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

asked 2016-10-20 13:37:18 -0500

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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17

answered 2016-10-20 17:15:34 -0500

Polish Hacker gravatar image

updated 2016-10-20 17:25:43 -0500

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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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 gravatar imagemattdm ( 2016-10-21 11:40:22 -0500 )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 gravatar imagePolish Hacker ( 2016-10-21 12:22:57 -0500 )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 gravatar imagePolish Hacker ( 2016-10-21 12:26:26 -0500 )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 gravatar imagemattdm ( 2016-10-21 12:33:52 -0500 )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 gravatar imagetimon ( 2016-11-16 15:37:38 -0500 )edit
4

answered 2016-10-21 09:15:19 -0500

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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The problem isn't the software platform for the site. It's the fact that the the technoloy is overloaded, and that's not he sites fault. You could run the site on dialup if ther was some kind of product testing before it shipped.

umina gravatar imageumina ( 2018-04-22 22:22:42 -0500 )edit
7

answered 2016-10-24 08:11:46 -0500

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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1

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 gravatar imagemattdm ( 2016-10-24 08:22:18 -0500 )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 gravatar imageDavid-LDA ( 2016-10-24 08:31:49 -0500 )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 gravatar imageflorian ( 2016-10-24 10:36:12 -0500 )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 gravatar imageDavid-LDA ( 2016-10-24 13:23:05 -0500 )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 gravatar imagemattdm ( 2016-10-24 19:52:55 -0500 )edit
13

answered 2016-10-25 09:29:18 -0500

florian gravatar image

updated 2016-10-25 09:39:12 -0500

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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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 gravatar imageedwardc01 ( 2016-12-06 12:30:13 -0500 )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 gravatar imageBeta_OmegaAdinf ( 2017-02-20 18:33:21 -0500 )edit

YES YES, a thousand times yes. And until it clears, development on the next version should STOP.

umina gravatar imageumina ( 2018-04-22 22:14:25 -0500 )edit
22

answered 2016-10-26 07:40:59 -0500

Evgeny gravatar image

updated 2016-10-26 10:21:57 -0500

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 gravatar imageflorian ( 2016-10-26 08:16:58 -0500 )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 gravatar imagePolish Hacker ( 2016-10-26 08:23:29 -0500 )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 gravatar imageEvgeny ( 2016-10-26 09:21:11 -0500 )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 gravatar imageEvgeny ( 2016-10-26 09:23:14 -0500 )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 gravatar imageflorian ( 2016-10-26 09:25:33 -0500 )edit
3

answered 2016-10-29 10:58:29 -0500

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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1

answered 2016-11-03 10:13:29 -0500

zoltanh721 gravatar image

IMHO, I would say would be better to transform this place that utilizing already other INFRA tools, and resources. So IMHO would be great to attach here or send bugs to bugzilla, so devs can see it directly, and can have feedbacks not only by registered bugzilla users. Also, we gonna have Hyperkitty, and Hubs, that can form this site waaay more better. If IRC appering as a floating expandable window, we can have our community helpdesk direct, and open hours either if we want. IF we are able to connect this place with FedMesg, and other bunch of Fedora services that serves well with 2 way communication, that is able to appear in the desktop some way - that is a big win-win for the users, and for the developers, and for the community. I really would like to see Discourse, somehow with Hiperkitty, Hubs, Bugzilla, ABRT, we have web based package search tool, and more - integrated as part of the ecosystem.

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1

answered 2016-12-02 10:46:29 -0500

padraic gravatar image

Really I think it should be integrated into the Stack Exchange set of sites.

I believe there just aren't enough people posting and / or answering questions here.

77% of questions with some kind of answer seems quite low to me. What is the percentage of questions with accepted answers?

My problems with the site:

  • From my experience there are very few answers to questions.

  • Comments and answers tend to be used inappropriately, e.g. potential answers will be posted in comment boxes. "thank you" messages from OP's will be posted as new answers.

  • Moderation is too strict in terms of posting restrictions - for example I have asked 9 questions and contributed 3 answers but I still cannot post a question or comment without moderation.

  • the software just isn't great. Upvoting a question or answer can take a number of clicks. The markdown formatting seems strange and non-standard.

However I think the biggest problem is the lack of users. This reduces the chances of a successful question and of the site being a useful reference when others have a question. I have often searched for questions and found a number which are more or less on topic, but none of which have been closed.

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0

answered 2016-12-02 11:29:13 -0500

thingummybob gravatar image

My tuppence worth: I like that there is this specific place for Fedora, where we can find a community with expertise. That said, I've done a lot of recent problem solving through the official Fedora documentation plus pages at Arch. My point? It's that I think access to the existing documentation should be MUCH easier to come by - perhaps integrated into a more 'self-help' approach and that it should somehow become a natural route for problem solving before simply jumping on here/google and seeing if there's a similar question/issue.

That said, I recently posted a question on Stack Exchange which got downvoted, because (apparently) it showed "a lack of research or question unclear" err... if I'd known how to ask the precise question, I'd probably have known exactly how to find the right answer ;0)

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answered 2016-12-06 12:21:09 -0500

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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I just wanted to lend some support to Martin's second paragraph — I have an account at Ask Ubuntu, and I've brought my Fedora knowledge to bear over there several times... honestly, probably more times than here, simply by virtue of AU's integration into the larger StackExchange network. (Because I see sidebar questions from AU on one of the dozen other StackExchange sites I visit from time to time, and get drawn in... exactly how that's supposed to work.) There are very few true "Fedora-specific" user support questions, and lots of ways that all questions benefit from a larger audience.

FeRDNYC gravatar imageFeRDNYC ( 2017-07-14 02:34:54 -0500 )edit

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Asked: 2016-10-20 13:37:18 -0500

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Last updated: Apr 10