Redesigning the support forum

With the rewrite of the SUMO platform underway, this is a great time to rethink how we want to handle our support forum.  While the existing forum format is good for promoting discussions and interaction, it isn’t optimized for getting users to the answers to their problems.  Also, anyone who has been helping users in our forum know that it’s not exactly the fastest forum in the world…

A number of websites that have been set up specifically with the goal of answering questions actually don’t use the traditional forum format.  For example, Yahoo! Answers, Get Satisfaction and Stack Overflow all use a more problem-solution based approach. We’d like to take cues and ideas from these sites and redesign the way users and contributors interact on our support forums to make it more fun and engaging to help users.

We’ve started to draft up how this redesigned support forum would look and would like your input on how to make the final support forum best fit your needs as contributors as well as those of our users. Note that we are talking about the English Support forum on SUMO here — it will not apply to the Contributors or Off-topic forums, which have different needs.

Our proposal
The key objectives of this redesign are:

  • To make it easier for users to identify the solution to their problem.
  • To make it easier for contributors to focus on the questions that matter to them — for example, only questions asked by Linux users.
  • To make the forum much faster and more enjoyable to use.

The key element to the new design will be the ability for a user to vote up (or “me too”) threads which adds him to the notification list.  If a user sees a problem description that matches his own, he can vote it up, thereby giving it more attention and increasing the chances of good solutions.  We can then make sure that these questions are shown more prominently in the thread listing.

Answers to questions can also be voted on — not just by the original asker, but by everyone.  That way, the best solution for the majority of people will bubble up to the top.

Lastly, we want to provide an area of the page to get followup information from the original person with the question.  Asking for more information is a key part of the troubleshooting process, but it’s important that the information is readily available near the original question, and not buried somewhere in a lengthy discussion thread.

We’ve put together a rough mockup of how this may look to give you a better sense of what these mean.  Once we’ve finalized on the list of features, we’ll be redrafting it to actually look good, too. :)

Small-sized mockup

What do you think?  What kinds of features do you think are necessary in this kind of new support system?  We’ve got ideas like tagging, custom dashboards, as well as savable views.  However, we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas to make sure we aren’t missing something here.

So, if you have feedback, please let us know.  You can edit the PRD or just comment in this blog.  Thanks!

6 comments on “Redesigning the support forum”

  1. SilverWav wrote on

    Go to copy the whole thing, changing Ubuntu for Mozilla.

    I’m not kidding the real reason for Ubuntu’s success is there support forum.

    oh and no one uses the built in search – they just use Google.

    e.g firefox

    If it doesn’t show up in there you are wasting your time.

  2. SilverWav wrote on

    That should have read:

    e.g firefox problem

    It looks like your blogging software just deletes any > < and anything inside instead of sanitizing it.

    Oh and canonical are using a proprietary app for the forums – do us all a favour and create us the same functionality as FOSS as part of your project ;)

  3. Pam Griffith wrote on

    Is it possible to reply to suggestions? It looks like you’re copying Stack Overflow there but without the metadiscussion, which is often very useful (“that doesn’t work because of X”, “Watch out for X or you’ll destoy your computer,” etc.)

  4. David Tenser wrote on

    SilverWav: the interesting thing to think about is *why* is successful. Is it because they implemented a discussion forum, which encourages people to discuss? Or is it because their user base is much smaller than the Firefox user base? Or is it because the average contributor is more similar to the average user (unlike with Firefox, where the typical end user is very very far away from the typical contributor).

    Pam, we haven’t really figured that part out yet. We could add comments to proposed solutions, but that would add another layer of complexity and it would probably create some new problems (such as users posting where they shouldn’t, or solutions to problems being just a comment to another proposed solution).

    In fact, this is just one potential proposal and we are still open for the idea of “just” implementing a normal discussion forum, where all threads are chronological.

  5. John & Linda wrote on

    David’s reply to SilverWav is important: we must know our present and projected size. If we want Firefox to double present users in 12 months, we must define a new support system in that context. Pam’s inquiry about a reply to a suggestion needs a full evaluation, because some will want to use it that way, and that’s a given.

    What about some kind of a hierarchical numbering system? When I come to support the system serves me a number like 1234 for my question. It’s my job to record and remember it. When three come to support they see my 1234, but more to the point, my question. Carol is first reply and is logged as 1234.1. David is second reply and is 1234.2. If Pam has something to add to David’s reply, she can either use the first three words in David’s reply, or insert 1234.2. Bill will be 1234.3 if he does not use the first three words that David used, and does not insert any number.

    When I come back I enter my 1234 in a search window. I see all replies, and one is the very solution that will work perfectly!

    Meanwhile, some AI had indexed my question, so others can find it in an archive.

    Above, my 1234 equates to 9999 possible. If that’s too low, use 1234567890.

  6. Jack wrote on

    The problem I have had, and others who use Firefox and have had questions tell me they have, is:

    1) Not knowing how to use support to get a rapid answer.
    2) Getting totally lost in layers of communication in no way related to their question.

    David’s reply to SilverWav is huge: we must plan support to serve users; if we are to double in 12 months support must be in that context. Pam’s point is well taken, because some will reply to suggestions.

    Is a hierarchical system possible? When I bring a question the system serves me 1234. My job is to record/remember the numeric served. Carol’s reply, being first, is automatically 1234.1. Don’s second reply is 1234.2 if he does not use Carol’s first three words, or marks his reply as “New.” If Karin has something further to Carol’s reply, then Karin either uses Carol’s first three words or inserts 1234.1. If Ken is third, by not using first three words either Carol or Don used, or by marking his reply “New,” Ken is 1234.3.

    When I come back and insert 1234, all the replies are lined up for my use.

    Meanwhile, some AI indexes all to keyword search for future users.

    If 1234 is too low as 9999, then use 1234567890.