This morning I had the opportunity to present to a group of community leads for the Windows Server some of the things we’re doing over in Developer Division around community. Of course, I spent a bit of time talking about forums and how they’ve been working for us. It’s incredible—we’re now hovering right around 4,000 questions per week, and although the overall two-day answer rate is still around 40%, we’ve seen some major strides being taken by groups inside of DevDiv (congrats to the Visual Basic team, who has the largest forums and is hitting a 75% 2 day answer rate!) The Windows Server folks, via their new TechNet forums (http://forums.microsoft.com/technet), are just starting to get their feet in the water with forums, so it was great to share a bit of DevDiv’s success.
Of course, whenever I talk forums, I end up having a conversation with somebody that suggests something cool that would make the forums even better. This time, it’s thinking about what to do with follow-up questions in a thread. Currently, somebody asks a question to start a thread. Usually, there’s a bit of back and forth that goes on before a reply is made that is marked as an answer. Up until this point on the forums, that answer marking closed the thread. Moderators move on. I notch one win for the good guys. You get the picture.
The problem is that that answer can sometimes spur a follow-up question which needs more discussion. The answer marking tag essentially keeps some of our best experts from looking at a thread again, so that follow-up question will just sit there, unnoticed.
Now, I love the answer marking, and one of the reasons I like it so much is the closure that it provides. I like the fact that we know when a thread is “done”. But what do to for the follow-up questions?
A simple proposal I have is to allow a user to attribute a reply to a thread either as a “response” (default), or an “additional question”. The thread will still be considered “answered”, but a moderator or another forum user would be able to look at threads that had “unanswered follow-up questions”. Once a reply posted after the follow-up question is marked as an answer, the thread would be removed from that list.
My fear is that this is too complicated—it’s adding the complexity of threaded conversations without the elegance. The other option is to continue to build a culture where the best place to ask a new question is always a new thread. What do you think?