There has been some discussion recently on the BOINC developers and projects e-mail lists about the need for better "customer support" for new BOINC users. One idea I'd like to try here is a small modification to the help desk forums: only recent activity is shown.
The idea, just as before, is that the helpdesk is a place for anybody to ask a question, and anybody else can give an answer. The hope was that knowledge would accumulate, and that the answers to common questions would automatically appear. But it doesn't quite seem to work as hoped. The same questions get asked many times, most people don't participate in the rating system, and in some unfortunate cases the 'answer' has been to tell the new user that they needed to read more, rather than actually providing the information they need, or even a link to the recommended reading.
By not showing the questions and answers after a short period (now 7 days) it becomes perfectly legitimate and expected that new users will ask the same questions again and again, but it is also to be hoped that they will get real answer from someone, or at least a pointer to the right source of information. Yes, it will be repetitive, and less automatic, but it will also be more personal, and hopefully more polite. The problem of rude or curt answers in the help desk area is really a social problem, but perhaps a small technical change can help guide the social interaction to make it more useful? The best we can do is try it out.
The changes are really very minor. At the category level (forum_help_desk.php) a "most recent post" time is only shown if there is a posting that is within the recent limit. At the forum level (forum_forum.php) only threads with recent activity are listed. And in the non-help desk forums there is an indicator of any recent activity in the helpdesk area (we've had that for a while already).
Nothing is deleted, it's just not shown. You can link to an old thread or posting, and you can search as before. It's just that we don't show the old stuff. Instead of an ongoing dialogue, as in the forums, the help desk can be for short answers, pointers to more specific documentation, or just cries for help. Repetition is okay.
There has not been much activity in the helpdesk area on Pirates, so this may not be the best place to test the idea, but it's a start. I'd welcome comments, questions, or suggestions. I've set the recent activity limit to 7 days. It's easily changed, but I am wondering if there is a "natural" value for this?
-- Eric Myers
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." -- William Butler Yeats