These are the raw notes, quotes, and my thoughts, I wrote down from people on the MSDN Forums at Tech-Ed. I subscribe to the philosophy of trying to just capture what people say during my interviews rather than trying to find the meaning of their quotes on the spot.
I’d like to thank everyone that took time out of their busy Tech-ed schedule to give me feedback. If you are reading my blog now it would be great to know what quotes resonate most with you and why???
Overall I was pleased with the positive reaction the forums received. By far the biggest gripe was around the lack of a good offline story for reading the forums. I’ll hit on that below.
On the Question and Answer Tagging
I believe the question and answer tagging was seen as a big advantage to the forums over the newsgroups because it allowed them to easily ignore some of the irrelevant posts in a thread or focus on threads that have answer tags rather than looking at threads that don’t have answers.
Another indication that this was a positive is that there was a lot of great discussion around how we could use this information beyond what we do today to bubble up faqs, cherry pick the best answers, or improve the search results.
If this is a big strength then I’m convinced we should put more effort in this space to make it more obvious to users how to tag answers so we can do better than the 70% answer rates we see today.
On Showing Forums on Developer Centers
We didn’t really have anything to show users here, but there was a discussion on how showing popular threads or most viewed threads on developer centers becomes self fulfilling. It seemed unanimous that the “popular threads” from newsgroups we use today on dev centers doesn’t offer any real value. The sweet spot seems to be mixing the popular with the recent so we can get new information, new answers, and new questions in front of users on the developer centers and broaden the participation.
Why Answer Questions?
One discussion I didn’t have any good quotes on was the ranking and attribution of experts. Post count, as shown today, seems pretty meaningless and also is discouraging to budding experts since it’s an “all time” view. We should do something to both reward all time contributors, but make it easier for new “experts” to break into the game. I was surprised to find people that had read the “top answerers” post I made to the forums.
Cutting off Dupes
I heard “the lurk before you leap is dead” quote from several people. Some of which believed that its what has led to the death of usefulness in the public newsgroups since there are just too many dupes posted by newsbies who don’t read or search existing threads. The more we can do to proactively encourage searching before posting in a non-invasive/blocking way the better community we’ll have.
On New Post UI with FAQ + Search Results
I’ll spare my blog readers of my bad PM art for now, but imagine if you combine search results dynamically generated on the new question UI with the help of the trendy Ajax stuff.
I didn’t capture all the feedback here, but users really liked the concept UI we showed them. I personally believe (and I’m biased since it was my idea) that this will be one of the most exciting things about the MSDN forum community when/if we get this coded up.
Users kept thinking about ways to make my screenshot better and had some great ideas about showing users rich tooltips when hovering over the dynamic search results and making sure we showed more of the post text in the results.
On Post Formatting Options
Our current posting UI takes too long to load and contains too many options that just don’t get used (table formatting, strikethrough, etc) or make reading the forums annoying (smillies, large font, etc).
I took away that we needed to drastically simplify the posting UI but also work hard to ensure that rich text cut/paste from VS and Word works better than it does today.
Most users didn’t like moderation that delays there posts, but did agree that we have a huge moderation burdon ahead of us. The more we can spread the load with more moderators and encouraging users to use the reporting link to focus the moderators the better.
I really liked the “spring cleaning” idea that one user proposed where we have time periods where full moderation is opened up to a much larger set of people to allow them to help us manage the crusty answers, merge dupes, etc.
I took two things away from the search feedback. The first is that we need to make sure we have a good search on the web that also shows other MSDN results like samples, articles, etc that may answer users questions. The second is that we need to do what we can to make sure the forum search results show up well in MSN and google searches. There may be some work to be done with the URL structure to make sure the rankings are good on individual answers.
I was surprised to hear that posting was really seen as secondary to a good reading experience to the group of users we had that I would classify as much more likely to reply to threads than our average developer in the community. One person went so far as to say that if all we had was an excellent offline reading experience they could batch up replies in Word documents to be posted through the web UI when they got a good connection. This is not to say that posting from an offline client is not important, but that we need to make sure the offline reading is top notch first.
There was a good debate about, if there was a dedicated client for forums, how moderation should be represented. People were split and ranged from “just replace my local content” to “don’t bother with modifying content after I’ve downloaded it.”
I think the answer is in the middle. From my experience most of the moderation/tagging of a post happens within a week or so of it being posted. If we stop tracking changes of local items older than a month we’ll probably be safe.