We're in an odd situtation as Stack Exchange has long-established communities and so has Ubuntu. We need to ensure that we communicate best practices to the existing Ubuntu teams.

How do Ask Ubuntu and Stack Exchange work?


2 Answers 2



  • Too long, won't read? Watch Jorge's video.

  • Read our FAQ.

  • Check out the style guide for formatting help.

  • You can log in with your Launchpad user by clicking the Launchpad icon on the Login page.

  • Unlike forums and mailing lists, this concentrates on highlighting the good answers, and downvoting the incorrect or bad answers. It's not a replacement for discussion, just a more efficient way to get answers. The about page has a picture which illustrates this best.

  • A ton of value comes from finding a question and answer via a search engine. We want a good answer to be the top hit for "How do I use the me menu?" Don't worry if the questions are scrolling by too quickly on the front page, this isn't about tracking discussions.

  • What is Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow? Joel's announcement for stackoverflow.com mentions the motivation behind this method of Q&A. More information on Stack Exchange in general can be found in the Stack Overflow community FAQ (much of it is general, some is specific to SO).

Asking good questions

  • People will upvote your question based on it's quality, so put some effort into it. If you don't get any answers to your questions keep at it, you can edit as often as you'd like. This will give it a natural bump, and people will be able to watch your progress in adding more detail. People tend to help/upvote people who are actively trying to investigate their problem.

  • As soon as you post your question people will leave answers and comments. Comments are like "meta" for the answer - do NOT reply with an answer or another comment, having a conversation here is difficult and it's designed to be that way -- when people ask you for more detail edit your original question and add all the information there. People will then update their answers. You'll continue in this ping pong manner until your question is answered.

  • One question per question. It's easier to search for duplicates and to vote for the quality of answers when you ask one question per post instead of one huge post with multiple questions.

  • You don't need to put "Ubuntu" or the version in the question title, use tags instead. For example, instead of "How to install foobar in Ubuntu 10.04?" you can say "How to install foobar?" and tag it with [foobar] [install] [10.04]. This makes the questions easier to read on the front page.

  • The more detail the better. "Sound doesn't work" or "A question about firefox" doesn't tell us anything. Your title should be clear and easy to understand. As you are investigating your problem feel free to edit your title to make it more specific, this will help it get the attention it needs.

  • As you add to your question, if you end up finding the answer, then answer your own question (example) so that future readers can benefit from it!

  • If someone answers your question, accept it as the answer. This is an important part of the process and rewards the people trying to help you.

  • Not getting the help you need? If you're not getting answers to your questions (or at least upvotes) then it could be that your question is too difficult to understand. Here are some tips on improving your questions. Keep at it, the more detail you add the better chance we have of helping you!

Giving good answers

  • Try to give people an easy to understand answer, adding screenshots is a great way to help people. Here are some tools to help you. The site itself handles image uploads, so you don't even have to worry about that.

  • When recommending software link it to apt.ubuntu.com so it's easy for people to install.

  • Don't only link to random sources on the Internet. Any person can type their question into Google and do that. If the information is good and under an open license, just put it in the answer (don't forget to link to and attribute the author). Try to make your answer the definitive answer to the question and also send them to the official documentation your team supports.

  • Edit, edit, edit should be your mantra. — If you've got a good answer and someone adds more detail, integrate it, and remember to always respect an individual's work.

  • Ubuntu has existing teams that work very hard on documentation, take advantage of them, try to find and link up existing Ubuntu documentation when you can.

Keeping the site useful and running smoothly

  • You can delete things! If the questioner updates a question and your answer is now wrong, delete it! Same with comments. Was your answer wrong and is just getting you downvotes? Kill it with fire!

  • After you get some reputation make sure you are voting good questions and answers up, and bad answers down! Check out this guide if you need help deciding on criteria on how to vote.

  • Sometimes after the questioner updates their question your comments don't make sense anymore, feel free to delete them to keep the site clean.

Integration tips for Ubuntu teams

  • Many teams keep FAQs on the Ubuntu Wiki. Since Ask Ubuntu has tags, you can use this system as a "living FAQ". See the [kernel] tag for an example.

  • "I am already a subject matter expert on foo, give me rep and stuff to start weeding out junk." — No. It doesn't work that way. If you're an expert start answering questions it works itself out. This is the same system that keeps the junk out, so if you are an expert then you'll have no problem.

  • This is not a replacement for how-to guides your doc teams have been working on for years. This is a place for answers to individual questions. Do ensure that in the answer you do link back to the place in the documentation that your team is already maintaining. Consider this another avenue that users will use to get to your information.

  • This is not a place to report bugs, though we will get new users that will want to do that. Be patient by pointing them to the right place and voting to close those questions (flagging for moderator attention if necessary and you're sure it should be closed). You can downvote for asking a poor, unclear, or not-useful question, but downvoting for asking in the wrong place isn't necessary.

  • Existing Ubuntu Contributors: Fill out your user page (example) with what you do for the project. This will help people learn who you are and your level of expertise.

Spread the word

  • We need help getting the word out, we have some ideas on how you can help, especially in places where users are already asking you for help.

One thing I would caution against is just pasting in a bunch of questions from an already existing collection of frequent questions. The Stack Exchange engine seems to work best when participants are asking questions they really are trying to answer.

In my experience many of the questions in traditional FAQ listings tend to seem very hypothetical (even when they are not). Please don't take this as some kind of blanket statement (I find such statements are rarely useful, and I'm not a Stack Exchange expert user) but rather an encouragement to focus on more individual and more interesting questions.

On the Stack Exchange blog there is a post from Robert Cartaino (the Stack Exchange community coordinator) where he comments on seeding a site with questions. Although the Ubuntu Stack Exchange is now in public beta, I think the comments there are still relevant. In particular, two comments stand out to me:

  • "... if people feel that the author doesn’t really care about the answer, the whole exercise would likely be perceived as a waste of time."
  • "... if you want to ask question just for the sake of asking questions, at least make them really good ones."

Jeff Atwood also wrote about early questions in a post about the launch of the original Stack Overflow private beta.

I will attempt to illustrate with a couple of the FAQ-style questions that are listed under the kernel tag. I think these questions are slightly awkward in the Stack Exchange environment because they really don't have a question body.

In any case, the two questions are about communicating with the kernel team and getting involved with the kernel. Here is how I imagine those questions as if an individual had asked them. I won't presume that my suggestion is particularly good - it still feels very 'invented' - but hopefully it communicates what I was trying to say.

How can I contact the Ubuntu kernel developers and help improve the kernel?

I'm interested in helping out with development of the Ubuntu kernel. Where should I go to find out what needs to done? And, how can I get in touch with the kernel developers?


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