In the “duh, why didn’t I ask that?” category…

One of the sites that I program manage, Sun Forums, is one of the most widely used of all Sun community sites (more than 800k users who have posted nearly 4 million messages).

While the site has served as a useful communication conduit, it’s had plenty of struggles — many around community management. To help mend some fences, the core team created a “News and Updates Forum” where any of the users have direct access to the core team. Via the forum, we’ve taken some rightful beatings, but it’s proven to be a place where we can gather amazingly rich, well thought out suggestions from our power users and a few new users — a place where we fully open our ears, pull up our sleeves and DO SOMETHING with the feedback. We’re a very small team, but we’re making progress and are committed to continue to do so.

One of the downsides to the News and Updates forum is a large volume of off-topic posts. The team of users and forums core team members have implemented a few tweaks and processes to help redirect off-topic posters to a more appropriate forum. These changes have helped, but the off-topic posts continue (a few per day).

Today, one of our power users posted the following in response to an off-topic poster:

“Could you explain how you came to post your query in this topic? For some reason people keep doing this. It’s a fairly obscure topic name and section, so there’s a bug (real or usability related) that causes people to do this. This thread will be deleted in a minute, but if you could explain how it got here first that might be helpful.”

Gee, why didn’t I think to ask that? Excellent Question, Dave! 🙂

  1. #1 by cotton.m on May 26, 2008 - 5:12 pm

    I believe some Tennyson is in order here "Ours not to reason why, ours but to do…"
    I *think* there are two reasons.
    1) People who simply post without reading. There are plenty of threads both on the SDN forums and other sites where posters repeat questions that have been answered in some cases hundreds of times previously. There are some who post answers to these questions and even those who post the same answers 6 months or more apart to the same threads.
    2) The forum name *might* be somewhat confusing. I suppose if one was not a native english speaker one might think the forum is for discussion forum software written in Java. It’s a stretch but I suppose possible.
    I suspect the former is more of a problem here really and I honestly don’t think that much can be done outside of the previous suggestions about a minimum number of posts (since many of the wrongly places posters are the one-post wonder types) but I understand why that is not desirable.
    In short I wouldn’t worry much about it, I think it will continue to happen no matter what is done, so best to just take it as a sign of popularity. 😀

  2. #2 by Skrocki on May 30, 2008 - 8:18 am

    Cotton.m, I concur. I also think that the "Other Topics:" prefix/category contributes to the problem. The new IA shifts the News & Updates forum to a "Community" section.
    Time will tell if the new IA coupled with the new proposed design will help decrease the off-topic and redundant posts. We hope to have both pieces staged sometime soon to gather community input.

  3. #3 by Dave Minter on May 30, 2008 - 9:57 am

    Hmm. I do wonder if there’s some magic link somewhere that’s leading people astray – presumably not since you have access to the referrer logs*, but I still think that it’s an odd forum to choose because:
    1. It doesn’t have much offtopic content in it to produce search hits.
    2. It’s a long way down the list of forums
    3. There are other topics with more obviously alluring names (e.g. offtopic posts in the generics forum make perfect sense) for second-language users.
    I’ve mellowed from my original position of "All users are idiots" to my position these days of "if they do something wrong, that’s still a bug" so I still hope to figure this one out.
    Thanks for the kind words. Let me return them: you’re doing a great job.
    *If you haven’t done this it’s definitely worth a try; if they arrive via google search at the forum page that’ll answer one question (including identifying the search term being used to get there) and if not we might be able to find whatever weird route that they’re arriving by.

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