Last Edited:  4/6/2007  [I'll be amending the lists in this post based on the comments and continual feedback that comes in.  Thanks for hanging with me here.]

We've recently released a service pack for the forums that have changed some functionality in the forums.  It's the first batch of noticeable, user-facing changes in the forums in over a year, so it's not surprising that some of the changes have caused some problems.  These problems, however annoying, have also spurred some very interesting threads in the MSDN Moderators Forum, a private forum that's the "coffee lounge" for our community moderators to hang out and discuss issues in the forums.

I thought it might be interesting to summarize some of the discussion here and see if we can spur some more constructive input.  I'm going to summarize what I've been hearing into three sections.  For the "bad" and "ideas" categories, I'm going to try and break them out into individual blog entries.

The Good

  • Code Snippet Blocks - I'm glad that there's something in the forums now that will protect my code from being "emoticon-ized"...woohoo!
  • Graphs/Stats of Forums Progress - Josh shared some internal information about forums on his blog's information that I see everyday, but the community doesn't get to.  I got the feedback that we should share it more often.
  • ???

The Bad

  • Transparency about Support - We've recently started having a new product support team answering questions on the forums, with the goal of getting the answer rates up to "healthy" levels.  We really haven't been good at communicating this to any of the moderators in the forums.  As a result, there's a huge amount of confusion as to the role of the support people compared to the role of the moderators in the forums.  It's a problem, especially because the support technicians aren't aware of the culture and process that the moderators have painstakingly created over the past two years.
  • Can't Find the Answer Box - This one has actually been brought up both internally and by the community.  The "Can't Find the Answer?" box that's next to a forum isn't time scoped.  Because these questions are essentially the most viewed questions in the forum, they are old and outdated.  The easy resolution--only display questions asked in the past three months here.  Of course, there are posts that are older than three months that could still be very useful to people.  What's the best solution for the most people?
  • Top Answerer List - The "Top Answerer" list on the forums doesn't measure quality.  (I blogged a bit about this yesterday.)  It drives people to answer too quickly, and people can inflate their stats easily by just doing housekeeping stuff--not by answering difficult questions.  If reputation is important to a community, then this is not the right solution.
  • Code Snippet Quirkiness - The code snippet handling just isn't where it should be in a technical support forum.  Emoticons render still in one-liner snippets that aren't in a code snippet boxes.  The general quote here would be:  "C'mon Microsoft!  These are developer forums...get it together!"
  • No Permalinking to Individual Posts in a Thread - There's no way to link to an individual post in a thread--it makes it hard to link to a particular answer.  (Note:  there are indexes available on the page that can be used.)
  • RSS Feeds Keep Sticky Posts at the Top of the Feed - And they don't currently include replies.  These should both be fixed in "SP4", which should be released at some point in April.

The Ideas

  • Mark as Resolved with a Reason - Instead of the "Mark as Answer" button, why not make it "Mark as Resolved" and then offer a list of reasons that a user could pick from.  "Mark as Answer" is being used even when the question isn't truly answered...just to drive up answer rates or get the "Top Answerer" credit.  (Personally, I love this idea.)
  • Label the Moderators - Who is a moderator on the forums?  Right now, I'm not sure.  Almost all forum platforms have moderator labeling, but ours doesn't.  Let's label the moderators.
  • Rewards?  Recognition? - We really haven't done much beyond the "Top Answerers" list in the forums for recognition or reputation.  We need to start moving in that  (And yes, I've been pushing for this for over a year now.  Want proof?  Check out my blog category about reputation.)
  • Are the Metrics Right? - Once again...I blogged about this yesterday.  The answer rate metrics are great...they are measurable, and in general, a high answer rate really does mean that people are getting answers to their questions in that forum.  But is that really the *best* way to measure things?
  • Volume *Might* Cause Problems - I was recently very happy to see the 1,000,000th post in the forums.  Of course, I also have the theory that more eyeballs = more posts = more answers, and everything scales very well.  This isn't necessarily so.  The moderators are starting to get overwhelmed with the number of questions coming in...we should be careful on how quickly we drive more and more traffic to the forums.

Let's talk and make a list.  What's good/bad/or just a good idea?