[chandler-users] [UAG] [Proposal] Web Forum for Chandler Users
mimi at osafoundation.org
Wed Nov 5 10:24:12 PST 2008
Just re-sending Davor's proposal with a new subject line in case
people weren't aware that we were now discussing a user forum in the
UAG Roles and Responsibilities thread. See Fritz's response here:
On Friday 17 October 2008 06:45:17 Mimi Yin wrote:
> We had a preliminary brainstorm of project ideas and would love to
> hear from others about what areas we should add as well as how we can
> better define the roles so that they are clear and sustainable (aka
> can fit in people's busy schedules!).
> 1. Making sure that new user questions don't go unanswered. (Note
> that this isn't: Answer all user questions ;) This might entail
> trolling through the list / forum every couple of weeks to make sure
> questions haven't fallen through the cracks.
> 1a. Manage our user forum account. (Davor will be sending out a
> proposal to the list soon.)
First of all, I apologize for taking so long to send out this proposal.
After an initial burst of energy when I investigated a couple of
candidates and even typed my notes in Chandler, it took me a couple of
weeks to wrap this up and write a summary and proposal for the list. I
should add that I'm not an expert in this, so please let us know your
thoughts about this proposal, experiences with various technologies
we're considering, and ideas for next steps.
In our kick-off meeting, the user advisory group (UAG) discussed our
experiences with this email list to date, and its role in the new world
of the Chandler project resting far more on volunteer contributions.
The list currently fulfills a number of roles:
1. it's a place where a new user can go with questions on basic usage
and getting Chandler to run in their environment
2. users can post questions about the design philosophy of the Chandler
application and discuss how they use it in their workflows, as well as
suggest improvements for future versions
3. trickier bugs can be reported and investigated collaboratively, as an
alternative or complement to doing so via Bugzilla. The fact is that
many of Chandler users don't know about bug tracking systems and don't
want/cannot go through the effort of using them to their fullest as a
programmer might (i.e., doing searches to avoid duplicate reports and
entering bug descriptions that are sufficiently detailed for an
engineer to reproduce the issue on their machine)
The lines between these three types of questions can be pretty blurry in
practice, of course. But the fact remains that while the mailing list
works well for design discussions, it is not very well suited to
supporting the new user asking basic questions that were already asked
and answered several times. While we do have list archives, few people
(me included) will bother to go back to them, and a less experienced
user might not even think to look there in the first place.
Some of us have been exposed to other online communities that use web
forums for mutual support and assistance with troubleshooting, whether
for open-source software (e.g., Ubuntu: http://ubuntuforums.org/), more
esoteric hardware, games, or something completely non computer-related.
One advantage of web forums is that topics are visibly divided in the
user interface, and so questions can be easier to follow and keep track
of. Threads in forums are also persistent, which means that they are
browseable and searchable from the same interface that's used for
posting and reading. In my experience, that makes it easier to find
answers to common questions. Just as important, it lessens the burden
on helpers who have to repeatedly answer similar questions. Good forum
software allows editing posts, as well as "pinning" important ones to
the top of the thread, which can make it super easy to have
a "canonical" public solution that is kept up to date.
There are tons of web forum software to choose from. phpBB seems to be
among the more popular ones, and is open source. Ubuntu uses vBulletin,
which is commercial and costs $180 to own (includes a year of updates).
Regardless of which solution is chosen, it will require us (Chander
project, i.e., probably OSAF) to arrange for hosting the software,
maintaining it for version updates, backup, etc. This could be mostly
zero effort, punctuated with moments when it requires a lot of
attention to prevent, or clean up after, an incident such as getting
hacked or spammed.
An alternative is to go with a hosted board. Google Groups and Yahoo
Groups are probably the best known examples, but there are others.
Reading up on web forum software in Wikipedia, I heard of for the first
time about Proboards and ZetaBoards, and I'm sure there are others. The
advantage of going with a fully hosted solution is that we don't have
to deal with upgrades, hardware and network maintenance, backups, and
similar administrative tasks. The drawback is less control over the
features that we get.
In my opinion, that's an acceptable trade-off at this point in time.
Chandler project won't have paid staff to administer the forums, and
while hosting can be had for less than a US$100/year, it's one more
expense that OSAF could do without.
I've mostly looked at Google Groups (GG) since it seems to have more
mindshare momentum behind it. Feature-wise, GG is in between a web
forum and a Usenet newsgroup:
- conversation is organized into "discussions"
- similar to GMail threads
- users can start a new discussion or join an existing one
- a discussion can be "pinned" and show at the top of the discussion
- otherwise the discussions are listed by time
- the drawback of this is that the only structure is by discussion
thread, there is no way to to further group a set of discussions into
- discussion can be closed to new posts
- posts can be moderated
- there is also a plain-email interface
- in addition to discussions, there are associated areas for files and
- access controlled to restrict reading and writing to members and/or
- group members can create profiles
Yahoo Groups looks pretty similar, but feels less polished even though
it's been around for over ten years now. Maybe it's just missing some
Google-magic, or Yahoo has shifted its attention elsewhere, although
Yahoo has been doing a fair bit of redesign of its services over the
past few months and so some might be coming the Y-Groups way as well.
- Yahoo does offer some additional features such as polls, Flickr
photos, and calendar. I can see polls coming in useful to let users
vote on their favourite new features or most annoying bugs
- one nice feature with Yahoo Groups that I don't see in GG is that
moderation can happen per-user. I believe some groups that had a spam
problem have solved it by putting new users under probation, during
which their posts are moderated. Once users graduate to full-member
status, they can post freely. On the other hand, GMail has excellent
spam control, so if they have it active in GG as well, that would be a
definite plus as we don't want to spend all of our time
I'd say that between Google and Yahoo Groups, Google definitely has
greater visibility out there, so if feature-for-feature they're
equivalent, I'd go with Google. But I would *really* like to see the
kind of three level topic-thread-article structure, it's really too bad
that neither Google nor Yahoo can get past the basic Usenet/mailing
list model of thread-article. Maybe I'm just too set on having what I'm
used to seeing in sites that I've used, though. :-)
Once again: comments, ideas, and suggestions most welcome!
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