WordPress.org support forums: more ideas for improvement

Published on: November 13, 2012 | Categories: Articles

A few days ago, I wrote a post pointing out the potential value of adding a “support expectations statement” to the WordPress.org support forums. We’re huge fans of the work the dot-org team has done, as we noted in that article, but it didn’t stop us from thinking about other ways the dot-org forums could be improved.

As someone who does a pass through The Events Calendar forum each week, and having compared it to the bbPress install we’ve got running to power the forums here on the Modern Tribe website, I came up with a short “wish list” of the features that would help improve the support experience from both an admin and a user perspective:

  1. The ability to close threads. When a thread is either stale (no response from the original poster) or resolved (the original poster is satisfied and has confirmed as much), there should be a way for plugin authors and/or the original poster to close that thread so it cannot be hijacked by another user down the road. We constantly find situations where a thread that hasn’t been touched in months — usually relating to an outdated version of the plugin, and more often than not “Resolved” for the user who first posed the question — is brought back to life by a user who believes their problem is related to the original issue. It may well be, but for organizational purposes it’d make much more sense to make this second user log their issue separately.
  2. Marking an answer. How great would it be if plugin authors and/or the original poster could mark an answer as the correct solution? We’ve had significant success with this here on the tri.be site: once a thread is resolved we can set the answer so it appears in a green “Answered” box on the frontend, and so anyone who visits that thread down the road will know immediately where the solution can be found. On dot-org, where we’ve recently had a handful of threads that run 3-4 pages of discussion, an Answered option would save everybody some time and would generally keep things more organized. (As it stands now, if I view a thread that’s marked “Resolved,” I’d assume that there’d be something pointing to the resolution…but once I click into the thread I’m on my own to figure out which answer is the right one).
  3. Success isn’t always defined by “resolved threads.” From a plugin author’s perspective, we would get more value out of seeing a tally of “closed threads” or “unaddressed threads” count on the homepage than from the “resolved threads” count that appears currently.  Almost weekly I see situations where a user posted a thread and, despite our follow-ups, never came back to engage beyond posting that initial message. This thread isn’t technically resolved; but, since the user is no longer seeking support, it also isn’t still an active thread that should count against this “resolved” count. What we’ve gotten in the habit of doing is going back through all older threads from the past 2 months and marking those where the user never followed-up as “Resolved”, with the assumption they either found resolution on their own or moved on to another solution. But this isn’t ideal, isn’t accurate and isn’t a very good use of anybody’s time. If we could see closed threads (tying back to #1 on this list), we’d be able to more accurately track those that had come to a natural conclusion. Alternatively, seeing a count for “unaddressed threads” would immediately show our support team what needed addressing and would show potential users how many/few users a plugin author actually does follow-up with.
  4. Additional contact options to help users. Imagine you’re doing support for a plugin, and there’s a vocal user who is obviously frustrated. He’s having problems getting your plugin working, but when you respond to his thread he doesn’t follow-up…maybe he forgot to subscribe to email updates or perhaps he’s just moved on. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could contact that individual directly, either through a private message system built into dot-org or through old fashioned email? This wouldn’t need to be publicly available information; it could be visible only to plugin authors, and could even be something users need to opt-in to if they want to make themselves available that way. But for us — in situations where we either want to follow-up to make sure someone got their problem sorted, or so we can contact the user privately to request a copy of a conflicting plugin/database dump/etc — it’d allow us to be more proactive than simply saying, “Email us when you get this.”
  5. “Not a Support Question” threads. Including these in the broader list of active threads without any indicator that they’re not support-centric is misleading. Why not include some bracketed text in the broader list that says [Not a support question], the same way [Resolved] appears when a thread is finished? This way the support team could view the list of active threads and be able to prioritize what’s support versus what’s not. As it stands, when I view the list and see 20 new threads, there is no way of knowing how many of those are actually support questions until I click into them individually.
  6. “Slow down, you’re moving too fast”…really? This is the lowest priority issue, and it’s more a gripe borne of impatience than anything else. But when there are a bunch of threads that merely require a one or two word response — “Great!”, “Thanks for confirming,” etc — bbPress limits you in trying to respond to those quickly; the dreaded “Slow down” message appears (with a link taking you back to support that actually leads someplace completely different than where you came from). This is probably to safeguard against spam…but is someone running support really at risk to spam their users? Why not automatically allow all plugin authors to ignore the bbPress 30 second post throttling limit by default?

We love the dot-org forum and have built some awesome relationships with our users there. But we also know that there are areas it could be improved to help make our lives easier, and to allow us to provide better support to more users in a more timely fashion. And since supporting a free plugin doesn’t always have immediate financial payoff, the need for streamlining the process becomes even more important.

If you’ve got a plugin up WordPress.org, what are your thoughts? Did we craft this list in a bubble (which is very possible, given how support needs differ from company to company)? Or do you share any of these wishes / have your own to add? We’d love to hear thoughts in the comments.

16 Responses to WordPress.org support forums: more ideas for improvement

  1. Bradley Allen says

    All these points make good sense to me. Regarding 4., additional contact options to help users, you can now @username people, which will send them an email. The email comes from “WP.org matcher” and includes a link to the specific forum thread. The email also says, “After logging into your WordPress.org account you’ll see a link to the ‘Notifications’ section.” which is where people can opt-out of @username messages or adjust the settings.

    Reply
    • Rob La Gatta says

      That’s a solid point, Bradley — I wasn’t aware of the @reply functionality but just tested it out and it does seem to work as expected. That’s really solid…normally I’ve written the user’s name (ie “Hey bradleyallen, I’d like to help you out here…”) but going forward the ability to add the @ to the beginning will help ensure they see it right off the bat. Appreciate the tip.

      Reply
  2. Mario Peshev says

    All of the above are valid points that would definitely improve the usability of the WordPress.org support forums. I’m missing some phpBB, VB and Invision functionality even if it was out there 10 years ago by default and the bb implementation on .org does not support even a part of it.

    In addition to that I would add an extra note on gamification – a large number of top notch developers have been spending time on StackExchange instead of WPORG as it’s well organized (and includes several of the points above) and has a rewarding system, like, even by being free, making some contribution makes more sense.

    Reply
    • Rob La Gatta says

      A lot of the limitation, based on what I’ve seen, is due to the fact that nobody is really sure how to built a lot of this into bbPress 1.x. The 2.x build should allow it, but the amount of time/effort associated with making that upgrade is not negligible and Automattic does have a ton else going on so this probably isn’t a huge priority on their end.

      Interesting you brought up StackExchange. Shane was just at the Pressnomics conference this past week and when he was there, someone mentioned StackExchange…when viewing it we saw there was a bunch of discussion related to The Events Calendar. We haven’t had the bandwidth to jump in and respond there but it looks like a very intuitive and straightforward system. Hoping to start engaging and getting a better feel for that next week.

      Thanks for reading and for the reply, Mario!

      Reply
  3. christine says

    You raise some good points there Rob. I’m on the support forums a lot, but as a moderator and thus can see different settings. I think that some of the points you raise could be solved, or at least improved upon, by making you a moderator. Closing threads, marking them as resolved and changing them to “not a support question” would be available to you.

    I do like the ideo of Marking an Answer. That would be a great addition to the Forums.

    I had no idea that bbPress had a time limit. That must be why spammers write such long posts about NFL football. If only someone could kill spam forever… Sigh…

    Reply
    • DrewAPicture says

      I think that some of the points you raise could be solved, or at least improved upon, by making you a moderator. Closing threads, marking them as resolved and changing them to “not a support question” would be available to you.

      I think this along with Rob’s other suggestions point to a need for increased control by plugin authors in their “own forums”. Almost Moderator status, but limited to their respective forums.

      I’m not super familiar with the limitations in bbPress, but this added control + ability to mark answers would be a huge huge improvement.

      Reply
      • Rob La Gatta says

        “I think this along with Rob’s other suggestions point to a need for increased control by plugin authors in their ‘own forums’. Almost Moderator status, but limited to their respective forums.”

        Drew: definitely, that’s exactly what I’m getting at. When I see someone who is a moderator for WordPress.org coming in and taking point on threads — as I witnessed for the first time in the days after first publishing this article — it feels kind of weird. Why does this person, who has never been involved in discussion on this forum or with our users before, have more administrative capabilities than I do as the actual dedicated support person from MT? It wasn’t that I felt slighted by it (I didn’t mind at all), it just seemed weird to me and probably weirder to the users asking for support.

        Reply
    • Rob La Gatta says

      Thanks for the note here, Christine, and for the email you sent me yesterday to this same effect. The forum moderator status would indeed go a long way towards accomplishing many of the goals I’ve noted here, and I actually reached out to Mika via the link you emailed earlier today. I now have the desired capabilities :) I really appreciate the heads up on that end. I believe among those privileges, I do now get to bypass the dreaded “Slow down!” messaging. That alone has me super stoked.

      Glad to hear I’m not alone on the “Answer” functionality. For us, on the tri.be site, it makes reviewing a thread after-the-fact and being able to point another user with the same problem in the right direction a much easier and quicker process. I could absolutely see that carrying over to dot-org as well.

      Reply
  4. janbanks@caseylibrary.org says

    I just want to know how to get my new Events Calendar Pro to upload! So far nothing I have found has helped me, I just keep getting error messages and dead ends. I need someone to call me and talk me through the problem so I can use what sounds like a great product. The tutorials are not helping. HELP! 606-787-9381
    9-6 est M, T, W and F.

    Reply
    • janbanks@caseylibrary.org says

      Never Mind. I finally found a way to re-download my file and it worked, or at least it uploaded. Going to see how it works now. Sorry.

      Reply
  5. Phil Dyer says

    I applied the latest release and my calendar is now broken. I now get this error:”Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, null given in /home/p25lh1jc/public_html/wordpress/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 1039″

    How can I resolve?

    Reply
    • Rob La Gatta says

      Hey Phil: not sure what’s up with this, but if you have pretty permalinks enabled you shouldn’t be faced with problems here. If issues persist, mind posting to the forum? Comments on an article are harder for us to engage with, support-wise, and we generally can get a quicker turnaround time on things posted to the forum. Thanks in advance!

      Reply
  6. Donna Lutheran says

    I would like to know if the calendar can display – time ie (6:30p) preceding the title and how to do that

    Reply
  7. southernboyuk says

    Rob

    I have left message on both this portal and the forum

    The updated Events Calendar still has bugs (still pen for comments) and I would appreciate it if you could let me (and probably others) know if this is going to be addressed in your next release as the impact isn’t particularly nice.. Have a peep at the website and you will see what I mean re over sized and wrong font.The posts below teh Events is how it use to look pre update to V3

    Additonally I notice that when you place an event it now shows on the calendar every day, even if it’s only i.e. every Saturday. How does one achieve a ‘every Saturday’ or any other’ day every week’ rather than every day showing on the calendar. Is it possible in this plug in or any other of your software.
    Many thanks in advance

    Reply
    • Rob La Gatta says

      Hey there southernboyuk. Thanks for the note; I did indeed see your review at the WordPress.org forum and while I was a bit disappointed to see such a low-star rating, I can totally understand your frustration and want you to know we are working to address whatever bugs are reported as quickly as possible.

      It’s important to draw the distinction between bugs in the core plugin (which we’re committed to fixing and have already released a couple maintenance builds to address), and integration issues. The latter are harder to address for individual users since there is generally no one-size-fits-all solution. In the case of those issues particularly it is important to get those logged as separate threads so we can identify them; try to recreate them; and if we can recreate them, get them logged for our devs to fix.

      It sounds like, for the issue of events showing “every Saturday” or “three times a week” or anything related to recurrence, you’d need the PRO add-on. The core The Events Calendar does not allow for recurring events.

      Hope that helps. If you could let us know the issues you’re still having as of the 3.0.2 The Events Calendar launch, we’ll definitely do our best to get you sorted. We appreciate your patience in the interim.

      Reply

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