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!