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Over the last year in particular, Ask Ubuntu has made a great deal of advancements regarding its standing in the wider Ubuntu community. The prominent integration in the new Canonical topbar, as well as help texts and install slides telling users about Ask Ubuntu gives us the unique position of being the source of information for people with problems with Ubuntu.

This, however, causes some unexpected issues: A lot of the questions asked nowadays are purely tech support questions - people dump a crash log or error message on us, give us little information about what they are even trying to do, and then expect us to find a solution for them. Mostly, these users don't stay or come back either, and just want their "question" answered. This, of course, hurts the site: We get a lot of low quality questions, and due to some of our shortcomings with closures, these questions stick around despite being utterly useless for us.

We need to get rid of this tech support impression. We're not tech support. We're here to help solve problems on a working Ubuntu, not fix a broken one. We're here to answer questions about how to use Ubuntu, not how to debug it.

Tech support inherently requires an awful lot of data, and an awful lot of interaction with other people. This does not mix well with the Stack Exchange format. We cannot have a handful of requests for more information in the comments section of every other question, and we cannot wait for these to be added at the asker's leisure and leave the question to rot in the depths of Unanswered in the meantime.

For tech support related to bugs, people are far better off on launchpad, and troubleshooting may be better served in a dedicated chat, on an Ubuntu IRC or even the Ubuntu Forums.

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  • Maybe we could ask Canonical to give us the same priority as other support sites, or lower than that. – Braiam Feb 13 '14 at 1:01
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    @Braiam Frankly, my personal opinion is that we shouldn't be in this position at all. We just flat-out aren't tech support and that won't change by them presenting us as such. – user98085 Feb 13 '14 at 1:04
  • Am liking where this is going. We mods need a lot of help from the community (Very stressing and tedious work). Ideas from the community are always welcomed. – Luis Alvarado Feb 13 '14 at 4:27
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    I could not have said it in a better way. All the tech questions discourage me to answer questions. – don.joey Feb 13 '14 at 8:29
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    While I agree that the "log dump" type questions you refer to are worthless, I have to disagree that we "are not tech support". You could rephrase it to say "we are not professional tech support" which would be true of most of us, "not paid" goes without saying. Good tech support questions can and are answered here on a regular basis. The key word here is "good", others are useless, as you stated in your question. – TrailRider Feb 14 '14 at 0:25
  • A case in point: last month I was testing a backup by restoring it to /temp but made a mistake and restored as root. This changed the permission of my /temp folder to root for all functions, this caused a loop when trying to log in even as guest as all the files that should have been created at login were not able to be written to /temp. Booting from a LiveUSB and searching AU it took me less than 5 minutes to find a question that had the same symptoms and fix my screw up and get booting again....Well written question and answer=tech support. – TrailRider Feb 14 '14 at 0:31
  • Upon reflection, I may need to clarify my point. If by "we are not tech support" you mean that "I just screwed up my computer, I have less than no knowledge and I'm going to need an hour or more of one on one time to try to even figure out how to figure out what is wrong" then I agree with that.....That is the kind of help that you might get from Microsoft(well if you've ever called then you know that is not even close to what you get). maybe I should say we provide simple tech support. (any contact with MS support will convince you that we do it much better anyway) – TrailRider Feb 14 '14 at 1:13
  • @TrailRider This is exactly what I would say. I personally can understand many people who think to rather ask away about a boot problem after installing Ubuntu... but I think to overall omit tech support for people dealing with Ubuntu isn't good. When people ask for support, I think it mostly ties in what searchfgold769.. is saying. – henry Feb 19 '14 at 16:00
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I see the arguments and I agree that some things are better off done in other places (hence our various closure policies) but we are tech support and we're not the only ones. Almost every Stack Exchange site handles the stuff you hate in some form or another... We all also handle better more interesting stuff too.

I've made my thoughts on how we filter out the crappier aspects. With technology I think we can handle duplicates and poor quality questions before they end up on the site. We can filter people onto the right site before they post.

I started a drive toward something like this in a Wizard but it's serious work that needs time I haven't had. I hope that's understandable.

  • As I've stated in the past, I love your wizard idea but due to time constraints, I've suggested what may be a simpler answer. – Elder Geek Mar 1 '16 at 14:00
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A lot of the questions asked nowadays are purely tech support questions - people dump a crash log or error message on us, give us little information about what they are even trying to do, and then expect us to find a solution for them. Mostly, these users don't stay or come back either, and just want their "question" answered. This, of course, hurts the site: We get a lot of low quality questions, and due to some of our shortcomings with closures, these questions stick around despite being utterly useless for us.

Idea here

Let's make changes to what people see when they actually go in intending to ask a cruddy "question".

We won't get anywhere unless we try to communicate information to our valued custom - AHEM the site visitors who want to ask a question.

There are changes we can make in the short-term (low-effort) to make some serious headway into solving the "tech-support" image and increase our question quality. (As Oli said, we are tech support, but we're drowning in impossible requests made by uninformed posters.)

Here's something that could be a huge part of the issue - This is all you see when you go to ask a "question".

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The one problem that we could easily solve that I'm betting will make a noticeable impact on the rate at which we see undesirable "questions" pop on the site concerns the "How to Ask" box:

enter image description here

This box of information has issues. It is the only thing new askers can rely upon to guide them into making informed decisions about creating a question. While its information may be correct...

  • It is located on the right side of the interface. Anyone in advertising knows that ads on the left side of the screen should always cost more than ads on the right side of the screen, because it has been proven that the human brain works in such a way that, when a person uses their brain to understand a website, it pays sooner and greater attention to the items and ads on the left (source: American Psychological Association). It has been theorized that this is because most people are trained to read from left to right. The same thing applies here because we are trying to communicate with people. So when people are going to ask a new question, they aren't thinking "Wait, I better read this thing about how to ask first...", they are thinking "TITLE! Let's get it started!"
  • So maybe the box should be moved to the left. But even then, most people seeking "tech support" will want to breeze past it and not pay much attention, opting instead to focus on their question which is of course the most important thing in the world and trumps any sort of reasonable guideline. We need to have the information in the box spread out across the page in noticeable places. When an asker clicks on the three page elements they are certain to click on (namely the "Title" box, Tag box, and question body editor) there should be some sort of informational, Yahoo! Answers-style box indicating these expectations outlined in the box (like indication of research). This kind of notification should verge on annoying, but the point is we need something to be click-activated and, if possible, moving, to let the asker know what the question expectations are.
  • The "asking help >>" link is nearly unnoticeable. The font size should be increased for this and the other things in the box.
  • The actual content of the box needs to be improved (see below). We should be urging askers to put important information in their questions, not treating them as if they are slow in thinking and taking an unintrusive, non-specific tone.

Moving on. The grey text reading "What's your Ubuntu Question? Be specific." needs to change. It's kind of useless and longish to read, and "Be specific" can mean many things to many different people ("Specifically how angry I am?"). Also, "What's your Ubuntu question?" is redundant.

  • We should change it to something that would actually get the asker to pay attention to some guidelines, yet retain the polite tone: "The more specific, the better.", for example. I'm sure there would be better examples, but what we have now could be improved.
  • We should have some grey text in the question editing box; it seems awfully blank and having some there would help improve and at least get people to think before they type. This would work best as a list of blurbs. For example: " _ Help us help you - provide as much detail as possible. _ Do a thorough search before posting - your question is likely answered somewhere else. _ Make sure to provide lots of technical details in your hardware-related question. _ Use proper formatting for code and quotes, grammar and punctuation; neatness counts!" This text would, of course, disappear once the box is clicked.
  • The "Tags" box grey text could also be refocused so people really think about the tags they put in. "Use tags as specifically as possible. (Max 5 tags)" or "For best results, use detailed tags. (Max 5 tags)".

Those are some things that we can easily do to improve the interface and gear it towards what we need to communicate to new askers.

The way I see it, we won't get anywhere at all unless we actually look at the source of the problem and make decisions now about fixing it. What do new users know about asking questions? Practically nothing. It is our responsibility to take care of that, inform them, and not complain about a problem that we really can and should solve on our own.

Some long-term ideas I will briefly list here because they involve more work than we are currently willing to put in:

  • Make a wizard everyone has to go through before they ask a new question, as was attempted last year (can't find it now).
  • Links to meta questions (in a noticeable place) about what exact details should be added in to hardware questions.
  • Improving the AU search engine to provide better dupe results and overall search results.

The main issue here is that we need to communicate to the site visitors more clearly, using tried and true methods by other websites such as Yahoo! Answers and other SE sites. Right now, SE in general is too easygoing and non-intrusive in their user communication philosophy for a site like AU. Rethinking these in the ways mentioned above would make a difference.

  • How we would propose these changes is a different matter, but it is my hope we can push some things like this forward and save the community lots of energy spent doing "clean-up work". – Richard Feb 13 '14 at 2:36
  • Are you possibly thinking of this wizard by Oli? It seems to be a good idea in theory, but I'm not sure how active or maintained it is now. – kiri Feb 13 '14 at 9:40
  • Yeah, that's what I was talking about. While it seems to be designed to help us better fit our new image as tech support rather than erase it, it is a good way of doing that if that's the direction we want to go... – Richard Feb 13 '14 at 11:48
  • Well thought out and excellently stated....another possibility is a "pop over" informational box that would come up and gray out the rest of the screen that replaces or reinforces the info box to the right. (this would be like the one that omgubuntu.co.uk has. it only shows up the first time you visit the site or if you clean your cookies, and goes away if you click the screen behind it) – TrailRider Feb 14 '14 at 0:36
  • @TrailRider Yes, that'd be another great solution because most of the low quality questions are by 1-reps. They come to the site intending to ask one question, and they do it incorrectly. We would have to ensure the box has good info, of course. But again - how would we go about making all this actually happen? – Richard Feb 14 '14 at 0:39
  • ummm, I have no Idea about the how that is way above my level of experience, I was just putting in my 2 cents(it might be more like 1.5 cents) only barely literate when it comes to something like that(and not at all in regards to html coding) (but I am a good cook, does that count for anything???) – TrailRider Feb 14 '14 at 0:59
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    @TrailRider Nah, I was asking, who should we contact to make it happen? Who implements these kinds of changes in the site? – Richard Feb 14 '14 at 1:07
  • Upvotes are nice and everything, but what are the chances we'll actually see a change? – Richard Feb 14 '14 at 1:10
  • I think that to see this live you should ask a feature-request question in meta. I recommend you separating each proposal in a separated Q. – Braiam Feb 17 '14 at 5:32
  • Wow, what a post. I wouldn't have the patience to type it up all that nicely. :) Well, since the general support nature of this site is so ubiquitous, I think you are even too soft on the user who submit a poor effort question. Usually people/mods always ask for steps already taken, system specs, partitioning details... well, whatever is needed, right. I actually got accustomed to mods closing help requests in another forum, because doing the "Alright, please post the output of xyz, then go to Hardware, then..."-thing for the umpteenth time, it'll wear you out. – henry Feb 19 '14 at 16:05
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The full version of my answer is here, I'm not going to repeat myself, and I also read your other post.

About this post, I totally agree with you, I stand by what I said in my other answer. I just want to comment on this:

We need to get rid of this tech support impression. We're not tech support. We're here to help solve problems on a working Ubuntu, not fix a broken one. We're here to answer questions about how to use Ubuntu, not how to debug it.

Linux mint forums got tired of "debugging questions" too, you could go there and have a look, Elementary OS moderators got tired too, and guess what? Both forums died. You know why? Because all Ubuntu based distros are known as "the beginner distros"

Zorine, mint, Ubuntu, Elementary, you name it, and if you don't believe me, go to youtube, and type "zorine distro review" or any ubuntu distro, watch any video, the guy who's doing the review, will give you a big smile and say "If you're a beginner, I definitely recommend this distro, they have a great community, you will never be left in the dark!"

Who's to blame? no one. So you think, I like Ubuntu? No way! I like Crunchbang and Manjaro, installed Ubuntu, because I wanted to make sure, that if I get an error (and I do get many errors), there's someone to help me.

Now you say, that I should debug my problems? Debugging would require me to read all the basic linux command, and understand what modules are loaded and how my system works. Well, in that case I go for Arch or Manjaro, get a bleeding edge distro, not having to worry about updating my system, and at least I get to show off on IRC on how I customized my OpenBox or written my own window manager.

If Ubuntu loses its tech support, it looses everything. This why people would go for Opensuse, this why people prefer Red Hat over Centos: Tech Support.

About your second question, duplicates, low quality questions and stuff: this is why I'm considering to leave AskUbuntu, I left many forums and Q&A sites because of that, and I might leave this site as well. Maybe I will only ask, but it's really boring to answer some questions and to flag and so on. God bless the mods, they are doing a good job in this environment.

  • +1:Not sure why the down vote, your answer seemed good to me.....I was going to try the Cinnamon Desktop after Unity took away the dodge windows(actually, I did for a very brief time) but was put off by the utter chaos of the Mint forums and the apparent complete lack of support. We need to be very careful not to become that. Luckily I was saved by JorgeCastro's script that hacked the dodge feature back in(thanks again Jorge). However, I also have to agree with the OP that the "log dump" with no real question or explanation is useless to everybody.... – TrailRider Feb 14 '14 at 0:53
  • @TrailRider yes, mint forums are dead, crunchbang forums too,the majority of forums are dead, including ubuntuforums, you see no one is born an expert, in order to become an expert you have to be a newbie first, and newbies get many errors and get frustrated and that happens, as ubuntu community grows you keep seeing these question, which aren't a bad thing, it shows you that there are many newcomers, you won't expect from a newcomer to spend time debugging, but for the expert users, that sucks :) – Lynob Feb 14 '14 at 10:50
  • Why do you feel #! forums are dead? Because there's low traffic? But support seems decent, IMO. Don't know about Mint. – Justice for Monica Feb 18 '14 at 3:33
  • @DKBose because only one guy answers your questions :) – Lynob Feb 18 '14 at 11:41
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If you guys think this is a problem *tell noobs * when they join cause that's the basic impression I got when I joined but if that impression was wrong, tell us noobs when we first join.

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    Don't worry. Just ask your questions :) If people can answer, they will. – Justice for Monica Feb 18 '14 at 3:39
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    @DKBose Ask your well-thought-out, detailed questions that aren't duplicates. – Richard Feb 19 '14 at 20:40
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Here's a thought.

Why not force the reading of the how to ask page for new questioners on the site? (Not Rep based but visit based) Say new user, (last seen never) goes to ask a question clicks on the ask a question link gets routed to the how to ask page which must be read in order to continue to the question box.

We could take the same approach for a first time answerer (previous answers 0) and the how to answer page.

I believe there are a great many users who clearly don't know how the site works and treat it like a forum. I'm sure all of us have seen questions and answers that exemplify this.

It's my contention that enforcing a minimal education through a forced timely display of these pages would be useful. I know that in the short time I have been here I have been corrected many times and made at least my share of mistakes, but at least I actually read those pages. Had I not I'm certain my results would have been "Meh, not so good"

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