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Ask Fedora: Is it working, and what's the future?

asked 2016-10-20 18:37:18 +0000

mattdm gravatar image

Hi everyone. I'd like to take a moment to discuss the status of Ask Fedora, the potential for the future, and where we should go.

As it stands, the English site has over 17,000 questions, with about 77% of those with at least some answer. That's pretty impressive. The Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese sites have 400-some each, and the other languages just a handful. We've got a community of reasonably-active users, although I'd describe it as a dedicated core rather than an army.

However, the Fedora Infrastructure team tells me that they are spending an increasing amount of time keeping the service just running, and don't have any resources for improvement. The upstream project is not dead, but it's just one developer, and there are many, many things that are painful. The notification system is next-to-useless, the moderation system is a copy-cat of Stack Exchange without the backend tools that make that work smoothly, the badges aren't integrated with Fedora's badges, the close-as-duplicate system is awkward, and we have weird things like "closed: this question is answered!" which is the exact opposite of the goal of building a library of knowledge. I'm sure regular users can think of a million things that could be better — but prospects of that improvement happening are slim.

So, I want to have this discussion. As a community, what do we think? Do we want to keep the service going like this, or should we look to migrate to a new solution of some sort? (If that's what we do, there's no shame in that, or any diminishment of the excellent and helpful work everyone has done so far despite the difficulties I mentioned.)

If we do want to do something else, I can think of several possibilities:

  1. Direct everyone to Stack Exchange as our official answer. Stack Exchange is not open source, so that's a big negative, but they are very friendly towards open _content_, and everything there must be CC-BY-SA.
  2. Set up a Discourse forum as a replacement. It's less Q&A focused, but maybe that's okay — if we're already closing questions as answered, that's more like a help forum anyway, so maybe that tool would actually be better. (And Discourse has a solved plugin which we could use.)
  3. Or, skip Discourse and create a regular mailing list and use that for help discussions. (Users could be pointed at the Hyperkitty interface.)
  4. Fedora Docs is working on a new infrastructure for short help documents; we could have a queue for questions and every week focus on new docs around the most interesting ones.
  5. Or, we could combine 4 with 2 or 3 — that is, have a way to flag forum/mailing list discussions to be sent to the Docs team. We'd use the forum or list for immediate help, but use that to build up a genuine FAQ with frequent and interesting questions from real ...
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16

answered 2016-10-26 12:40:59 +0000

Evgeny gravatar image

updated 2016-10-26 15:21:57 +0000

Hello, I'm the developer of Askbot software and I hear your concerns. Perhaps you could consider allowing two-three months to improve the current service before you make the decision for a change, I will try my best. Regarding the one-person team - true, there is only one committer to the repository, but about 100 people in total have contributed so far.

Cheers. (Btw, this site is using an older version, upgrading would improve this site - in fact I can help you do the upgrade, then you will be able to at least see how the current version works).

edit - after looking at the rpm indeed I can say that your deployment seems outdated and not designed for a significant traffic site. I would at least update and deploy this site properly at first. I'm more than willing to help, just get in touch ( evgeny.fadeev@gmail.com ).

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1

Sounds good. My question to you is if it would make sense to run a bugzilla somewhere to keep track of the bugs. Would Fedora/Red Hat will be able to recognize ask.fedora as one their products (of Documentation) and add it to the existing bugtracker at bugzilla.redhat?

Or do you recommend the community to file bugs and Requests for Enhancements on your [github](https://github.com/ASKBOT/askbot-devel)?

florian ( 2016-10-26 13:16:58 +0000 )edit
1

Can you detail the sorts of changes you intend to implement in the next 2-3 months? Are there long-term improvements you can make to ease the burden on the Infrastructure Team? Thanks.

Polish Hacker ( 2016-10-26 13:23:29 +0000 )edit

@florian, it would be the easiest if bugs are submitted via the askbot github repo. @Tom Dworzanski - to start with - update your site - there are some usability improvements in the latest version - and optimize the deployment if necessary, then address the issues that your users find important. On the longer term I am planning better support for bootstrap to improve theming and a better API. I would like to work on the usability improvements and on improving the software quality from the viewpoint of internals and ease of deployment and configuration. Some real time features are interesting

Evgeny ( 2016-10-26 14:21:11 +0000 )edit

I'd like to know what difficulties your Infrastructure Team had, perhaps we could get in some contact... This site can be made to run smoother.

Evgeny ( 2016-10-26 14:23:14 +0000 )edit
1

https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Infras...

--> Infrastructure team mailing list

--> #fedora-admin on freenode

There should also be couple of issues listed on Infrastructure's bugtracker

florian ( 2016-10-26 14:25:33 +0000 )edit
12

answered 2016-10-20 22:15:34 +0000

Polish Hacker gravatar image

updated 2016-10-20 22:25:43 +0000

I would suggest setting up a pilot Area 51 site on Stack Exchange to gauge interest in a dedicated Fedora Project site. The software that runs the current Ask Fedora is a copycat of Stack Exchange, but one that I find lacking. Migrating to Stack Exchange would take the pressure off the Fedora Infrastructure Team in maintaining this site and would give Fedora users the same best-in-class Q&A site resources available to competitors like Ubuntu.

Having a dedicated Fedora site on Stack Exchange would give the Fedora community the ability to set its own rules while moving the technical obligations to the Stack Exchange, Inc. It would also expose Fedora's questions to a massive community of users who I believe value the gamification benefits of a Stack Exchange site over those offered here (I certainly do, no offense -- it's just more recognizable).

I'll go through some of the options and points of concern:

Discourse: While Discourse is a highly innovative forum system, it is hardly easy to run. If you're having trouble maintaining this site, something like Discourse will not be easier. Moreover, Discourse is not a pure Q&A site and there are many UI decisions that, while innovative, are not common and can be frustrating to new users. Discourse is built by some extremely intelligent people, but those people have opinions and they may not want to make adjustments to the Ask Fedora use-case.

Mailing Lists: Mailing lists are a great tool and have their place in the development world. However, that place is not end-user support. Mailing lists are great for a smaller group of core stakeholders who want the intimate integration of email communication in their work. To get support from a mailing list on one-off questions is difficult and requires many steps. The same is true for giving support. I believe the steps and commitment required by mailing lists and their prevalence in open source communities is a core reason for the success of Stack Exchange. Mailing lists may also be viewed as arcane to younger and less experienced users who are more used to social media for their communication. I don't think mailing lists are an appropriate replacement.

The Current Software: I only recently started using Ask Fedora. I successfully asked a question and successfully answered a question. As a long-time Stack Exchange user and contributor, this software feels much less refined to me and with misplaced features. For example, my Markdown recently took upwards of 30 seconds to render. On Stack Exchange Markdown renders (practically) instantly. This software also has features that encourage poor practices. For example, after signing up, Ask Fedora requires a certain point level to simply up-vote an answer. To me this policy feels Draconian. On Stack Exchange, decisions on how best to set the technical details on community administration have been well tested and refined to provide the best possible end-user experience. While I'm sure Ask Fedora administrators mean well, they simply ... (more)

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Comments

1

FWIW, there has been at least one Area 51 proposal for a Fedora site, and it did not catch on. That may be somewhat to do with a smaller user base, but I think it's also because Ask Ubuntu predates the current Stack Exchange model; I'm not sure if that would have a separate existence from Unix/Linux were it to be proposed today. We could try again, but I'm not sure it would succeed. What do you think about simply targeting the "fedora " tag at http://unix.stackexchange.com/?

mattdm ( 2016-10-21 16:40:22 +0000 )edit

@mattdm You're right, there is no guarantee it would succeed. The Area 51 process is really a product of gaining the participation of a large community. I think it would take heavy promotion on the Fedora Project sites (like a banner at the top of every Fedora Project page) to encourage Fedora users to support for the Area 51 proposal. That being said, there's nothing wrong with you or someone with appropriate authority at Fedora/RedHat to contact Stack Exchange about the likelihood of success.

Polish Hacker ( 2016-10-21 17:22:57 +0000 )edit
1

@mattdm Unix/Linux is also an option, however they have their own rules. So I'd say it's an okay "second option." I think it would be most ideal if Fedora had its own site because then _our_ community can decide the scope of what's on-topic, how aggressive (or not aggressive) the moderation should be, etc. My opinion is that the two (dedicated site vs a tag on Unix/Linux) should be considered as independent options and weighed independently against keeping this site, Discourse, etc. I feel a dedicated site would be most ideal. Unix/Linux is a good option as well but slightly less compelling.

Polish Hacker ( 2016-10-21 17:26:26 +0000 )edit
5

If decide we want to go that way and have enough pre-commitment from the Fedora community, I'm willing to try another Area 51 launch.

mattdm ( 2016-10-21 17:33:52 +0000 )edit
1

@mattdm At the time of the first Area 51 proposal, how many users did Ask Fedora have? Maybe "we" can do some sort of mailing and a little sidebar "advertisement" on the Ask Fedora site. That could help a lot for the upvotes on the Area 51 proposal.

timon ( 2016-11-16 21:37:38 +0000 )edit
11

answered 2016-10-25 14:29:18 +0000

florian gravatar image

updated 2016-10-25 14:39:12 +0000

In my personal opinion, The Fedora User Community deserves a Q/A site. As we can see at *.stackexchange.com, the Q/A-type forums are very successful because they are very user friendly, simple, efficient and sustainable in terms of knowledge retention.

How a future Q/A site for Fedora should like? I don't know. I'm using ask.fedora quite a bit and I know many things that are not ideal but from an end-user perspective it is mostly functional - I know, it's causing headache for infra team, so probably time for change but is there no way to find a sponsor to fix and further develop our current askbot?

In regards to stackexchange, I find it weird that Free Fedora would host content on a non-open source platform. Moreover, I doubt it would be possible to transfer the existing knowledge of 17,xxx questions with answers to another platform. What would happen with ask.fedora? Take it offline?

Maybe we set up a wiki page with all solutions and their pros and cons.

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Comments

I agree that as a user we need a way to ask questions and receive help in a way that doesn't discourage question (ie. smart ass answers). I think that this site has been successful at that. I have asked a few questions and always received help. I know I have used stackexchange.com for other help (database and web servers) and have had less than helpful answers. Just my 2 cents.

edwardc01 ( 2016-12-06 18:30:13 +0000 )edit

@edwardc01 I get the same thing. I've moved away from stackexchange due to the fact that the community aggressively attacks posts that are "too easy" or will flag posts as being duplicates even if the supposed original question has technical differences that matter. I've gotten more " Google it " or " This question has already been asked. I'm flagging it and down voting the question into Oblivion" than I have actual help, which is disappointing and discouraging. And the help I do get ( sometimes ) is usually posted in code way above my skill level with no explanation as to what it is doing.

Beta_OmegaAdinf ( 2017-02-21 00:33:21 +0000 )edit
7

answered 2016-10-24 13:11:46 +0000

David-LDA gravatar image

I think the current "ask fedora" site is OK and a million times better than a mailing list!

It might have a few flaws, but for people new to Fedora it is a wonderful idea. You can ask a question and get an answer right away... amazing. It gives a feeling of community, I think it would be terrible to loose it.

Maybe there is not an out the box solution to replace it right now, but there might be in the future. I am pretty sure a good Drupal 8 developer could re-create this entire site in not too long a time. Maybe miss out the badges, depends on the budget.

If a special dedicated version of this site could be set-up on stack exchange keeping all the Fedora branding and previous answers then that would be the 2nd best solution.

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I don't think we could keep existing answers if we moved to Stack Exchange. And actually, importing existing answers to any new solution would be a lot of work. It's my impression that while the site does a pretty good job of answering questions which hit the front page, the archive is not of very high value. It's _really_ hard to search (a lot because there isn't a culture of curating and editing questions to make them into canonical references, which in turn is because of some of the flaws in the software I noted). And I almost never find Ask results in Google searches.

mattdm ( 2016-10-24 13:22:18 +0000 )edit

I agree the search is bad, but i think the main problem is that it suggests old answers that are out of date. It should prioritize newer results. Not sure why Google is not picking up the site properly, but SEO can be fixed relatively easily.

David-LDA ( 2016-10-24 13:31:49 +0000 )edit

@mattdm: True, searching on ask.fedora doesn't work super well. Using google and adding a site:ask.fedoraproject.org is much better and very efficient.

florian ( 2016-10-24 15:36:12 +0000 )edit

That's a good tip! This is a classic example of a usability enhancement that could be implemented by the developer very quickly:

https://support.google.com/customsearch/answer/2630969?hl=en

Little 'low hanging fruit' things like this would be quick and easy to add to the existing site.

David-LDA ( 2016-10-24 18:23:05 +0000 )edit
1

@florian That would definitely help site users, but it wouldn't help bring in people who don't already know about the site.

mattdm ( 2016-10-25 00:52:55 +0000 )edit
4

answered 2016-10-21 14:15:19 +0000

snowolfe gravatar image

Unfortunately I don't know enough about other options to provide a meaningful discussion. I can say that I would like to see the "ask fedora" site continue in some form, which based on existing knowledge, would mean a continuation of the existing site or a migration to stack exchange.

I am not a big fan of mailing lists and have never used "Discourse", but having been involved with documentation in a variety of forms - some integration with the "Docs" team could be beneficial, although exactly how that might work I am unsure.

Not much help - I know - but I wanted to confirm my desire to see the site continue in some form!

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4

answered 2016-12-06 18:39:47 +0000

edwardc01 gravatar image

I'm not a fan of Stack Exchange as often user who ask a question receive much attention but little help and often the question is just taken off for some technical reason. I have used Ask Fedora several times and received the help I was seeking in a professional way that was a learning experience instead of making me feel that it was something I should have known or been able to find somewhere else.

I would hate to see Ask Fedora disappear as that would leave users very little options to find the knowledge they need to fix some of the obscure things that pop up in this leading edge system.

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3

answered 2016-10-29 15:58:29 +0000

Period22 gravatar image

From a user point of view, I think Ask Fedora is a very useful site. I visit often and learn quite a bit. I can't say anything about how much work it is for the administrators but I would be sad to see it go. Like others, I would find a move to stackexchange strange because it is not open source. Although that would still be a better solution than a mailing list. Don't know about Discourse.

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3

answered 2017-02-25 04:15:54 +0000

deadrat gravatar image

updated 2017-02-25 04:46:21 +0000

I would say a big NO to Stack Exchange. I think initially our folks decided to use Askbot instead of the Stack Exchange because AskBot is open source. Stack Exchange Inc is a for-profit company, and though that is definitely not a problem in itself, it just reminds us to be a little cautious. AFAIK, we have to chip in a good sum of money to get the Enterprise version of Stack Exchange. If they let us host in their infrastructure for free, they might want to place advertisements in the site , etc. Moreover, I don't think you folks at Fedora community would move to a Proprietary Stack Exchange. The community has made several decisions so far to stay with Open source software ( like switching from Transifex to Zanata etc.) In long run, we might be better off improving our site. As we could see, the upstream of AskBot is quite friendly. We should work with them, if possible/required, to make any improvements to the site.


From a User's perspective, though I have run into few issues whilst using the site, it works most of the time. Just because it works now, it doesn't mean we have to leave it as it is.

For most of the things, there are more than one way to do stuffs. So our QA like site helps most of the times. But we can also have some folks to convert some important information from this site to Fedora Wiki. Though Fedora wiki currently have decent amount of information, I have a feeling that it leaves us wanting for more.


But, I am just an end user of Fedora who sometimes visits this site. So, it goes without saying that YMMV.

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2

answered 2017-02-27 14:11:51 +0000

DaveRo gravatar image

updated 2017-03-11 14:22:15 +0000

I am not a Fedora user (long time SuSE user, me) but seeing this thread I thought I'd mention a Firefox addon I developed for another askbot site and which should work with Ask Fedora. It helps identify questions that have had comments added since your last visit, and (usually) automatically scrolls down to them.

Firefox addon - Jolla Askbot Unseen Posts

Although written for Jolla Together it works with Ask Fedora and some other sites. You need to change the 'includes' option to specify this site's URL. For example this string is the one I use for testing - you could just copy it:

["https://together.jolla.com/questions/*","http://askbot.org/en/questions/*","https://ask.fedoraproject.org/en/questions/*"]

I suggest you read the Jolla Together thread here, especially if you intend to use Firefox on Android:
https://together.jolla.com/question/1...

If you have problems or questions, there's an email address on the Firefox addon page.

(The Chrome version has been discontinued.)

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2

answered 2016-12-06 18:21:09 +0000

Martin Ueding gravatar image

I usually use unix.stackexchange.com for the questions. There is a Fedora tag and often the questions I have are not really Fedora specific. Especially keeping in mind that Fedora tries to use the upstream software unmodified, this is more true than for instance of Ubuntu.

The Ask Ubuntu site is neat, but a significant part of the questions have nothing to do with Ubuntu in particular, they are about Bash scripts or upstream software. To me it would make sense to have Fedora questions on unix.stackexchange.com (with Fedora tag) and also the Ubuntu questions there (with Ubuntu tag). I do not really understand why Ubuntu needs its own site even though a lot of the questions are relevant for other distributions.

This site here is based on the best intentions and runs open source software. That is great! The fragmentation that is causes seems to hurt the repository of knowledge, though. Since I cannot really judge whether this site or Stack Exchange has better chances of getting my question answered, I would suggest to migrate this to unix.stackexchange.com and offer a smoother experience for everybody.

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Asked: 2016-10-20 18:37:18 +0000

Seen: 2,564 times

Last updated: Mar 12