One of the most fun parts of my work with the MSDN Forums has been working some of the most passionate, smart customers we have in Developer Division—the forum moderators. The moderators are usually thinking about a month or two ahead of Josh and me, so whatever new issues they are bringing to our attention today usually come to the forefront in due time. In a way, I guess I think of our moderators as “Community Barometers”…they let us know whether or not a storm is brewing on the horizon.
That’s why I knew that there is a big element missing from my reputation system thoughts when one of our most passionate moderators, ReneeC, sent me an email earlier this week. She noticed that I’m constantly on a hunt for new community moderators, and correctly assumed that it was because I see a rising tide of questions on the site (3,100/week at last check) and knew that I needed to enable more passionate community members on the site to continue to keep pace. What she also told me was that simply adding warm bodies to the mix wasn’t going to help exacerbate one of the biggest problems with the rise of questions on the site: new users don’t know how to ask good questions.
For example, let’s say a new user to the site is really having trouble with populating a WinForm DataGrid with the results of a query on a database. A more experienced user will know to include code samples, a detailed description of what he/she is trying to accomplish, and the specific error message that they are receiving. Unfortunately, the new user on the site isn’t used to writing questions, and they often will post a message like:
Subject: Please Help!
Body: I am trying to get a DataGrid to show the results of a query I wrote and it isn’t working. What should I do? Thanks!
Ugh. That question has less than a 20% chance of being answered. In fact, we’ve found that questions written by MSDN Subscribers (typically quite experienced users) have a 75% overall answer rate, versus a 59% answer rate on the overall site! Does good question phrasing matter? You bet!
So, how do we help new users write good questions? I’m not sure, but here’s some ideas below…
That’s what I have for now—anybody else have any ideas? What do you think?