What Would a Great Forum Moderator Toolbar Look Like?

Moderating the MSDN Forums can be tough work.  There are posts to be edited, questions to be moved, trouble users to deal with, and of course, questions to be answered.  Internally, we’ve been using an application called “Answerme” to help ease the burden of this moderation.  Answerme’s essentially a webpage that allows us to add little pieces of metadata to the forums.  Outside of just the stuff that is exposed on the live forum site, we track extra metadata about the forums, such as what product team owns what forum, or what the internal customer support status of an individual question is.  Most importantly, Answerme allows us to assign questions to each other and soon, to collaboratively tag questions and search on those tags.  Yea, we joined the tagging bandwagon.  And, finally, to give credit where credit’s due, Answerme was written as a pet project by Josh, and was meant to last for about six months.  Nearly a year and a half later, Answerme’s still here, and won’t be going anywhere for awhile…  🙂

Now, Answerme’s a great tool, but it has a key shortcoming–it’s a tool that only works inside Microsoft.  This means that our community moderators–the real lifeblood of the forums community–are left out in the cold, with only the forum site itself as a tool.

I am going to be working on an IE toolbar for moderators of the Microsoft Forums that will allow moderators to have the same style of functionality that is available through Answerme internally–advanced search on the forums, question assignment, and community tagging.  I’d also like to add on some nifty features like forum thread bookmarking.  I’m planning on making this a project on CodePlex, and develop the entire project, specs and prototype to 1.0 release, with the help of the community moderators.

What would you like to see as part of a moderator toolbar?

Comments (11)

  1. Peter Ritchie says:

    Based on the most frequent tasks of a moderator (in order, based on current structure and published mandates):

    1> Tag post as off-topic, let the author know (by means of a reply post), and move to appropriate forum.

    2> Tag post as off-topic, let the author know (by means of a reply post, maybe a list of other popular sites like forums.asp.net, forums.iis.net, technet.microsoft.com, microsoft newsgroup, etc. And why those sites would be a better forum to ask that question), where an appropriate site is, and either change the thread from a question to a comment or mark the reply as the answer and lock thread.

    3> Tag a post as off-topic (reason: blank, incomprehensible, gibberish, offensive, abusive, "bump" post–neither offers detail to the question or offers an answer, etc.), inform the user (by means of a reply post), and lock the post. (Or inform the user by private communique and delete the post).

    4> Reply to a question as "asked and answered" providing link to answer (it would also be nice to know if that link was provided in the "Related Questions" region when the user first composed the the first post). (Or inform the user by private communique and delete the post).

    4a> Spawn a search for similar posts and "link" (sugar) to this post/thread. (Unless via private communique, else add them as detail to that communique).

    5> Reply to the question and mark the reply as an answer.

    6> Mark a reply as an answer.

    7> Notify administrator(s) of user bahaviour that could/should affect a user’s access.

    8> Private communique with user.

    9> View list of posts with x # of replies, that are answered or unanswered, in a given set of sub-forums or groups, posted in certain time-frame, contains a certain phrase.

    10> Search for phrase in post content.

    11> Ability to add link to thread/post or provide permalinks to individual posts within a thread.

    12> Add a "duplicate" post (okay, not something for a toolbar; but would be nice to be able to do as a moderator).

    Not all are "automatable", some are feature requests.  (I’m an engineer of software, that’s how my stakeholders sneak features in…)

    With the moderation ranks increasing rapidly, it would also be nice to be able to transactionalize a thread (taking "ownership" or locking out other moderators from certain actions) either automatically (with one of the above actions, if they are multi-step/time-consuming), or manually.  That way, if another moderator happens along the post/thread, they can know someone else is dealing with the thread and "currently typing", or similar; avoiding duplication of work and moving on to making the Forums a better place as quickly as possible.

    Alerts of new posts in a given group/set-of-threads would be handy allowing moderators to spend less time fishing for posts in their field and reactively responding to questions as quickly as possible.  As well, the search capabilities should at least match search.live.com.

    The above tries to take in to consideration:

    * Users don’t really know what they’re asking about, the topic they’re "really" asking (e.g. Billy-Joe-user is working hard on a program in Visual C# and has a question, everything else doesn’t exist, his job is on the line–his question relates to Visual C#–and asks his question about doing something with a WinForm control).

    * That last run-on, and that the user doesn’t know there are "better" places to ask a question of that topic any why their better.

    * Educating users about the MSDN Forums, their intent, appropriate questions, how to ask a question, and the other communities that Microsoft offers.

    * Avoids the appearance of the monolith silencing the complainer.

    Let me know when the project is up and running in Codeplex, and I’m in (user ID: ritchiep).

  2. americantesol says:

    Dear Joe,

    Your project sounds very exciting, and our Institute is seeking similar tools for our online students.  Perhaps we can be involved with conceptualizations for academic purposes.

    American TESOL Institute

  3. Peter Ritchie says:

    Code buttons would be handy too 🙂

  4. This is probably a feature request for MSDN Forums in general, but if we can do it via toolbar, that’s good too.

    I’d like to see the ability to mark specific threads, think of Watch functionality in Newsreader programs, and then be able to show a view with only the Watched threads. Assignment in Answerme is kind of like this, but Answerme is locked to Unanswered questions only, so you can’t continue to watch a thread once it’s marked Answered. (Answerme is also flawed (sorry Josh) in that you can’t see the thread in the tool, you have to open a new window to see the thread.)

    Building on earlier suggestions, many of the "mark as * and notify the poster" ideas would benefit from having the ability to use canned text. I store common responses, signatures and often used links in a separate tool, but bringing the functionality together into a single toolbar would reduce much of the management to one or two click operations.

    Now I’m just getting crazy — Go way beyond the storage of canned text and create a little knowledge management system that allows you to categorize your text to make it easier to find commonly referenced threads and existing answered posts, etc.

    Lots-o-stuff to store, did I mention I’m a database guy? 🙂 Let me know when the project goes on CodePlex, I’m in as well.

  5. I don’t think I would use a toolbar that much but want the functionality on the pages instead. Todays browsers are so complete that I have not feelt any use to have extra toolbars installed. Any feature a toolbar can do must be able to do via the webpage.

    The features I miss most is more advanced searches. Finding stale posts, for active forums these can be a few pages of browsing. To be able to do it in a subset of forums would also be interesting.

    Default functions/messages for otp and deletion of posts and allow multiple of those posts. Moderators are usually not posting dupes.

    For us moderators to have a specific contact for certain forums would be great. It is not always to be able to get the most proper contact point for some issues.

  6. Peter Ritchie says:

    Andreas, it’s unlikely we’d see all of this type of functionality anytime soon in the Forums software.  This software is shared amongst several communities; some not even development related.  Much of what moderators do or want to do in MSDN Forums would not apply to the other communities and waiting for changes to the Forums software to get some sort of impact analysis and regression testing should not include holding breath.

  7. Peter Ritchie says:

    Mike, I agree canned messages would be ideal–it was an assumption of some of my suggestions.

    One change in the Forums software would be required through: for moderators to have the ability to duplicate post.  Having a canned message would be pointless if you can only post it once 🙂

  8. Peter,  I am changing my mind. For the forums I would probably want a toolbar. There still need to be support for it but to be able to focus on what is important added functionality through a toolbar is probably most helpful.

    I would like a MSDN forum toolbar. Now I just need to get the IE team to implement a feature to only load/display addins/toolbars for specific sites. 🙂

  9. MSDN Archive says:

    Too bad the IE team doesn’t have a starter kit for writing managed add-ins for IE…. 🙂

  10. Well, it looks like I really am going to move forward on creating the moderators toolset that I first…

  11. A couple of months ago I created a small tool that utilized some of the cool meta tag searching capabilities