Update: Check out the new forums welcome post.

Word is starting to get around about the MSDN Forums Beta.  I guess I should jump in as well.  I helped drive the project from the Developer Division side of things, but we wouldn't have anything to talk about if it weren't for the MSCOM Community team that has been working like mad to get this site ready to support Whidbey Beta 2 customers.   If you've been a long time reader of my blog you might have been able to guess we were working on something like this.  I've had fun playing with the beta and re-reading some of these discussions...

 I'm sure there were others, but these are the ones I had archived last summer. Now here is pretty much the mail we sent around internally today...


Today, answering questions online got a lot better: MSDN Forums Beta is now available at http://forums.microsoft.com/msdn!  

MSDN Forums Beta allows customers to search a growing archive of technical questions and answers.  If an answer can’t be found in search, a customer can ask a new question, be notified when there are replies, and mark the appropriate reply as an answer. Over time we’ll use this Q&A pairing to improve search, build a “hall of fame” of top contributors, and construct a community-maintained FAQ.  We’re creating forums for Whidbey Beta2 technologies to start with, and will add more developer technologies soon. There are already people requesting DirectX forums!

 

How do I efficiently find questions needing answers... and answer them?

A big complaint today is that answering questions online—or even finding what questions are unanswered—is a hassle.  MSDN Forums was designed to make things easy for answerers and site users in general.  Some examples:

  • Unanswered status tracking: The forums publicly expose whether questions are answered or not, which makes it easy for experts to find questions needing answers and askers to determine if they have received a good answer. 
  • Notifications: you can track threads and get email when someone responds to your post. You don’t have to keep checking back on a thread to see if you need to respond again.
  • Unanswered Question Filter: Go to a forum and at the bottom of the page change the “View by Attribute” filter to “All Questions” and click Apply.
  • RSS: Subscribe to your favorite forum’s RSS feed.  From the default feed change the mode=0 to mode=1 to view only unanswered questions.
  • View All Unanswered Questions: one page for all unanswered questions in all forums.

Forums are easier than Newsgroups for answering questions, but we (Microsoft) still have a responsibility to “jump-start” the forums with answers while the community is small.  Beta2 adopters will depend on product team members to subscribe to forums and answer questions, especially for the first month or two after release.   This stage of our community engagement is critical as we transition our product knowledge to a growing community of Visual Studio 2005 users.

 

Other cool forum features include:

  • Moderation: Seen by our customers as stewards of successful technical communities; forum moderators (who could include, but are not limited to MVP’s and Microsofties) have the ability to edit posts, lock threads before they become flame wars, delete off-topic conversations, and eliminate duplicate entries into the FAQ system.
  • Visual Studio Beta2 Integration:
    • IDE help search also searches online forums—simply click the “Questions” tab
    • There’s also a streamlined “ask a question” wizard available in one click from the VS help menu & toolbar
    • Filtered search, so only results relevant to languages and technologies you specify will show up
  • Advanced Search
  • FAQ Views: To find the most-viewed questions pick a forum, go to the bottom of the page, and sort by Total Views in Descending order. You can also scope by date!
  • And more…

That's all for now. I'll have more to say in the next few weeks about this. If you have feedback for the MSDN forums site please post it to the site feedback forums.