What happens when you “Ask a Question” on MSDN?

So you’ve searched for answer, but no one seems to have solved your problem yet and you need to ask a question about Visual Studio 2005 on the MSDN forums.  Your question is posted and hopefully you’ll get a fast answer.  

One of our goals is to support our early adopters on the forums by keeping the answer rates high.  We feel it’s necessary because there really isn’t much external expertise built up around the Visual Studio 2005 products and we want you to be successful with our beta releases.

To help achieve this goal we needed to build a question assignment system for the forums that allowed us to track questions and assign ownership internally to one another.  There was a short amount of time to do this and most of our developers where busy making sure we actually shipped the forums and Visual Studio 2005 beta 2 so I decided to see what I could do in 2-3 weeks time with SQL Express and Visual Web Developer Express.

I hadn’t written Asp since before we added the .NET… so I was amazed with what I was able to accomplish.  With that said, let me walk you through the “AnswerMe” question assignment site/system and what happens after you ask your question on the MSDN Forums Beta. 

1. You ask the question
At this point your question shows up in the unanswered questions RSS feed for a forum. There’s no pretty picture I can show, but the AnswerMe site reads the RSS feed and creates a new version of the question in the AnswerMe database that is not yet assigned.  For the sake of this demo I'll track the history of a question about the possibility of TechNet Forums.

2. Mail is sent to forum owners
Every day a mail is sent to the internal owners/sponsors of the particular forum that shows them the “Unassigned” and “Assigned” questions. 

The questions can also be seen on the AnswerMe web site.

3. One of the forum owners assigns the question
When this happens a mail is generated to the new owner on behalf of the person who did the assignment.  Actaully, I'm lax on security here because anyone internal to MS can assign questions. I log everything and show it on the question history so I can track down what happens. 🙂

4. Daily mails are sent to question owners
Quesiton owners get a daily mail with the summary of questions they own in AnswerMe until the questions are marked as answered in the forums or they find a new owner for the question. This mail looks just like the forum mail shown above with the difference being that the questions in the table are assigned. 

NOTE: If the community answers the question then it just disappears from the system because answerme checks the status of unanswered questions in the forums hourly when it pulls for new questions. 

NOTE2: Internally we also add the concept that a team owns a forum. In this pic you see the forums the C# team owns. This way members of the C# team can quickly see unanswered questions that thier team is goaled against. 


I know that this isn’t exactly rocket science, but I was impressed with how easy this was to get going.  This site has been in use on my dev machine for the last month or so while I've added new features and tweaked things.  I cheated a little by starting with the Personal Site Starter Kit.  In fact, several of the pages still refer to styles for sections as “Albums” and “Photos” rather than “Forums” and “Questions”.  I suspect I won’t be alone in my hackery with the starter kits once people start using Visual Studio 2005 more.

Comments (3)

  1. Neat. On the topic of questions, where does one go to ask about security in .Net 2.0? Is there a technet forum for that too?

  2. senkwe says:

    Josh, one of the things thats currently irritating about the forums is the fact that too many questions get posted under the wrong forum topic. (e.g. ASP.Net questions under C#) Maybe you guys could add a feature that would allow (admins?) forum owners to re-post to the appropriate forum while alerting the questioner of the move.

  3. MSDN Archive says:

    Sushant: Right now in the .Net General group. We are working through the best location for some groups like security or general testing questions at the moment. There will be a better home as the site starts to expand.

    Senkwe: This is really bad right now because moving posts is actually prevented due to the NNTP syncing. Next month (when the next service pack is made) that switch will get flipped and moderators will be able to do just what you suggest… move threads.

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