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Poor quality forum questions - a solution?

Poor quality forum questions have been a problem for as long as I’ve been round here, e.g. “Why doesn’t my gadet work?” with hardly any other info. If anyone has the patience and kindness of heart to seek out clarification from the questioner then it wastes their time and isn’t always rewarded. You can click “No” against “Is this a good question?” but I don’t like doing that and so discouraging the questioner, however dumb the question.

Yesterday I needed to post a question on stackoverflow.com (not a forum which suffers fools galdly in my experience) and found they had instituted a structured process for submitting questions, it would seem in order to address this very problem. You can still go back to the old freeform method but by defaut it guides you through a number of steps, thus:

  1. My question is about: some code / a hardware recommendation / software recommendation … 6 radio buttons to choose from.
  2. Identify your tags by completing the sentence, “My question is about…”
  3. Title: Imagine you’re asking a question to another developer.
  4. Summarise your problem.
  5. Include background, including what you’ve already tried.
  6. Show some code which demonstrates the problem.
  7. Describe actual and expected results, including any error messages.

It seems to me that a similar scheme round here might work well, suitably adapted.

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Hi there. The suggestion for a more structured Ask process is a valid one. I’m not sure if we’ll ever make it as structured as Stack Overflow, but we may take it more in that direction. Poor quality questions help nobody, and I appreciate everything you all do to fix or remove low-effort posts. We have some automated tasks on our side to try to prompt askers to improve their questions when they don’t receive responses. That said, there are a few differences between Stack Overflow and iFixit that make it a little more complex.

At iFixit, one of our goals is to make repair accessible to everyone, including less technical people than SO would tolerate. Unfortunately, that means we get a lot of duplicate or unanswerable questions from people unfamiliar with the process of asking for help online. I really appreciate that our community has set a standard of politeness and respect well above what I expect from SO or really any other online community. We have well over a 50:1 upvote to downvote ratio on iFixit, and that says a lot about how positive and helpful our community has been to these types of posts. But the fact remains that low-effort unanswerable posts waste the valuable time of our answerers and moderators while also distracting new users looking for help with the same problem. All that to say, if you see a question of low-enough quality, don’t hesitate to downvote it or delete it outright.

Many of our new users come to iFixit after Googling their problem. The least helpful thing we can do is send them to an unanswerable version of their question. We make a huge effort on our side to give Google the best quality questions we can, but that depends in large part on the humans of our community voting, moderating, marking duplicates, and fixing spelling mistakes, especially in titles.

Anyway, thanks for for the suggestion. I can’t say that we’ll make the Ask process identical to SO’s, but this issue is on our radar! I appreciate what you all do to keep the site helpful, friendly, and junk-free. Keep up the good work!

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Thank you, that's encourageing, but PLEASE DON'T make the process identical to SO! For a start it's not strictly applicable as it is and as you say, we want ours to be much more friendly.

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@sterlinghirsh - I'm always amazed how many Google & Bing searches pop an iFixit question that's solved when I'm looking for something. We collectively make a difference!

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What's really weird is when you are searching for an answer and the top solution on Google is...an answer you've already provided on iFixit :>).

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@pleriche

I totally agree with you about the quality of some of the questions. We have been talking about this for almost a decade on here. Take a brief look at some of those

Answers: necessity to identify the problematic device to get an answer

Why can't some people figure it out themself?

I believe that if you make stringent requirements to post a question or an answer, it will become too difficult for our many international users. ESL posters seem to have always struggled with providing the information needed to get their question answered. Now, iFixit does have “advice” on how to a ask a question, but I do not think anybody ever really gets to see it. https://www.ifixit.com/Answers/Advice Maybe this page should pop up once a request to ask a question has been made.

My concern is just that we will lose the interest of the community that may have language barriers or the many users that really do not have the technical ability. Sites like stackoverflow.com are most certainly awesome, but will never be visited by the 72 year old widow trying to revive her late husband’s riding mower or the 12 year old student with a broken laptop.

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I absolutely take your point that we don't want to put off a young 72 year old widow or the kid with the broken laptop, nor to put up barriers for non-native English speakers, but I sense there are a few who can't be bothered. Fire off a quick question to iFixit which costs nothing except someone else's time rather than taking the trouble to think. (I'm sounding like a really grumpy ol'git - that's not my intention!) In my experience, composing a good question as often as not enables me to see the solution, or at least another way of tackling the problem. I agree, putting a page full of guidance in the questioner's face is unlikely to have much effect but I feel there might be scope for a light touch guided path for question submission.

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I am in total agreement with you on this. A well formulated question with all the required elements would make everybody's lives so much easier. Whenever I come across a question that is less than stellar I try to solicit more information from the OP. I either ignore it or moderate it away if there is no clarification after a few days. I hope you can find a better solution to this and you will have my support with that.

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How about an automated email to the OP with suggestions on how to improve the question if the question gets no traction. Sometimes short questions are very clear and require no more details so you can’t just base it on length.

The other possibility is that a moderation option include “send advice/suggestions to OP”. That way contributors don’t waste time trying to extract additional details and it’s really up to the OP to add details or not.

As for StackExchange, I find their approach to be too far to the other extreme. You get flamed, downvoted or both for even the slightest transgression. The regulars seem to take more pleasure in stepping on people rather than actually helping them. It’s not a pleasant environment :>). Basically it’s an expert site that helps other experts.

iFixit is quite the opposite and kudos to @oldturkey03 and @mayer for making (and keeping) it what it is.

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I'm not sure an automated mail would work too well as the worst offenders seem to be simply too lazy to submit a good question, and very likely too lazy to improve it if they don't get the desired anwer given to them on a plate. The moderation option would only formalise what public spirited people round here already do, in submitting their improvement suggestions as comments.

I'm certainly not advocating emulating StackExchange which I agree, is not a pleasant environment and nobody would want to make iFixit remotely like that. But that's not to say we can't learn from them and adapt any of their ideas to our much more friendly environment.

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At some point, something has to be tried...there is no perfect solution otherwise it would already be implemented. Anything is better than nothing :>).

What's concerning is the total lack of input from TPTB. Until they take an interest in this, we're just wasting our breath. If they don't care about this, I don't see why we should. In practice, I tend to ignore poorly worded questions altogether.

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@pleriche @refectio @jayeff @mayer @sarahw @danj do you guys think it would be okay to be a little harsh with those "offenders"? How about this. Lets vote those questions down and let the OP know why that question was voted down. If the OP makes changes, etc., we can remove the downvote. If not, we can mark it for deletion or delete it within a week of having been posted. The problem with that is only the one that downvoted can remove that vote. I am okay with giving it a try. @refectio we are TPTB Power to the People

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@oldturkey03 You know, I have voted 6000 times and never once was it a downvote. I actually take some pride in that (why, I can't say :>). That's not to say I haven't been tempted...

But there are a few contributors here who have a more sensitive trigger finger when it comes to that and I don't see the point in piling on once the message has been sent to the OP. Otherwise, it quickly turns into a "StackExchange scenario" where everyone takes glib pleasure in downvoting anything that is not perfect.

I don't have any issues with folks who downvote (except with those who "mainly" downvote), I just don't plan on doing it myself. A quick comment request for improvements should be all that's necessary. If the OP doesn't respond to that, I don't see why we should attempt anything else. Thats why I suggested the moderation approach. It would be quick for the regular contributors and the OP would get an automated response. Beyond that, it's up to them if they want to get a better response from the community.

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@refectio @pleriche @jayeff @mayer @danj okay, so we'll skip the downvote and agree that we are going to leave a comment for the OP to provide additional information. If not, we'll mark it for deletion and delete it within a week of having been posted. That way we do not have a bunch of unanswerable questions malinger around. How does that sound.?

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While you may not know it I often clean up the questions!

I try to do the least amount of edits so the thrust of the question is clear and is grammatically correct (as best as possible) and have any typos and spelling errors fixed. If a picture is added via a link I post it within the question and when people dump a crash report I remove it and post it as an attachment.

While I tend to focus of the Mac stuff I also try to hit the others when things are slow.

As far as nudging OP's I think you'll see @mayer @oldturkey03 and myself often post comments in the question trying to get more info so a clearer answer can be fleshed out.

We also delete clearly off the wall questions or ones that are click bait.

Answers are always tricky! Clearly spam is deleted, I often try to move duplicates under the oldest answer that is the same or move them up to the question when it's just another case condition. The system does a good job in collapsing multiples. I don't like losing the multiples as sometimes the fact they are present offers credence to the question or answer.

Up and Down voting on answers which are better or wrong so the better answer is on top is the goal in my opinion. I mostly upvote but in some cases I need to down vote. If there are multiple answers which where posted within an hour I assume neither one knew of the others answer and vote both up.

I do agree with @oldturkey03 we do need to scrub down questions that never get a response from the original poster when further details where asked for and never given.

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I do not change the grammar in a question as for me it tells me a lot about the OP.

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@mayer and I better never correct anyone on their grammar. I‘d be shooting myself in the foot LMBO :-)

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I think a downvote of the question is warranted on some of these. If the question is so bad you need to consider down voting it temporarily then the OP needs to rewrite it from scratch or delete it.

However, that should only be saved for questions with severe issues and shouldn't be handed out like candy.

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Thank you all for keeping this discussion going—this is an excellent conversation, and you’ve all contributed thoughtful suggestions!

We definitely hear all of your concerns—this is something that the Community team at iFixit wants to improve. It would be ideal to leave the process open without overwhelming the user to answer a bunch of prompts, but as we all know, they often don’t provide enough information for us to offer a helpful solution. In this case, as @oldturkey03 mentioned, it would be worth asking the OP for clarification.

If nobody engages with their question after a period of time, the OP will get an email asking them to expand upon their question.

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To me, the goal is to help someone remedy their problem. Fact is, in lots of cases, you simply have to have more (and more specific) input from the party posting the question, in order to have a chance at being effective in offering valuable feedback. Thus, a round or so of contributor questions and solicitor replies is spent attempting to get those specifics, before any real considerations can be made, regarding their dilemma and it’s solution.

I’m inclined to agree that the ease of posting questions is critical, so the format has to be fairly tolerant. At the same time, asking a question that gets no response, or gets questions about the original question, etc., is no fun for the party with the question, and perhaps as discouraging as a slightly more involved method of posting the original question might be.

The first part of the “ask a question” format, where the particular device is identified, seems to be on the right track, to me, but lacking perhaps just a couple more fields, such as one for an appliance model number, or in the case of a car or truck, fields for things like the specific engine, 2 or 4 wheel drive, manual or automatic transmission, etc.

Not sure just how the feasibility of modifying the existing format by adding a few fields in the “select device” section might be evaluated, but suggest that such may be at least worth considering. The problems dealing with poorly structured, incomplete and/or vague questions, etc., would continue to hamper things, but at least the device specifics being available from the start might be sufficient to the extent contributors could begin looking into the problem, right away, thus saving time and offering the first round of feedback sooner, and more substantive and therefore potentially rewarding for the party with the question, who may, as result, feel they’re making progress and on the right track.

So that’s my 2 cents worth on this topic. Otherwise, just want to say I really enjoy being a participant and think this site is potentially a great resource for all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, including those who struggle or are challenged in some way, and it’s just great to be a part of it.

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@fixnpop59 great ideas and excellent feedback. Welcome to the iFixit community!

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@oldturkey03 Thanks for the kind remarks. And I appreciate the welcome, as I'm really enjoying being allowed to participate.

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Philip Le Riche will be eternally grateful.
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