During the MVP summit I made it my mission to seek out as much feedback from anyone who would talk to me about newsgroups, web forums, and the general scenarios around the people who answer a lot of questions and the people who need to find or ask for answers to their questions. This is a list of ideas taken from those notes that we can use to create an ideal solution.
I’ve been thinking through this because I was asked to look the user experience around the Ask a Question feature we are working to include in the Whidbey timeframe.
The reason I’m posting this here is that one piece of feedback I heard consistently was that if we are building “community” features we should go out of our way to involve the community in their design. I’ll also point out that this is my take on the feedback. Others, which are also involved in the choices ahead, may have different opinions. When I was taking the raw notes that led to this I tried to follow this approach from Rick as best I could.
Volume Kills Community
High post volume makes a community impossible to keep up with (ensuring answers), hard to moderate, hard to find answers, and almost impossible to create an identity for the community. One example cited was the microsoft.public.dotnet.languages.vb newsgroup that receives over 250 posts per day. Some or all of the following mitigations are needed in an ideal solution:
1. Encourage users strongly to search the community before asking duplicate questions.
2. Enable auto bubbling of useful FAQ posts.
3. Create and direct people to sub communities as needed such as microsoft.public.dotnet.languages.vb.winforms.dataccess.
4. Give users the ability to create search views over one or multiple groups. This enables area experts to be notified when there are new questions that relate to their specialties and doesn’t force them to search for posts to answer.
5. Allow people to easily filter threads that they have read and aren’t interested in keeping track of.
Working Offline Needs to be Enabled
Offline working needs to be enabled for people who travel, people with low bandwidth, and those who will only accept the performance only possible with information cached locally. This is one reason why NNTP use continues to used by a lot of people. The following ideas were suggested.
1. Expose an NNTP service from any forums created.
2. RSS everything to preserve client choice and local information storage.
3. Create a good RSS client for the forums that supported authenticated posting and the ability to cache messages to be sent and locally store good information as a reference
4. Expose any forums created as listserves that people can subscribe to with their e-mail clients and also reply VIA the list serve.
NNTP Collaboration is Important
Last year there were over 11,000 people who posted in microsoft.public.dotnet.languages.csharp. Several of the top posters where MVPs or otherwise had reply rates as high as MVPs. We should not release a solution that does not at least have a good transitional story for the people who currently participate and enjoy this community.
Microsoft Needs to Play Nice
No one said that we shouldn’t build these communities, but we should also do what we can to expose the knowledge we are building to communities such as the codewise partners. We could do this by exposing web services that allow partner sites to query for:
1. Unanswered questions for smaller communities to subscribe to, create answers, and submit back to the central community.
2. Highly rated content that is targeted towards their users.
Notification and Bookmarking is Needed
Several users explained their love of the google groups interface because it allows them to bookmark and find their way back to NNTP threads of value, threads they were interested in, or questions that they asked. Ideally we should provide both a new message notification once a users post is answered and a way for users to easily store their bookmarks to useful information.
The Community Needs Moderation
Any solution needs to have a scalable moderation system that allows moderators to edit, move, and delete posts. Users should also be able to report posts and users to moderators that need attention to ease the job of the moderators. The ability to ban users is important. Feedback suggested that moderation is what is missing in the public newsgroups and the lack of moderation gives people a bad taste to the community because they are exposed to spam and flame wars that people start behind the curtain of anonymity.
The interface must allow for individuals to maintain identity and reputation as well as allowing the individual communities to have their own sense of identity.
History and Groups.Google
Post history must be maintained indefinitely. This is a key for search and avoiding duplicate posts. Several MVPs explained the important of Groups.Google to their information searches. Exposing NNTP will continue to enable groups.google search.
There were several requests for us not to have several different experiences across Microsoft. Current examples of this include the Gotdotnet forums, asp.net forums, xbox forums, and then all the Microsoft.public newsgroups. There should be one enjoyable experience that is transferable across different Microsoft communities.
So this is the summary of all the notes I took about this issue. Feel free to agree or disagree here. Tomorrow I’m hoping to post a couple proposed solutions that address the concerns I heard.