Drupal answers - 100 days down the road.
I decided that it was time to write a blogpost. This time about something that I’ve been spending some of my time on lately: Drupal answers aka Drupal Stack Exchange.
So what is Drupal answers - background information.
Drupal answers is a site based on the engine built for the well known Q&A site Stack Overflow. Stack Overflow is a hub for programmers of all sorts where they can ask and answer questions about programming. How to solve a particular problem, pros and cons used various techniques etc. The team behind thought they had a product that was good enough to sell. So they allowed people to get a Q&A site for anything paying a monthly fee for hosting and the platform they call Stack Exchange. None of those sites really succeeded and the reason was summed up in a blog post. To make such a site succeed you would need
- Money - to pay for the site.
- An area where people are seeking answers.
- A community that will answer those questions
- Knowledge about the platform
To solve this they decided to make it free to get a site but you had to fulfill certain criterias. The way to do it was to create a proposal on the area 51 site. The proposal then had to get enough followers (60) and have some good examples of what wanted and unwanted questions would look like. Then enough people had to commit to the site. The number of points a person committing to a site would yield would depend on how much reputation they had on other Stack Exchange sites. Meaning that you had to have a lot of people signing up for the site and a lot of them needed to have first hand experience of the system. There was made a proposal of Drupal Answer which went through all of this and is now in the final phase, a beta site.
What is the idea behind the site?
The reason to have such a site at all, is that it is very hard to get answers asked on drupal.org. The best we have for it is a forum style board that isn’t designed for Q&A. The reason is that it’s very unorganized and even when finding a question you have it’s very hard to figure out which of the posts actually hold the solution for your problem. This is where Stack Exchange can help us. The system is built based on a voting principle. If people ask a good question or a question you would like to know, you can give it an up-vote, which unclear or lazy questions can be given a down-vote. The same can be done with the answers posted for a question. This is where the system really starts to shine. Answers that have received the most votes will be default be displayed first. The user asking the question also has the option to mark an answer as accepted, which basically means, this answer solved my problem which will be displayed before any other answers even those will more up-votes. The system is not perfect but it’s very efficient for displaying good answers to questions and thus reusing the work done. What’s in it for me?
For those seeking answers, it’s obvious that they would like to get an answer. This site could be a good resource to help you overcome the Drupal learning curve. You might think what’s in it for me answering other peoples questions. I myself find it a good way to teach myself more things about Drupal. Some questions can be a bit tricky to answer, and in the process of answering it you might learn something yourself that you can use on your next project. The other great thing is that you get to see how other people would solve a problem. Maybe they know a technique or API that is much more clever than what you can think of. The team knew that this isn’t enough to get people to devote time to answer questions. This is why they also create a ranking and achievement system. For each up-vote you get, you also get some reputation points that is displayed when you ask or answer questions. The reputation system is also used to unlock features on the site, so as your reputation increases you get access to moderator like features, such as editing other people’s question and answer, voting to close or delete questions etc. For achievement they created badges, which is given to you when you accomplish something, like posting an answer that gets 10 or more up-votes. These badges come in 3 variants, bronze, silver and gold, the latter being crazy hard to achieve. For some reason this really motivates people to answer questions as they try to get more badges and reputation points.
So where are we now.
I initially wrote that we are 100 days down the road. The site has actually been in beta a little longer than that. I think the site is looking really promising, a lot of people is coming here to get questions answered, and they actually get do get their questions answered. At this time of writing the site has about 2.5 k visitors per day and about 20 questions is asked. There has been some talk in the Drupal community that it would be a bad idea to have this help service outside of drupal.org, and that such a site should be controlled by the drupal association. While I can see why this would be a good thing one thing I often mention to myself comes in mind - don’t reinvent the wheel. The Drupal community could probably build such a site, maybe even a better one adding features which would be nice for Drupal specific questions and answers. But how long would it take to get the community to create such a site, and how many resources that maybe could be spent better doing something else? I don’t know, but for now you can find me answering questions at drupal.stackexchange.com from time to time.