The following question was posed to me on my moderator nomination

Is there any concrete issues you would like to focus on as a moderator?

My answer is what amounts to janitorial work, but I'd like to ask you, the community this question - what are the problems (outside of our formerly dropping answer rate and related sadness) that Ask Ubuntu is currently experiencing, if any?

  • Whoa, who said the answer rate was dropping? I seem to recall it being at 72% - now at 75%. If anything it's rising :) – Marco Ceppi Jan 31 '12 at 13:22
  • @MarcoCeppi I did not state that it continued to drop, was just stating that it had been a problem and (imho) will continue to be a "constant headache" until we, the community reach critical mass. Edited to clarify what I meant by that. – jrg Jan 31 '12 at 13:23
  • The current problem would appear to be a misuse of code formatting where blockquote markup would be more appropriate. *hint*, *hint* – TRiG Jan 14 '17 at 20:11

For me, the worst part of AskUbuntu compared to StackOverflow is the influx of bad questions.

One example to hand (not necessarily the best example) is https://askubuntu.com/questions/97637/ubuntu-11-10-freezes-on-boot-just-installed.

What I think is bad about this question (at least at the moment I'm writing) is:

  • The title sounds like something that might apply to anyone but there's no good reason to think another machine that freezes will be doing so for the same reason.
  • There are answers (which should be, at most, comments) where other people report similar problems, probably from different causes
  • The question is incomplete and it's likely to either stay that way or turn into a long comment thread to eventually work it out
  • Questions like this are unlikely to get votes or acceptance

The result is that it does not produce a wiki of reusable answers in the way that StackOverflow aspires to do.

I wonder if AskUbuntu should actually send people who are having machine specific problems to either file a bug, or a Launchpad answer (though that ui is not great), or to some other site that is user-friendly but better suited to an ongoing user-specific question (getsatisfaction.com?)

I wonder, too, what we should do with these questions. Sometimes they are answered in a way that helps that individual user, but they are generally not adding value to the site. I am inclined to start downvoting them, but this seems unfair to the questioner, who doesn't know they're doing something bad.


To summarize the comment discussion so far: we can improve AU by just pointing the user to bug filing advice and promptly closing the question.

  • 2
    You bring up some good points - in fact, a lot of good points. – jrg Feb 1 '12 at 1:40
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    We're supposed to be sending those to Launchpad. I usually leave a comment when something should be a bug and vote to close. – Jorge Castro Feb 1 '12 at 1:55
  • In fact, as if to prove my point, my g+ post about this has a comment with a random complaint about hardware bugs. – poolie Feb 1 '12 at 2:23
  • @JorgeCastro, thanks, I would be happy to do that more. – poolie Feb 1 '12 at 2:24
  • @JorgeCastro Don't we need a bug link to close? While it's nice to talk about what we should do, in practice identifying problems and finding/creating their bug reports is a pretty daunting administrative burden. Meanwhile, dumping a question like that on AU takes twenty seconds. – Jjed Feb 1 '12 at 2:28
  • @JacobJohanEdwards We're a Q+A site, not a bug tracker for people who don't want to use a bug tracker. – Jorge Castro Feb 1 '12 at 2:30
  • I should point out that generally speaking we do okay with most tags, the boot tag however tends to collect nothing but questions like this. – Jorge Castro Feb 1 '12 at 2:30
  • @Jacob, I think most of what takes time in creating a bug is understanding what information needs to be provided (lspci, kernel logs, whatever), and uploading it. That is not going to be any faster on AU, and in fact it may take a lot longer because AU doesn't have tools like ubuntu-bug, or because there are more round trips. If people have a problem that's unique to their situation and not an existing known problem, they are going to need to do that work at some point. – poolie Feb 1 '12 at 2:32
  • @JorgeCastro I'd like it that way, but the voted consensus here indicates that it should be a known bug to close. Am I misinterpreting it? (If so, free cocktails for everyone) – Jjed Feb 1 '12 at 2:32
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    Jacob, that was about known bugs. But, here I'm talking about things that typically don't have enough details to know whether they are an existing bug or not. That process of digging in to them is probably better done on lp. – poolie Feb 1 '12 at 2:36
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    I'm sorry but frankly I doubt that you are really able to compare Ask Ubuntu and Stack Overflow. I don't know if you can see the big picture on Stack Overflow which is by far the site with the biggest quality issues. Ask Ubuntu is like heaven compared to Stack Overflow in terms of quality. What you described is just a common problem on every Stack Exchange site. – Octavian Damiean Feb 1 '12 at 8:11
  • However that doesn't mean that I don't agree that we also have an increasing quality issue. – Octavian Damiean Feb 1 '12 at 14:34
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    In some cases, what the asker needs is the proper support forum rather than the bug tracker, of course if the question can stay on topic and be answered on AU, then all the better. For all the potential benefits a bug report may or may not bring, filing one is probably more trouble than what the average user is expecting to solve the problem at hand. – prusswan Feb 9 '12 at 11:55
  • @OctavianDamiean OK, the comparison of AU vs SO may not be rigorous. I personally notice more problems on AU, but I interact with it very differently (more answering vs searching.) It may very well be a general SE problem. – poolie Mar 8 '12 at 1:21

I don't think the user growth by itself is a problem.

Up until October we weren't doing so bad, we had the right "ratio" of experienced users who could handle the traffic. Then we got mentioned in the installer and got a ton of traffic. Unfortunately for us we were overwhelmed in new questions and not enough people who could vote for duplicates, and we've been backlogged this entire cycle with abandoned questions.

Up until then we were growing in a more steady rate and it wasn't so bad. I think if we would have naturally gotten to this amount of traffic we would have enough mid-to-high reputation users where we could more easily handle the incoming questions.

  • The people who bother to do cleanup are either limited by running out of close votes or overflagging. It's increasingly difficult to close questions. So we end up flagging.
  • So now we have too many flags and not enough people to look after them, so now we need an election, which should help.
  • Either way I don't think more moderators solves too many of the problems, we still need a core group of experienced users to handle closing questions. Moderators have "supervotes" which means they can close questions in one vote. When they do that it feels heavy handed and IMO it's no substitute for having the community manage it's own questions.

I think eventually at some point we'll reach equilibrium with the amount of people over 3k who can vote to close and over 10k people who are basically already moderators can manage this kind of incoming question load.

Poolie is right that we're getting swamped with questions that should be bug reports, a scan of the tag is a wasteland of dead bodies. I think part of the problem is that we're getting too soft on the amount of questions we allow here and we should be stricter on pushing people to the bug tracker or the forums for "soft" questions like this one.

(196 posts in , 196!!!)

  • So you're advocating closing more things as a bug or moving to forums. I have to agree, we're no longer "Question and Answer", we're doing a lot of other things as well. – jrg Feb 1 '12 at 2:52
  • We need another cleanup day. – William Feb 1 '12 at 2:56
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    How will another day help? A bunch of us are already doing it every single day until we run out of votes. – Jorge Castro Feb 1 '12 at 2:57
  • I agree that we will get more and more 3k users as time passes but that alone won't do it. We have to find a way to get those users involved in the maintenance tasks. Since we organize that kind of things in chat it would be a good start to get more users to use the chat and to promote Meta.AU. – Octavian Damiean Feb 1 '12 at 8:17

I do not mean that Ask Ubuntu is doomed or anything. But there are things we can work with to make it a better site.

One problem is that Ask Ubuntu has a relatively high influx of new content. More content means more janitorial work. Thus, a relevant issue is: how can we get more people to do janitorial work?

Another, but related, problem is that some questions lack in describing the problem at hand such that they are hard to answer without lots of guesswork. So, a relevant issue is: how can we encourage people to write answerable and researched questions?

  • Question one is in our hands. We can try to involve more users to actively maintain the site but question two is not in our hands. It is a very old problem that I've been trying to solve on Stack Overflow. The result of my attempts can be read here. Currently there is no long term solution to the problem that users deliver low quality content. – Octavian Damiean Jan 31 '12 at 14:55
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    @OctavianDamiean Indeed, the second problem is as old as problem solving, but still I feel we can do better in informing new users and commenting on lacking questions to edit and include relevant info. – N.N. Jan 31 '12 at 14:57
  • True, we can try to educate as many as possible but in the end we won't have enough people to help us. – Octavian Damiean Jan 31 '12 at 14:58

One answer is growth.

I wouldn't call it a problem thought on the contrary. The more people use Ask Ubuntu the better however growth has certain side effects.

Two of those side effects are an increasing influx of questions and the higher probability of lower quality content. What this means is that we will have to put more effort into keeping the quality level up to our standard (In other words we have to push our cloning research effort so we can clone Jorge a couple of times).

To answer the question directly I'd say other than being active and helping the community to reach their goal there is not much a moderator should do on his own.

Note: By helping the community I meant encouraging them to get involved and own their community. I'd also like to point out that this is something that jrg already successfully did.

  • More specifically growth is the problem in that growth means influx of more content and influx of more content requires more janitorial work. The problem for Ask Ubuntu seems to be that we need more janitors to handle the influx appropriately. – N.N. Jan 31 '12 at 14:41
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    You are right. Of course, an influx of more content is directly proportional to the demand in janitors. – Octavian Damiean Jan 31 '12 at 14:43

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