Crowdsourcing Inquisition

I consider myself a curious person. I was constantly questioning as a kid, much to the chagrin of my fifth grade teacher. I recall that he wrote in my yearbook, “Keep asking questions, but when you ask, listen and learn.” How fortunate I could become a professional technical writer, where curiosity and asking “how does that work?” is a requirement of my daily work. Of course, the listen and learn portion for my 30+-year-old self is, “write it down before you forget!”

What’s nice about working on OpenStack at such an early stage is that others are asking really good questions also. We started the project using Launchpad’s Answers feature for OpenStack projects. Launchpad Answers is a rudimentary question and answer system that’s a blend of a mailing list and a forum in one, attempting to help projects create community support sites. (We all know that building a community support site is about people, not tools, so I’ll just repeat that mantra here for emphasis, people over tools.)

With configurable notifications and the ability to turn a question into a bug, it acts as a substitute for overly-eager users filing tons of non-vetted bugs. I don’t find it as advanced in the community equity model as say, Stack Overflow’s Q&A sites, but you do earn “karma points” for answering questions, and you can comment on a question or ask for more information. Also, the person asking seems to have the upper hand for marking a question as answered. We’ve very recently started to explore the use of a forum rather than the Launchpad Answers area. I’m hoping we’ll see as much curiosity in the forums as we have seen in Launchpad Answers.

To me, the upsurge in community support sites means that the questioning nature of a technical writer can be spread out among even more questioners. Even if a user does not consider themselves to be technical writers, they are doing some of the work of a technical writer. People in the real world, trying out OpenStack, are coming back with all sorts of questions. Plus, the questions and answers can be searched for later reference. It’s a gold mine of technical info and specific scenarios. The challenge for the technical writer is to sift through the questions and answers and determine relevance for their audience and determine the majority use, eliminating edge cases. The challenge for the system itself is

And in the theme of yearbook quotes, how about this one? “Better ask twice than lose your way once.” My hope for OpenStack is to build a community support site where duplicate questions are not dinged but search-worthy, there are no dumb questions, and the questioners listen and learn, and then pay it forward.

2 Comments

  • June 5, 2011 - 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anne,

    Great post. My company (Gluster, Inc.) is going to submit a project to OpenStack and i came across your documentation, which is beautiful. Not just the look and feel, but the content. Doc is our biggest challenge and I am intrigued by what you have accomplished at OpenStack.

    Keep up the great work and as our project progresses, I look forward to meeting you and working together.

    Regards,

    Lori

  • June 7, 2011 - 10:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Lori! Doc is a challenge but one I love. It’s an interesting nut to crack. :) Really appreciate the encouragement – it is also overwhelming sometimes but we keep at it.

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