After more than a year of TechRepublic editors and engineers debating
the best way to finally solve the “nobody ever closes and rates
questions in Tech Q&A” problem, we found a solution. Get rid of Tech Q&A.
Hear me out. We have actual logical reasons.
We’ve spent the last year trying to set up a series of rules that
would force users of Tech Q&A to act like decent human beings and
provide feedback on the questions they ask. Besides fighting a losing
battle against the inevitable jerkwad user who would never rate no
matter what you do, we also couldn’t solve two basic scenarios:
- “Drive-by” users who ask a question and never return to the site
(or, worse, start a new account to avoid restrictions on their old
- “Forum jumpers” that get frustrated with the restrictions in Tech Q&A and just post to Discussions instead.
The more rules we added to Tech Q&A, the worse the above-listed
problems became. Instead of making a better feature, we were just
making the Tech Q&A harder to use. We realized the problem
this morning, so we effectively scrapped a year’s worth of ideas in
about 45 minutes and started over. Sounds crazy, but we’re really
jazzed about the new concept.
Let’s start by talking about our three goals for Tech Q&A:
- Make it simple and easy for a member to get technical help from
our super-genius community (thereby hyping our users and our site)
it simple and easy for a user to document what has worked for him, so
others can learn (thereby hyping our users and our site)
- Recognize the members that provide the most and best technical help (thereby hyping our users and our site)
Goal #3 relies on achieving Goal #2, and Goal #2 relies on Goal
#1. If people can’t easily ask a question, the whole deal falls
apart–and all our enforcement rules ultimately served to discourage
usage of Tech Q&A. Strange as it sounds, improving Tech Q&A
means reducing enforcement, not increasing it.
So here’s the idea–Tech Q&A as a separate feature goes away.
Instead, we allow users to flag Discussions as Technical Questions. One
submission form, one set of categories, one coherent tag structure, one
set of tools, one learning curve to climb. Simple, easy, clean. Users
could even flag a post as a Tech Question after the thread has started,
so our forum regulars could pop in and educate newbies on the feature,
telling them to flag their in-progress threads as Questions when
Flagging threads as Questions would unlock an additional feature for
the original thread poster–the ability to mark individual posts within
the thread as Helpful. This would be a binary state; either a post is
helpful or it isn’t. There is no Rejected state. There is Helpful or
unrated, period. Within the tree view, Helpful posts would be
highlighted, so you could skip to the good stuff without trawling the
whole thread. Within the forum view, Questions with Helpful answers
would also be highlighted, so serial answerers could jump into threads
that still need help, and knowledge seekers could skip right to the
threads that contain helpful answers. There’s no need to worry about closing
unrated/autoclosed Questions, because–like Discussions–Question
threads never close.
When it comes to recognition, goodbye TechPoints. The TechPoint economy
is broken, and only makes it harder to ask questions, anyway. Instead,
we only need to track two factors: Total answers given, and total
answers rated helpful. Everything else is just noise. We can import all
the old data for these two factors. Our best members will provide a lot
of answers, and over time they will accumulate a number of Helpfuls.
We’ll award merit badges based on both factors, so even if nobody ever
comes back and rates your responses, you’ll still get credit. As far as
enforcing a rating behavior, we’ll leave that to the community to
self-police–but I know our regulars are aware of repeat offenders.
That’s the Big Idea we had to today. I know its probably scary to some
to see all the safeguards removed and secret corners exposed. That’s
the point. Tech Q&A is a crippled feature. Weighing it down with
more overhead is only going to make it worse. It’s time for radical
measures, and I can’t think of anything more radical than this.