[FORUM] is it time to look at the Forum support?

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[FORUM] is it time to look at the Forum support?

Postby TerryE » 19. Jun 2008, 04:46

I think that the VirtualBox product is a fine contribution to the FLOSS arena, and certainly looking at the code its architecture and implementation are very clean and of a high standard (if you leave aside the usual lack of comments). It is now third in the ranking of VM products and give users a powerful Open alternative to the main competitors (VMware and the MS products). The user population and % penetration is probably growing daily. This is the good news.

Now the not so good. This site and user support model is really aimed at the VBox user demand of a few years ago and just isn't matched to its current success. The forum is based on phpBBV2 which is now pretty obsolete, and its configuration has some odd user-hostile aspects (no memberlist, unnecessary minimum times between posts and searches, no effective access patch for users to contact administrators for help). 31% of topics (650/2,115) posted in the last three months have gone unanswered. The Wiki is thin and there seems to be no mechanism to allow non-Sun employees to add valid material. The User Documentation is really written for IT literate / proficient users rather than typical end-users.

I suspect that the real reason here is the the VB team are victims of their own success, and they just aren't really resourced to respond to this demand. My suggestion is that they consider sharing the support burden with some of the non-Sun members of there community.
  • You need to upgrade your website H/W and S/W. The upgrade path to phpBB3 is straight forward. The H/W ... aren't you owned by Sun?
  • You need to appoint some extra forum admins / moderators. Why not invite some of you longer standing frequent posters such as Sasquatch?
  • You need to think about how you resource active administration of this site. (No more mail outages; active account management). You need to develop a support community to improve answer %ages and quality.
  • You need to open your Wiki to 3rd party (possibly moderated ) contributions.
  • You need a mechanism for converting this body of forum knowledge into simple user-friendly guides and FAQs for the problems that keep coming up on the forum. (I could list off a couple of dozen old favourites for a start.)
I would be interest in what other forum supporters think here.

Edit: This now a shared VBox team / community goal so I though it useful to change the topic title from "Guys, is it time to take a new look at your support model?". What this space over the next few months :-)
Last edited by TerryE on 11. Jul 2008, 19:14, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Phobos » 19. Jun 2008, 06:14

I like some of your ideas... but...

Personally, I don't have any issue with phpBB2... it's a good, tested (not obsolete at all) system that just works... (why change something when it's working fine?).

The User documentation is fine as it is... You don't usually find so well written and complete help such as vbox's on most FOSS projects... I don't think it has to be dumbed down to be useful for everyone.

I like the wiki idea... I don't know if moderators/admins are really needed, but they might as well be... please explain further on this.
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Postby hege » 19. Jun 2008, 06:53

Phobos wrote:Personally, I don't have any issue with phpBB2... it's a good, tested (not obsolete at all) system that just works...


What makes you think that phpBB3 isn't good and tested system that works? With an actually working search and other enchancements? Not to mention other board choices.

(why change something when it's working fine?)


People should stop using this lame argument. Things are not "fine" compared to what it could be. We are talking about a board, not some elaborate million dollar custom system.
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Postby TerryE » 19. Jun 2008, 12:14

Phobos wrote:phpBB2... it's a good, tested (not obsolete at all)
Actually you are wrong. See phpBB Announcement: Early Retirement of 2.0.x. Have a look at OpenOffice.org User Community Forum for an example of a comparable phpBB3 forum (OK, I'd better declare my interest her — I'm an admin on this one). But also have a look at its View Unanswered Posts — 2 pages as opposed to 37 pages on this forum for a similar number of posts, but 3x the posting rate since the forum is younger. One of the major differences here is that the forum is not solely run by the OOo team (though they do contribute); its run by a volunteer community.

Phobos wrote:The User documentation is fine as it is... You don't usually find so well written and complete help such as vbox's on most FOSS projects... I don't think it has to be dumbed down to be useful for everyone.
From my perspective, I agree with your first sentence, but I've been in this business for 30 years and worked with VMware and Connectix since their early days. I am not saying that anything needs to be dumbed down. What I am saying is that we need to add clear explanatory guides (much the same as ubuntu has is Ubuntu community documents). Just take one common issue: bridged networks. Their setup under VBox is more complicated than VMware. What we need are clear step by step instructions for the three major host OSs (Windows, Linux MacOS) and (Windows, Linux) guests complete with what to type and/or GUI screenshots.

Phobos wrote:I like the wiki idea... I don't know if moderators/admins are really needed, but they might as well be... please explain further on this.
Just like wikipedia and OOo anyone can contribute. OK, you may want to limit this to registered accounts. You may also want to moderate the core pages. You could invite the top dozen posters here to have moderator privilege on the wiki on the pages where you feel that changes need to be veted.

If you work with php, the model that they have is paired with every formal documentation page, there is a page for user contributed comments. You read the documentation then scan the user stuff for examples which have a good fit to your needs.
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Postby Sasquatch » 19. Jun 2008, 14:13

I like all the ideas noted in the OP. There really should be some moderation here, the number of topics with the same problem/question is growing every day. Also, some topics have no useful name, just something like "Help" or "it doesn't work". Nobody knows what the real problem is. A moderator can then change the topicname to something that makes more sense.

A Wiki is a big advantage. There are lots of questions on how something works, like Host Interface Networking and getting USB to work in Linux. With a wiki page, all these questions can be answered immidiatly and if there are any problems after following the wiki, users can ask here. When a solution is found, it can be added to the wiki. Moderation for the Wiki is also needed IMO. As it was with Wikipedia, articles can be removed or modified by everyone. Needing to log in before you can add/modify a wiki is a necessity in this case, so you can see who changed the wiki and what those changes were. That way, if false information is added or correct information removed, it can be restored quickly.

For the overall moderation of both the forums and the wiki, I would be honoured to do it, but I need others to support me too, just like what TerryE said. A group is always better than a single user.
Of course, there has to be an election for who wants to be a moderator and who is eligable to be one. Someone who just started with computers and has lots of questions is obviously not a good candidate for a moderator.
By the looks of it on this forum, there are a few users who contribute to this forum. These are TerryE (as he has experience in both computer systems and forum administration), stephan.becker (he doesn't post often, but what he posts is usually very helpful), over_clox (though he isn't very active lately, he does know a thing or two about computers and virtualisation) and of course myself.
Read the Forum Posting Guide before opening a topic.
VirtualBox FAQ: Check this before asking questions.
Online User Manual: A must read if you want to know what we're talking about.
Howto: Install Linux Guest Additions
Howto: Use Shared Folders on Linux Guest
See the Tutorials and FAQ section at the top of the Forum for more guides.
Try searching the forums first with Google and add the site filter for this forum.
E.g. install guest additions site:forums.virtualbox.org

Retired from this Forum since OSSO introduction.
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Self-management...

Postby rcfa » 19. Jun 2008, 15:58

I agree with most of what Terry said. I'm not sure how much of that is phpBB2 phpBB3, but the board is also lacking in user self-management features:
when signing up, when the authorisation e-mail doesn't arrive, there's no way to initiate it being sent again
then there are no links to contact the board admin, so you have to try to create another account in order to resolve issues with the creation of the main account
finally, there's no way a user can delete his own account

So from that simple example, it's evident that just upgrading the board would in this case solve multiple admin interventions. That sort of saving time could be spent elsewhere, where it's more productive for the user base and the product.
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User that needs help

Postby Breeegz » 29. Jun 2008, 22:56

Just a note from someone on here searching for help,

Today I searched for some sort of solution of direction to go in order to get my Ubuntu Guest access to the internet (no luck with default settings). Anyway, during my searching I noticed several unanswered posts from 2007. A couple of these were asking a question that I could have asked for my problem. With better a better wiki, some of these posts could be prevented.

I'm new to vituralization and VBox, and I'm slowly finding my answers here after I filter out all the unhelpful answers (one line "check a box" answers or "fragged hard drive" answers).

I think more can be done for users like me.
Examples -- http://forums.virtualbox.org/viewtopic. ... 7088#27088
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Postby Breeegz » 30. Jun 2008, 01:12

Also, with no user control panel (or equivalent) subscribing to threads doesn't seem possible to me at this time.

Am I missing something or is that one of the features you are referring to in above posts.
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Postby TerryE » 30. Jun 2008, 01:43

PhpBB3 has a lot more features and functionality that phpBB2. Posting is easier, and your User Control Panel options richer. But the issues are wider than the BB functionality. Most forums like this one have a constant stream of users who register with a single issue, resolve it and never return. Over half the posts (basically most of the replies) are handled by maybe a dozen knowledgeable enthusiasts. There is little ground between.

If you want to lift the bar of Qs from the typical "I am new to this so haven't got on top of (or can't be bothered to read) the manual, how do I do X?" where X is one of maybe a common dozen issues, then you must provide easy to follow FAQ material, and a way of directing novices to it first.

One of the best ways to generate such material is enable those enthusiasts, and a Wiki plus "sticky" forum topics is a good way to go about it.
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Postby Breeegz » 2. Jul 2008, 09:44

If you want to lift the bar of Qs from the typical "I am new to this so haven't got on top of (or can't be bothered to read) the manual, how do I do X?" where X is one of maybe a common dozen issues, then you must provide easy to follow FAQ material, and a way of directing novices to it first.

One of the best ways to generate such material is enable those enthusiasts, and a Wiki plus "sticky" forum topics is a good way to go about it.


I feel that this is part of what makes Ubuntu's community so successful, they have fantastic "non-forum" answers that us non-lazy users can find, and I would be able to point someone in that direction if I could find the answer.

Good luck TerryE, I hope someone sees logic in this thread.
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Postby TerryE » 8. Jul 2008, 12:38

As someone who administers phpBB forums, you've no idea how frustrating it is to use this VBox forum! Some basic suggestions:
  • If you analyse posting patterns, forum members split almost down the line into two groups: those that ask Qs and those that answer them. A case of demand and supply. A healthy forum is one where the supply exceeds the demand, so you must woo and support your power users who provide the answers.
  • This means that you must make it easy / less frustrating for power users to use the forum:
    • Remove the minimum times for searching and posting. These make life extremely frustrating for power users.
    • Reactivate the Memberlist browser — again a useful tool for power users
    • Upgrade to phpBB V3 as its editing capabilities are so much better
  • Sort out the current performance and response issues.
  • Develop a sense of community amongst the power users. On the OpenOffice.org forum we have a group called the forum Volunteers, which we invite power posters to join. We have a forum reserved for them where we can discuss issues to do with forum administration outside the full public glare and we allow them to have their say in the running of the forum. We also have a basic rule that no issue on this forum is left unanswered.
  • Actively moderate the forum. Basically there is little evidence that you do this. What I am taking about is things like moving posts if they are made in the wrong forum. Changing titles to something meaningful when some user posts a Q like "Help Me". Using stickies and announcements to address hot Qs. Scanning the unanswered post to pick up any reasonable Qs that have just been missed. Encouraging the volunteers to post tutorials on hot topics. Having and enforcing basic rules of the forum such as a Survival Guide.

    If you guys don't have the bandwidth to moderate then the forums invite some of the volunteers to do so for you. What have you to lose? You can always revoke the privilege if its abused.
  • Try to raise the game on the forum. OK we always get newbies who can't be bothered to read the manual or google whatever the Q they are looking for, but the way to minimise these is with readable stickies and tutorials. Most people don't want to embarrass themselves publicly by asking Qs. They only do so if they can't find the information. Also answering them is a damn site easier if you can just say see [some topic] or google X Y Z.

    A second aspect of this is the contribution of the VBox team to the forum. Raise the game. Give the power users something interesting to read. I've only been on this forum a couple of months, but in that time I have seen a consistent pattern where the VBox team does like engaging on any controversial topics; its far easier to answer the dumb Q by "See P68 in the UG". Moderate the forum and develop the Volunteers as a resource to answer simple Qs, so you have time to do this.
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Postby sandervl » 8. Jul 2008, 18:37

Terry, you raise good points. We will try to address some of them, but keep in mind that we don't have dedicated staff (yet) to maintain these forums.

Minimum time between posts & search queries has been reduced to 5 & 2 seconds. That should be sufficient.
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Postby Sasquatch » 8. Jul 2008, 19:15

sandervl wrote:Terry, you raise good points. We will try to address some of them, but keep in mind that we don't have dedicated staff (yet) to maintain these forums.

Minimum time between posts & search queries has been reduced to 5 & 2 seconds. That should be sufficient.

That is where the volunteers come in. Even though you don't have the people, there are others who are willing to do this job. Just take a look at some of my posts and those of TerryE. We are almost moderating this forum by answering questions, pointing to other topics and google links. It is that we don't have the privileges of moderators, else we would be really moderating this forum.
Read the Forum Posting Guide before opening a topic.
VirtualBox FAQ: Check this before asking questions.
Online User Manual: A must read if you want to know what we're talking about.
Howto: Install Linux Guest Additions
Howto: Use Shared Folders on Linux Guest
See the Tutorials and FAQ section at the top of the Forum for more guides.
Try searching the forums first with Google and add the site filter for this forum.
E.g. install guest additions site:forums.virtualbox.org

Retired from this Forum since OSSO introduction.
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Postby TerryE » 8. Jul 2008, 20:46

Sander, our point is that: you don't need dedicated staff. Involve the heavy posters to the forum; use your Open Source supporters. How many of the OOo core project team are involved in administering the OOo user forums? (Given that we currently run 4 OOo forums, two of which are more active than this one.) One Sun guy, Clayton, spends perhaps perhaps 10-20% of his time and 0% when he has other pressures.

What an active group of OOo forum posters did was to approach the OOo team and suggest we set up the forums. Sun made a dedicated box available. Two of us (both long term IT Pros) have signed the paperwork to be given root access to the box and between us do all the system admin and development of the forum infrastructure. Though Clayton and a proper Sun System Admin monitor to see that we work within Sun and OOo policies.

We have another 5 volunteers with phpBB system administration privileges (you kind of need someone who speaks the language to look after a language forum) and another 8 forum moderators, and between us we look after the health of the forums. We have about 30 "volunteers" who are active posters who have a say in the running of the forums. Most times you log on there may be 4-6 of them actively working the post Qs. All of this effort is provided pro bono. Clayton uses most of the time that he allocates to the forums as "just another volunteer" because he doesn't need to do otherwise. However, this doesn't stop him keeping a close eye on the overall forum policy and runnning to make sure that overall we continue to provide the sort of service that the OOo Council want to be there.

My point is that this model works and works a lot better than what you have today. Involve your supporters in running this forum. You'll get a far better service for less VBox project effort. Moreover this sort of model is self-scaling as VBox grows in user popularity. It is not constrained by VBox project resource.
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Postby Phobos » 9. Jul 2008, 03:54

ok, Terry, you still haven't fully convinced me that phpBB3 is really necessary... and I know that maybe my opinion is not worth much on this matter... but since you're basing your comments on your administering experience, and put valid points for it, I'll support your idea to change to phpBB3 too...

also, Sander, I think the vbox team should look at this as a very convenient proposition, since, as both Sasquatch and TerryE have pointed out, the dedicated staff that the forum may be needing at this moment are volunteering themselves to help... and they are already doing so in a somewhat informal way... their posts are some of the most useful ones on the forum, specially for new users... (some of which I would have answered in a more.... "acid" way...) and they are also giving ideas to try to help the vbox community

using the community to help the community is one of the biggest advantages of open source... please consider making use of that advantage

if this comes down to voting, I vote for them both to be moderators on the forums... I don't know if the server administration can also be delegated like on OOo's case, but at least the moderation sounds fair enough and useful to me, again, particularly to new users
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