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WordPress Forum User Guide

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December 24th, 2008
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WordPress

A recent discussion has popped up on the WordPress Testers mailing list revolving around using the list as an area to receive support. Over the past few weeks, users have been publishing support questions which in many aspects, would be better served in the WordPress.org support forums. The problem with that is, the testers list is maintained and operated by people who have a knowledgeable background with the WordPress software, there are less users, and receiving answers is typically a speedier process.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to whip up a guide on how to maximize the use of the WordPress.org forum. It’s not exactly as cut and dry as you would think. This list of steps was comprised mostly by Michael E. Hancock with additional tips provided by Otto and myself.

1. A new user may want to read the Forum Rules

2. Report inappropriate posts/threads by adding the ‘modlook‘ tag to that thread

3. Link to Codex article by using the wiki code of two beginning and ending brackets. [[Template Hierarchy]] will create a link to that article in Codex.

4. Try to place your question in the correct Forum–if it is related to Plugins use the Plugins and Hacks Forum.

5. If needing to put a large code example in your thread, paste the code in a pastebin and put the link to that code in the thread.

6. Click on View Your Profile to see all your threads. Note: Currently the Threads Started feature is broken.

7. You can initiate a forum topic from a particular plugin at the WordPress Extend Plugins site. At the bottom of each plugin page there is a “Write a new topic” link that displays a form to enter the topic and automatically creates a tag related to that specific plugin and automatically selects the Plugins and Hacks Forum.

8. A new topic is started by first selecting(entering)the particular Forum (e.g. Installation) and at the bottom of the screen, the New Topic form is displayed.

9. Use the Version box when starting a new topic. If the Version isn’t listed, select Other and then type the Version in the box.

10. A tip from LesBessant – You can hide the tag cloud in Firefox by adding the file usercontent.css to the …\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\xxxxxx.default\chrome folder. Put this in the file:

.frontpageheatmap, #hottags {
display: none;
}

11. Use the Report a Site Bug link at the bottom of the screen to report bugs with the forum software.

12. When creating a new topic, make the topic be descriptive and brief. “Help me now” is a poor topic.

13. If asking a question about a plugin or theme provide a link to download the plugin/theme.

14. Use meaningful tags. Using the same tags as the topic isn’t very useful, but using keywords from the topic is good.

15. Make use of the search before starting a new topic. Also a Google search such as “wordpress plugin cforms” will return a good list of info about the Cforms plugin.

Here is a tip provided by Otto42 – DON’T BUMP. Bumping makes your threads have a reply, which makes them not show up on the “threads without replies” list any more. Meaning that bumping actually decreases the chances of you getting any help.

Here is a tip from me to you. If you end up resolving your problem, be sure to edit the post and mark it as resolved. I’ve forgotten to do this step several times but the good news is, you can always go back to those posts via your user profile and edit them.

Conclusion:

As has been discussed on the Testers mailing list, there are many things that can be done to improve the forum experience that are out of the control of end users. For example, an improved search. Based on what I’ve heard, the search for the Codex as well as the Forum and Plugin Repository has a good shot at being implemented before the release of WordPress 2.8. While on the subject of search, I think it would be nice if the forum search provided a set of Advanced options so that I could search the forum in all threads that have been marked as resolved.

While BBPress is decent forum software (for now as Sam continues to work on version 1.0) I wonder if it’s the software of choice that meets the needs of the WordPress.org support forum. There is no private messaging, distinct thread/post filtering, etc. Not that every feature found within PHPBB3 or other forum software needs to be integrated into BBPress but I feel there is quite a bit missing at this point to provide a sound experience on the forum.

With that said, I ask you, the community how we and the powers that be can improve the WordPress.org forum. I ask that you do not take this opportunity to vent your frustrations with particular users but instead, provide feedback and ideas on how to improve the system.

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22
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Comments

  1. Peter Westwood (2 comments.) says:

    Great post Jeff!

    While BBPress is decent forum software (for now as Sam continues to work on version 1.0) I wonder if it’s the software of choice that meets the needs of the WordPress.org support forum. There is no private messaging, distinct thread/post filtering, etc. Not that every feature found within PHPBB3 or other forum software needs to be integrated into BBPress but I feel there is quite a bit missing at this point to provide a sound experience on the forum.

    I am sure most of these features could be added to bbPress using plugins if they are really required.

    I think the *Press philosophy of a fast light core that does most of what people need being extended by plugins is the right way to go.

    I am not sure that a support forum needs (or should have) all of these “missing features” anyway.

    The biggest problems for me with the forums at the moment are:

    Search sucks – but people don’t search anyway many questions can be answered with a google search.
    Forum users expect someone to solve their problem but don’t want to help others themselves.

    BTW this text entry box is way too small

  2. Mattias (32 comments.) says:

    Good post, and like i said in our discussion on the mailing list and like mentioned in this post. bbPress isn’t the right software for such a big support forum as WordPress at this time. And the reason for disappointed users is simply that things surrounding the forum isn’t as organized as i need to be (not pointing any fingers here)

  3. Justin Tadlock (51 comments.) says:

    Great writeup, Jeff. One of the things I often notice is that users have a particular question about what’s happening on the frontend of their site, but they fail to link to it. Oftentimes, these are simple XHTML and CSS problems. So, if there’s a problem on your site, then it always helps to provide a URL.

    I think bbPress is the perfect software to run the support forums. It’s simple, easy to use, and lightweight. Adding more features would just add another layer of complexity. Maybe a related topics feature would be cool though.

    The biggest improvement that needs to be made is the search. I rarely see unique problems, but the same questions keep coming in. That either means humans are stupid in general or the search needs some work.

    • Mattias (32 comments.) says:

      Adding more features would just add another layer of complexity.

      I think your totally wrong there. I think it would be the absolute opposite. As an example, phpBB makes things 110% easier for the user. You don’t need to click through fifteen links to add something or make things happen in the forum, its all already there and much more logic. Like I said on the mailing list, bbPress in all honor, but not for the amount of people, WordPress interest.

      • Justin Tadlock (51 comments.) says:

        I guess we’ll end up just having to disagree on this one. I’ve used phpBB on several occasions and have found it to be cumbersome and hard to use at times for some users.

        Could you elaborate on your remark about clicking “through fifteen links”? I’ve never found that bbPress takes that many clicks.

        Ultimately, I think a lot of it’s about familiarity with a specific system. Granted, bbPress does have its flaws that I hope are addressed in future versions.

        I’d like to hear your thoughts on what specific things should be added to bbPress though. What should be there? What features are needed? I very much doubt they’ll ever use a different forum software, so we need to really discuss what needs to be improved about bbPress instead of looking to change the forum software.

        • JLeuze (12 comments.) says:

          I think that the biggest hurdle for users of phpBB and other software to overcome is the aesthetics of bbPress.

          I used phpBB for a few years, and I had a hard time adjusting to bbPress, it took me a few months. Forums that use software like phpBB just have a “heavier” feel to them. bbPress is so lightweight, it almost feels incomplete, more like a thread of comments without a post, rather than more common forums that feel like a series of posts without comments.

          It took me a bit to grow into bbPress, but now that I have, I really enjoy using it. Especially since I can use it on my mobile devices, which is pretty tough with phpBB!

          A few things that other forums have that I have not gotten used to not having in bbPress, at least in the WordPress forums, are icons that set new and unread posts apart from the rest of the posts. It is also a little harder to follow threads that you have posted on without the option to subscribe to them via email or RSS.

  4. GaMerZ (31 comments.) says:

    Personally, I am never a fan of BBPress, it lacks a lot of features that a normal forum should have even though this can be enhanced using BBPress plugins, but I think they should be in the core.

    • Ipstenu says:

      Which features? Personally I have a very short list:

      1) ‘buttons’ to insert code
      2) A way to make ‘new’ posts look different
      3) Smilies
      4) Allow Images

      And then I’m done. Four things. I know bbPress lacks PM, but moderating a board with PMs is psychotic. People use that to be real freaks of nature. :/

      • GaMerZ (31 comments.) says:

        I have not used BBPress so the features I seen is from the WP.org forum.

        PM, Usersonline or Viewing Board, Detail stats, Signature, Quoting.

        • that girl again (41 comments.) says:

          Post counts and quoting would be useful, and while PMs are probably a bad idea for the general populace it would no doubt be handy for moderators to have an alternative form of communication to the public wp-forums mailing list. Personally, I don’t understand how you can call anything forum software when it doesn’t have thread-splitting capabilities. The ability to move OT stuff into its own thread is pretty essential in a support context, I would have thought.

          Of course, people have been pointing out the inadequacy of bbPress since at least WordPress 1.0, and the more they complain the more Matt digs his heels in.

          • Mattias (32 comments.) says:

            Of course, people have been pointing out the inadequacy of bbPress since at least WordPress 1.0, and the more they complain the more Matt digs his heels in.

            Thats kind of a contradiction to open source, I do not care for that kind of attitude at all.

  5. JLeuze (12 comments.) says:

    Thanks for compiling all of this info Jeff, the WordPress Forums are in need of this info!

    I try to do my share of support in the forums, and it took me a long time to figure out some of these, like the modlook tag, and you also clued me into some new things as well.

    I wish that there was something like a “resolved” tag that could be used to let either the mods or the original poster know to mark it resolved, since so many resolved threads go unmarked.

  6. Jeff Chandler (295 comments.) says:

    I think this all means I should work on getting Sam Bauers on the show ASAP in 2009. Maybe he can explain the benefits of BBPress as it stands.

  7. Bill (2 comments.) says:

    Unfortunately I’ve been one of those that’s needed to use the support forum. And finding answers there is next to impossible. Maybe I just don’t understand the search and how it is supposed to work. I posted a problem after looking for a solution for quite sometime. Turns out my problem was already in a thread that I never could find. Kinda embarassing actually.

    I also find the support forums overwhelming. Not sure there is a solution to this problem… fortunately with WordPress I don’t have to go there very often.

  8. Mattias (32 comments.) says:

    People who states phpBB as to heavyweight haven’t really been using it lately. Since phpBB3 its a really fast and user friendly forum software. Sure i got many (maybe some not so useful) functions, but not in the way to bloat anything and really not to confuse people, rather the opposite. Footnote, I didn’t like phpBB before version 3, but since the i validates on every point concerning coding standards.

  9. Chris Hajer says:

    The search at wordpress.org sucks for almost everything, forums included. Try finding a contact form plugin; just search for “contact form“. You get 37 pages of results, the first of which is cformsII, which is OK. And Contact Form 7 is the 6th result, but look at all of the first 15 results (just one of the 37 pages):

    cformsII – contact form – Yes
    Wordpress Automatic upgrade – NO
    WP Super Cache – NO
    All in One SEO Pack – NO
    Lighter Menus – NO
    Contact Form 7 – Yes
    Subscribe to Comments – NO
    AJAXed WordPress – NO
    Flexible Upload – NO
    Search Everything – NO
    WP-DB-Backup – NO
    WP-SpamFree – NO
    pageMash > pageManagement – NO
    Viper’s Video Quicktags – NO
    Event Calendar 3 – NO

    Two out of first 15 are contact form plugins? That’s pathetic. The search problem is not isolated to the forums; it’s obviously a problem in the extend section as well.

    When I’m trying to find something at either wordpress.org or bbpress.org, I almost always use google site:wordpress.org $whatever to find it. The built in search is pathetic.

    Why not use a Google Custom Search Engine or Site Search?
    http://www.google.com/coop/cse/
    http://www.google.com/sitesearch/

    It’s a joke that the search results at wordpress.org and bbpress.org always include this at the end of the page of results:

    “You may also try your search at Google”

    It’s like saying “we know our search function sucks, why not try your search with someone who knows how to do it?”

    Fix the search (for everything at wordpress.org) but otherwise leave the forum software alone. Maybe before allowing a new support request make sure the forums were searched: there are companies that offer a similar solution where you need to narrow down your issue and they show you FAQs or relevant topics before allowing you to post a new question.

  10. Michael says:

    After finding the WordPress.org support forum to be by far the worst that I’ve ever encountered (and I belong to at least a dozen different ones) I posted a complaint and since then my requests for help get deleted almost immediately.

    Apart from the lack of things mentioned in the article above, many responses to people’s posts are things like, “if you don’t know how to do it then pay someone that does” which is not exactly the response to a polite request that you’d hope for on a forum.

    Obviously these are the sort of people that need to be blocked.

    Is there a way to ‘officially’ complain?

    thanks,

    Mike

  11. Srecko Bradic (2 comments.) says:

    Overal idea is nice and hope that this will be good platform in far future. But from my point of view this board is not as many of users need so I think that still many people will use SMF, phBB or other platform for message boards.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year :)

  12. Lorelle (10 comments.) says:

    No service can ever be perfect, and one driven by volunteers (and now a few staff) for this long holds testament to the determination of the WordPress Community to reach out and give back by supporting each other in this unique forum. That doesn’t mean it isn’t without its flaws.

    The “official” WordPress Support Forum guides are on the WordPress Codex:

    Support Forum Volunteers
    Using the Support Forums
    Finding WordPress Help

    The key to getting help with WordPress is being VERY specific with what is going on, and putting that in the forum post title and in the post content. Too many just say “I need help” or “My blog is broken” which isn’t helpful at all.

    And being kind to each other is MOST important. Volunteer burnout is tough when people ask the same questions over and over again without searching first – usually because they don’t know how to search with the right keywords, and because the search forum in the forums isn’t well highlighted on ALL pages on the forum.

    We must be patient with each other and ourselves and treat each forum question as if it is the most important one, and first time we’ve seen it. That’s tough, so those who volunteer regularly, I salute you all.

  13. Trisha says:

    Your advice is very good – it should be added to the official Forum Rules and every new user should be FORCED to read them upon registration and/or before their first post.

    That being said, how does one go about suggesting a new top level topic? My biggest frustration is when I post a question asking for help in troubleshooting a core function problem in the Troubleshooting category, only to have it buried to the third page or deeper within hours because of the overwhelming quantity of basic setup, theme, or CSS questions that really should be in a different Forum – there needs to be one for those “how do I get my menu to the left?” questions. I know that there are some wonderful people who help in the Forums and look for topics with no replies, but I also know that this isn’t their job – their time is a limited as everyone else’s, so sometimes my questions go unanswered. I think it might help if questions stayed on the first page a little longer and attracted the attention of more people, increasing the chances that someone who knows the answer will see it.



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