Improving the 'help' category - better practices and about text


#1

Hi everyone -

There’s been some discussion about helping people write good posts in ‘help.’ I’m going to take a crack at some better guidelines and “about” text, so that we can make ‘help’ more enjoyable to read and post to, and thus a better resource. Input, feedback, and collaboration is very welcome… this post is just some initial thoughts, and I’ll update this thread as I go.

Basically, we need to figure out how ‘help’ should be used, what the guidelines are, and what moderators and regular forum-users should do to make ‘help’ a great place. (i.e. What types of requests should be posted on ‘help’? How do you write a decent post that’s more likely to get replies? When should you flag? What should moderators do about low-quality posts?) Next, I’ll write up some new ‘about the help category’ text that captures all this in a friendly and easily referenceable way.

Here are some things I’ll try to optimize for:

  1. We want to be friendly and welcoming to help-askers, and we want them to get the help they seek as often as possible. We want people to feel comfortable making “stupid” requests, and for newcomers to the community to have a good experience.
  1. We want help-givers to also have a good experience on the forum, and to enjoy doing it. We want to respect the time and attention that people are volunteering when they respond to help threads.
  1. We want our guidelines to be lightweight and easy to understand and practice. We don’t want to require everyone to read a super long document, and we don’t want our practices to be too time-consuming or energy-consuming for moderators (or regular forum-users).

Shout-out to everyone who has been replying to ‘help’ topics so far! I’ve seen so many generous and helpful replies, and it makes me proud of the welcoming Meteor community. Thanks also to those who have started discussing how we can improve ‘help.’ I’ll have more to post here soon. :slight_smile:


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#2

@aliceyu: this is a great idea.

My 2 cents … other than trolling there are no wrong questions. However, there are poorly worded or incomplete questions and I know that some of these are from community members for whom English is a second (or third) language. For these, I really feel - I can imagine how I would come across if I had to seek help from a non-English site. On the other hand, the pool of assistance here is definitely weighted towards English and I would prefer to puzzle out a question, even if I have to go back and forth a bit, rather than encourage, for example, categories for other language speakers, where there will be reduced benefit to the community as a whole. However, guidance for members seeking assistance can enable a much improved success rate and reduce the time spent “puzzling”.

There are some obvious “cookbook” things to request (e.g. a repo or code samples at the least for technical assistance), but perhaps we could also provide example of (links to?) good and bad questions here.

One final point for everyone: if you get help and it helps, then please :heart: the post which helped and say thank you!


#3

My take on this matter is all-inclusive unless the post (question) is not outright trolling activity or offensive in some sense.

The problem with discourse as a q&a platform is, it is not designed for that in the first place. It is a great tool to foster discussions. SO on the other hand inversely is a very weak platform for discussions.

As a community, we need both and I think it is best to not frame the allowed weight of one against the other. I think they drive each other. A very silly one-liner question can (and we’ve seen many times that it does) spawn a fruitful discussion that touches a variety of topics.

What happens when people ask bad questions? Nothing. We are not aiming to make this forum become a reference like SO does. If we did, we’d have to have sufficient number of moderators and collaborators to not only flag questions, but also edit them to improve the content therein.

So, let’s just let it be. Let’s just remind people that

  • They need to be polite (what a shame) and very short posts with incomplete sentences may be perceived as impolite
  • SO is a better place if they want to ask an implementation/case specific technical question, but they are welcome to announce that post over here should they see fit

We are always at the liberty to ignore those posts that we don’t like. Discourse is quite good at bubbling up quality posts that drive attention, anyway.

Also, in discourse-land, flagging has quite severe consequences, especially when approved/disapproved by a moderator, after which either the flagged or the flagging party definitely faces even worse penalties. As far as I know, this is a hot topic on discourse meta as well.


#4

I’m perfectly happy with a one liner like “How do I display todays date on my template?” whereas posts like this do bother me and - imho - shouts flagging material.


#5

Thanks @robfallows and @serkandurusoy for your input!

Serkan, you hit the nail on the head when you said Discourse is simply not designed to be a Q&A platform, and that SO is better for that. @rahul summarized the situation well on twitter:

The @meteorjs forums are turning into Stack Overflow Lite, but without most of the moderation tools. How can we deal with this?

— Rahul (@Rahul) April 13, 2015

I think the solution is to make a simple rule that SO-type questions should go on SO. e.g. “how do I do X?” or “my code is breaking, what am I doing wrong?”… questions where there is a single objective answer. The forums ‘help’ category should be reserved for questions that DON’T have a single objective answer, where discussion would be helpful (e.g. “What is the best file structure for this type of app I’m writing?”). Or to ask for help that isn’t a technical question at all (e.g. “Can I get some volunteers to help stress-test my app?”). Basically, any question or request that wouldn’t be appropriate for SO. This would fix 99% of the complaints people have about ‘help,’ I think.

There IS in fact a downside to “anything goes, as long as it’s not offensive” (though I like that we’re trying to be as welcoming as possible). Filling the forum with questions better asked on SO makes it less enjoyable to read, and poorly-communicated questions are frustrating to the people trying to help. This is ultimately bad for the very people we’re trying to welcome by being all-inclusive – if reading the forum isn’t a good experience, then help-givers will do it less, and help-askers are less likely to get help.

I think we can communicate and enforce a “SO questions go on SO” rule in a nice way that is still friendly to help-seekers, and without relying on flagging. (Thanks Serkan for your point about flagging.) I’ll start by writing it into the about text, then when someone posts an SO-type question in ‘help’, I’ll reply publicly with a friendly message thanking them for their question and asking if they could please post it on SO instead, since it’s a better platform for getting the kind of help they’re looking for. I’d link them to the about text, invite them to DM me if they have any questions about them, then close the thread (I don’t believe there are any penalties associated with this, but I’ll double-check). Then over time people will learn to post SO-questions on SO instead of on the forum.

I’ll write up some text for this soon. Thanks again everyone who gave input!


#6

I agree. We should use the forums to build dialogue with the community and use it for what it was designed to be good at.

Stack Overflow is far better at helping people ask good questions and get good answers.

If we aren’t satisfied with the experience on SO, we should work harder to moderate questions there and perhaps work with Stack Exchange to get a sanctioned meteor tag or something that can be accessed via help.meteor.com or something.

I’m looking forward to the forums becoming a place where you can get a reading of what’s new in the community, what people are working on, what they’d like to see in the future, how their products and businesses are faring etc. Not just a list of questions that have already been asked (and often answered) elsewhere. I don’t think that helps anyone.


#7

Well, although I cannot fully agree due to the blurry lines between what constitutes a question and what a discussion (SO still gets its fair share of arguments for this very topic) I do get the sentiment and believe that what’s ultimately better is to have a place for quality discussion rather than having a bloated of everything.

I’ll reply publicly with a friendly message thanking them for their question and asking if they could please post it on SO instead, since it’s a better platform for getting the kind of help they’re looking for. I’d link them to the about text, invite them to DM me if they have any questions about them

I think as long as some pre-written rule is available in the about section (which I’m sure just a few people will read) and there is a form of transition such as you propose here, we’ll all get used to and make better use of it. But there there will always be newcomers, so I think this transition should be publicly announced and current members of the forum should also be encouraged to a) go over to SO b) also chip in with their polite reminders to others when they see fit.

then close the thread (I don’t believe there are any penalties associated with this, but I’ll double-check)

I think the psychological implications of a closed thread is much more than whatever else discourse may apply. Those people may feel abandoned or outcast. There are so many diverse cultures after all. Let’s just make our reminders and hope the better of everyone, right?


#8

I feel very strongly about this whole subject. When I first read @aliceyu’s propoal I had to walk away from the keyboard before responding hastily.

I think that few people would argue that SO does not promote asking good questions and getting good answers (it’s clearly not guaranteed, but it pervades the whole ethos of SO). I can understand that from MDG’s point of view it’s perhaps better to get exposure there than it is here. After all, SO will attract people who may not otherwise be looking at Meteor.

However, having said that, I cannot think of a better way of disenfranchising newcomers to the Meteor community. Right now, for example, Windows support is young and we are trying to encourage new Meteor users from the huge Windows developer base. These users will have lots of technical questions (ideal SO fodder) and may (even if asked not to) post questions here. To then tell them to “go away” - and furthermore then close the thread - sends a very strong message about the support they can expect to receive.

In any event, there are always ways of rephrasing questions to circumvent process:

“How do I structure a template helper?” vs “What’s the best way to structure a template helper?”

The former is the SO way - it will generate alternative answers (based on the authors’ opinions). The latter is the (proposed) Meteor Forums way - it will also generate alternative answers (based on the authors’ opinions), but the former will be locked here and the latter will be locked at SO.

On a purely personal level, I do not have an unlimited amount of time to spend each day in visiting several different sites to “give something back”. I find that it’s easy to track new requests here, and it doesn’t disrupt my workflow too much to do so. If I have to continually context switch between sites … well, I probably won’t.

On balance I don’t believe we should change our policy. There is nothing wrong with encouraging posting on SO, but to actively push people away? That’s just wrong. I would prefer SO to lock threads and push people here than for us to lock threads and push people there.


#9

the former will be locked here and the latter will be locked at SO.

exactly what I meant with blurry lines. Even for what seems to be the exact same question. And mind you, not too many people get the subtleties of the English language to differentiate between the two very same but also very different forms of that question.

On a purely personal level, I do not have an unlimited amount of time to spend each day in visiting several different sites to “give something back”.

The first time I’ve ever actually set up a proper SO account and begun answering questions was when I first got happily entangled in meteor. But when this forum got launched, I practically forgot all about SO and I’m trying to answer as many questions as I can here.

I stand by my original take on the matter, but also do believe that community development is a huge effort with a lot of gray areas which look pitch black to some while shining bright white to others. So, after all, this decision belongs to MDG. But whatever decision you guys take, blocking/closing should be the last resort. We don’t need one too many big brothers.


#10

FWIW my perspective on this - so far, that is, having been an active participant here for only about a week or two:

Even though I use SO regularly as a reader it’s not very inviting (to me) to put my questions on there. Not sure exactly why but I am very sure that there are so many people, especially newbies, who feel the same. This forum here feels just much more friendly and inviting… more like a community, and so it’s easier to feel like part of it and participate.
And there should be a very inviting and friendly community for Meteor developers, especially for new ones, somewhere on the web. I do appreciate that it is here, though of course it’s not my decision what kind of place MDG is intending to create here.

And all that is important because Meteor is currently speaking to lots and lots and lots of developers who are new to this – either new to programming itself, or to web development, or to modern web development, but in any case new to Meteor itself. And then providing a friendly place for these new developers to get started and feel welcome and encouraged and helped a little must, from my perspective, be part of a complete, well-aligned, fully-functioning process of inviting and onboarding and sustaining a healthy and growing developer community.

Take a look at what Digital Ocean is doing with their community. I’m not referring to, or have insight into, what kinds of discussions or threads are happening over on their site(s) and in their community. But I speak of their deliberate building and catering to a community of newbie server admins who “are new to this kind of thing”, inviting and welcoming them with very detailed and patient instructions, answering many of their (“silly” little) questions in the comments, and encouraging them on their way to becoming more capable and knowledgeable admins of their own servers, and, of course, happy and loyal customers of their service.

I’m suggesting, I suppose, that MDG may take a leaf out of DO’s book, and start paying (or similarly incentivizing) capable members of the community for 1) creating packages and 2) writing tutorials and guides that help the massive influx of new developers smoothly navigate around the rough edges that still exist, and that will always exist, to ever-lesser degrees and yet still in always new forms, throughout the life of Meteor.

From developing in Meteor full-time for just a few weeks it’s clear to me, as a more practiced developer, that probably around at least 50%, maybe even towards 70, 80, 90% of the somewhat “unwanted” (i.e. either trivial or strictly how-to-do-this) help requests that appear here (and to a lesser degree probably on SO as well) could be solved / prevented / automatically helped by a small team of dedicated, somewhat experienced developers who just start churning out: 1) packages, 2) boilerplate systems (with package sets, file/folder organization, different options in frontend stacks etc) and 3) guides and other documentation-type writing, while taking their inspiration to write and create by taking in all the data that comes in primarily through this forum and SO, but also blogs, sifting and sorting, prioritizing and working their butts off for a while until they have caught up with what is essentially improving UX.
The data that comes in is essentially requests for UX improvements, to a large degree, and from my perspective the best way to deal with that is take it as feedback and guidelines about what to create and improve next and get right to it 'til it’s done.

And once everything that actually represents UX feedback is being taken care of, then there will absolutely be an option to easily and naturally move the kind of (non-)discussion that belongs on a site like SO to that site, while not appearing unfriendly or unwelcoming or closed off to requests for help and input and encouragement. Absolutely there will be and there will be no confusion about it, or discourse necessary in achieving agreement with the community that is present, for the most part.

Thanks for reading,
Denis