26th October, 2012
The ExpressionEngine forums aren’t what they used to be. Previously a place where EE users could help each other, and where developers could discuss add-ons they were working on or had released, the forums have turned into little more than a public support ticket system for EllisLab. The community has mostly moved on, and now spend their days lurking behind the #eecms hashtag on Twitter, reviewing add-ons on Devot:ee, and commenting on EE Insider articles.
There are many reasons for this. One of the most obvious nails in the coffin was when third party developers were told they were no longer welcome to provide support for their add-ons on the forums. Luckily, sites such as Devot:ee stepped up to fill this void, but many developers choose to provide support on their own sites. The problem with this fragmented third party support network is it makes it difficult for users to help each other. Even the most helpful user can’t be expected to check 20 different forums to see whether there are any threads they could help out in. With a central community support system, we could encourage users to help each other, which would lighten the support load on part-time add-on developers, and help keep add-on prices down.
Similarly in the EE forums, peer support isn’t encouraged or rewarded. The Technical Support forum is run like a ticket system, and any attempt to help others is met by an obligatory “Thanks for the assist - did that solve your problem?”. The Community Support forum is where threads go to die when EllisLab decide they are out of scope for their official support, and along with threads in the Feature Requests forum, are almost completely ignored by EllisLab staff. This lack of peer support means that EllisLab must spend more time providing support, and therefore have less time to invest improving ExpressionEngine for everyone.
The EE community really want to help each other. This is obvious by the overwhelming flood of answers to any question posted on Twitter under the #eecms hashtag, where users regularly jump on Skype to help each other out. However, there is only so much one can fit in 140 characters, and Twitter does not leave a searchable database of great solutions.
Enter Stack Overflow. Stack Overflow began in 2008 as an open place for developers to ask and answer questions. Later, it expanded into the Stack Exchange network, which allows anyone to create their own Q&A community, provided they can get enough support. Stack Overflow currently gets a few questions every day posted under the ExpressionEngine tag. However, it is mainly targeted at developers, and as such isn’t the best place for front end questions or add-on support.
Stack Exchange was built on the philosophy that properly phrasing a question is an important step towards finding an answer. Stack Exchange founder Jeff Atwood calls this Rubber Duck Problem Solving. Questions that would result in long, open-ended discussions are not allowed on Stack Exchange, and focus is placed on building a fantastic knowledge-base of information which will be useful to future problem solvers.
Stack Exchange matters because it will provide a place for the fantastic community currently hiding behind the #eecms hashtag to help each other. It will provide a great secondary support channel to compliment official EllisLab support, and will create a single place where third-party developers can provide open, community-assisted support for their add-ons. A Stack Exchange Q&A site will be completely supported and moderated by the community, rather than by EllisLab staff, and therefore will be free from business goals and intervention. Questions can be tagged with any relevant add-ons they involve, and add-on developers can subscribe to email notifications for questions involving their add-ons. Users who are particularly helpful in the community will be rewarded with badges and reputation points, which may even lead to future client prospects or employment for them. Finally, a database of useful solutions will be created, and future problem solvers may be able to easily find answers without even needing to post their questions.
To launch this Stack Exchange Q&A site, we need as many people as possible to commit to using the beta. If you haven’t already, please join us!
Want to find out more about the Stack Exchange network?
More posts in favor of the ExpressionEngine Stack Exchange proposal: