I'm going to be bold on this one. I do not want to raise controversies, I do not intend to cause any heated discussion and I do not wish to complain about how AU works. I am just going to share my observations that worry me.
I feel a great urge to discuss the matter of the general scope of Ask Ubuntu. It's not like I feel it's wrong, I do not attempt to question it nor to apply any changes. I just need to make sure that what is going on is The Right Thing.
Now, what is my point?
Have a look at some activity that takes place on Ask Ubuntu. Looks like browsing the recently active questions is a good way to see a glimpse of what's going on. What sort of questions do we see there? Pretty predictable if you are not new here.
About 5% of the questions seen there will be those cool "how do I do ", "what should I do to configure XYZ", "what does the is", "how does ABC work", "why does Ubuntu do BLAH this way". These questions are lovely and I guess we all welcome them, as they are very likely to be valuable to future visitors, some of them are plain interesting, and... oh come one, you know what I mean.
The next group of questions, probably around 10% of new questions are these average "how to add a second launcher", "what is the cli command for ...", "can I install XYZ" etc. - these common questions that are interesting for some users, have some real potential of being useful for others, are not very canonical, but still represent some knowledge that is worth exchanging.
But the vast majority, more than 3/4 of questions are plain boring support requests. "trouble when upgrading ...", "dpkg fails with ", "kernel panic when browsing internet", "why is my BCM4313 failing to perform DHCP blah blah, here are my system logs, what should I do?". This is fine, and we all agree it is okay to ask these. For a long time we were eager to answer these, and I am not trying to say it's wrong - isn't Ask Ubuntu oficially listed as the community support for Ubuntu? :-)
Yet a closer look at these questions worries me.
- Most of them is going to be marked as duplicates.
- Most of them should be closed as too localized, but not always it feels right to close a question just because it refers to some rare bug affecting a very unusual hardware configuration.
- Almost all of these questions never get more than 30 views. (I recall there were statistics for average views, the "answered" factor etc. but somehow I cannot find them)
- Very little of them is going to get at least 5 upvotes.
- Many of them are not likely to be answered, because of different reasons, including the difficulty to dig into rare configurations, as well as the following:
- A large number requires to be discussed with the OP first - asking for details, suggesting commands to type in etc.
These facts are, again, what we all realize and have gotten used to.
It wasn't always this way, these of you who remember AU from few years back can recall that the percentage of such support requests was much smaller. This has changed once AU started being recommended as the support website. Also it's clear that the more questions have been asked, the less likely it is that a new one will be something interesting. Therefore this process is not reasonless.
But that's how things are, right? Now I am asking you to think for a while about how does this phenomena affect Ask Ubuntu, both in terms of its content and in terms of community.
The first thing I notice is that Ask Ubuntu fails to provide top-quality support for newcomers. There are several reasons for that:
- In order to keep AU clean we do our best to detect duplicates. Because of that, it is common that a slightly different problem gets treated as a duplicate of something that will not help the OP. We have to do it this way, otherwise we'd need separate "how do I configure network" for each network card! But the side-effect is that the questions are generalized, and very often the OP may feel wrong, when their question gets closed, but he realizes that it's not a perfect duplicate.
- It turns out that the reputation limits for some actions are participating in this effect too. A newcomer to Ubuntu needs help with something - they are headed to Ask Ubuntu, they start with 1 rep point, and they lack some goodies we are used to, like comments. If their question gets mistakenly closed, if they are asked to comment with more details, their experience becomes painful. You're going to say that that's how the rep points are supposed to work, and I totally agree, but this does not change the fact that it makes life harder for those who just want to request support.
- Select some of these questions at random and see for yourself how much of them need/needed some discussion - including "please tell us what your graphics card is" as well as "does XYZ work for you?". AU is not really a place for discussing matters, it is also not suitable at all for leading OP through step-by-step "do X and tell if it helped, I'll tell you what next". This is thing for the forums, but apparently a huge number of those who ask new question need that sort of help (even though they usually do not realize that their question would be best turned into a free posts exchange).
If you happen to pay attention how people who are not active in the community (the "just common users") see Ask Ubuntu, you must have noticed that since some longer time they are getting more upset about how are their questions treated. A lot of users in my local community, as well as random folks on the Internet, have some sort of imperfect experience with Ask Ubuntu - be it their question getting closed while the original duplicate does not help, or any other reason. It kind of seems like AU is not the perfect place to ask "please help" (which is not a question, by the way).
In general, even though I am not a forums fan, and do not use them myself, I end up recommending the forums to Ubuntu newbies as the place to ask for help. The forums are mainly a platform for communication, and they do not care about content as much as we do, so probably it's a better place to go in order be helped by someone.
Another significant problem that I am experiencing is that because of what an average question has become, I contribute by writing answers much less than I used to. This is not only caused by the fact that it requires much more work on my side, as so many questions are specific to some hardware or software-configuration. Main reasons are that my answers would not be helpful to anyone but the OP, and that mostly I can't just answer, I'd need to ask the OP so many things before we start.
I can bet I am not the only one who would love to write more answers, but is put off by what questions are available. So that is another factor in which this state of things contributes negatively to the quality of the site: writing answers gets so much less rewarding!
I can't really decide myself if I am happy with all that or not.
On one hand, it is obviously great that we provide such support, that many people have their problem solved thanks to AU.
But then again I feel like these questions are killing us. Please review again the first bullet list in this post. Are these questions really worth much?.
Comparing the amount of similarly case-specific, unlikely to be any interesting to future visitors, and localized questions to other Q&A sites - nowhere it is that bad. Maybe we're getting of the Q&A style?
Or maybe just general support is not fit here? That would be a very bold and controversial statement, yet maybe the general question policy needs to get reviewed. I can't imagine Ask Ubuntu not welcoming everyone with their questions, though, there must be other way.
Unless this is all fine and sound. Maybe the situation is not that bad as I see it?
I am unsure what is wrong, if anything. I would be really glad to see what others are thinking in this matter. Maybe you need to explain me why I should stop worrying about AU quality :-) Or maybe that phenomena I described is actually something worth noticing.