t be wasting your time. Goodby!
Not sure why you’re getting offended.
The obvious reason I can think of for resisting the implementation of an efficient system would be that the contributers actually like the power trip of seeming important by spending a lot of time doing the same thing over and over. It’s possible that the forums take up a substantial part of their day and don’t appreciate anything which will slow the flow down to a trickle where they have a lot less to do.
There are so many places this could go if some minds were opened to the possibilities.
No offence to you, but how hard is it to do a search to see if a question has already been asked?
If you cant do that much, what on earth are you doing on the forum in the first place.
While i agree a standard forum layout would be nice, i disagree with your reasoning. Most of the repeat questions we get are from people not doing a search, this still happens on forums. I moderate 3 forums, 2 of my own and 1 for a friend. All three have this problem.
It all boils down to one thiong. Laziness, people are to lazy to use the search function.
And efore you say im just enjoying the ‘power trip’ im not a staff member, nor a moderator here, just a bog standard member. And trust me, being a moderator isnt the ‘power trip’ you seem to think it is, usually its more frustration trip hehe
I agree with dirk’s points that would take a user directly to an answer; this would be a better way of dealing with the FAQ at least. What i don’t realistically see happening is a huge amount of coding work getting done by staff in order to implement them.
I have been irritated with the forum structure since day one; it is unfriendly and unwieldy. It took me more than a couple of minutes to figure out where i needed to go to find what i needed the first time i used it, and i am not a computer newbie by any stretch.
Any changes that force a user to provide more information than just one word or sentence can only be good things.
If it is so easy, why don’t people do it? Simple…..they are not forced to. This system needs to be stricter to serve the needs of all.
My “power trip” wording was probably wrong and wasn’t meant to cause offense, it was a description of those who use the forums and their time in them to socialize, and like to see their contributions acted on by others.
I agree, it IS laziness….which my solution will cut out. They will find the answer to their question BECAUSE they are forced down that path. They will have NO BYPASS to that path, which will result in the vast majority of the repeat questions dry up to practically none if implemented.
There’s a difference between freedom of expression and a dysfunctional chaos. I am all for freedom, but it has to be practical……the wordpress.com forums as they are….are flawed because they are too free.
Until it’s redesigned, there is little room for evolution and growth, with a redesign it can automate a lot of the stuff volunteers currently do, providing an immediate and professional service all round…and leave space to grow.
Another point occurred to me:
As far as we see (ie the main “forum” page) the content is mixed, yet scrolling down shows there are different forums, for ideas, support, off-topic etc…..yet the main (latest) content is mixed. This still confuses me yet…….I think I get the idea that they are different forums, but the impression is that it’s all just one big forum (because they are mixed…and there’s no page number suggesting the existence of other pages).
It might be an idea to take the “latest comments” off that page and leave it as a simpler list of forums. Move it to a “latest activity” type page on it’s own. That may help users (mostly) post their already answered a million times before questions in the right place at least.
Personally I don’t check these forums, I only look at that one page…..possibly because it’s at the bottom and I often forget the logic. It still catches me off guard when a topic I post in “ideas” suddenly jumps onto the main (latest) forum….it makes me double check to see if I posted it to the wrong place by mistake.
The extra space gained there could be used for a context sensitive drop down menu help as suggested above. Merge the functionality with the FAQ’s.
As I’ve said before, I think the design wasn’t that well thought out from a practical viewpoint, but it held up OK (to a point) by the commitment of volunteers willing to waste their hours answering the same questions over and over again, month after month.
This works with a low number of members and questions….do wordpress.com want to grow? It’s at 1,000,000 now (although how many are active is anyone’s guess)…..what happens at 2,000,000? The sooner it’s redesigned into a professional and practical support the sooner it will be capable of handling all the extra members it gets.
The more you can automate, the more time people have to innovate. There are a lot of good people here, with a lot of skills….what do you think they could contribute if they were treated with respect? The answers to most of the questions are known, they do not need philosophical interpretations….they can be explained in “how-to” guides complete with screen captures when needed. Almost all of this CAN be automated saving EVERYONE time and effort.
The primary purpose of any support area is practicality. It HAS to be efficient in doing it’s job…..EVERYTHING else is secondary, if it’s not efficient it’s a drain on the business and not fit for purpose.
I sense a business opportunity for someone to do wordpress right.
If blog your ideas and staff and management choose comment on them you may experience something to smile about. But IMO that isn’t going to happen here in the forums.
Yeah, the whirlpool of ideas here all brainstorming to help improve wordpress.com seems to be more of a stagnant puddle.
Dirk, have you actually sent any of these ideas in as a feedback?
Given that you’re committed to leaving WordPress.com one way or another anyway, I’m failing to see the incentive for WP to accomodate your suggestions.
ryanjen’s suggestion in the other thread was, I thought, highly practical and productive.
Of course you can be short-sighted and look only at the voice, not what the voice is saying. I expect no less of some. It’s a common flaw. I don’t want my suggestions implemented just for me……open your eyes, I want it implemented for ALL the members.
As far as sending via feedback….correct me if I am wrong but marking a thread as “wordpress.com” would get the admins attention. I also mistakenly thought that inviting others to a brainstorming would have given the admins plenty of ideas they could implement, I obviously overestimated the abilities of the volunteers here.
My comment about this being a business opportunity was kinda made in an offhanded manor, but the more I think on it, the more it works. I see plenty of detritus holding this site back and where to trim it, making it far more efficient for all…..I’ve decided to start looking into it.
I am not committed to a stagnant community, but my instincts are to still try and help with knowledge I have, I think I’ll withdraw that too now……since it appears to be tainted. No doubt this will be a relief to some.
Seriously, announcing that you are seeking a divorce does isolate one, particularly from being taken into consideration for future plans. This is a community and your statement that it is a stagnant community that you are leaving is as self-marginalizing a statement as one could possibly make.
I also mistakenly thought that inviting others to a brainstorming would have given the admins plenty of ideas they could implement, I obviously overestimated the abilities of the volunteers here.
I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that admins would implement any such ideas. Do you see any staff on this thread? I’ve been around wordpress since the .com domain belonged to a squatter and I can assure you that volunteers have never had a say in how the forums work. That’s not going to change overnight.
I agree that the system at present is poorly designed and cannot reasonably be expected to cope with any more users than we currently have, but support has never been a priority for the developers. It just doesn’t interest them. I’m sorry, but I have better things to do with my time than discuss things that don’t have a hope in hell of ever being implemented.
I;ve been asking them to fix the whois, ip address, and edit links in the first post in each thread for how long now? That should tell you something.
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