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SQLAndy

I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.

Making Forums Work

I saw this post about Why I Dislike Newsgroups from Tom Larock and he did a pretty good job of summarizing the negatives, and then went to to discuss how the MVP forums are the exception. One of the comments was about the forums here on SQLServerCentral are also generally the exception to the rule and since I had a small part in how those evolved, wanted to write down some thoughts that have been pending for a while.

First, how do you make forums work? It's both easy and difficult, there's a bit of a strange synergy that happens at some point. I think the essence of it is:

  • Try to make sure every one who asks a question gets a reply within a day, even if the reply is "I don't know either"
  • Display patience with beginners
  • Show support by posting an "I agree" to an answer, or posing a different method
  • Delete pure noise posts such as advertisements
  • It requires WORK
  • Ignore the knuckleheads

When we first started the SSC forums I was opposed to doing it because they require a lot of work. I think most people set up forums and just let it happen from there, and while that might work, it doesn't usually turn into a community that mainly self monitors. Once we decided to proceed, for the first two years or so Steve & I posted every day, and part of the "secret" formula we found was offering prizes for the most good replies, which brought along a number of good people who really made the difference and took some of the weight off of us. A good moderator is key, someone even tempered and wise, and hard to find - but essential. We set the tone early on and somehow it never changed much, fundamentally Steve & I both have a great regard for beginners or those willing to ask a question in order to move forward, and that somehow became "community" - which isn't to say that the community of SSC isn't self defining and self directed!

If you own a forum, don't expect it to work without working. See above, and look at the places that do work and don't work. Many different ways of doing it, and no guarantees that the formula above is repeatable.

If you're asking a question, I'd like to think you've searched for the answer first. Sometimes it's knowing the right buzzword to search for, and we won't always know that. When we're beginners it's both easy and frustrating to ask a "stupid" question, but on the other hand, how else will we figure it out? That said, it's the Internet, so on any given day I may get no reply, a lot of replies, and then I have to figure out which seem reasonable - and that can be based on confirming what I thought, some sort of 'reputation' based on # of posts, bio, etc, or the number of "I agree" comments that follow the answer. It cost me a minute or two to get the answer back, so if I get anything valuable at all it's a win, all for very low investment.

If you're answering questions...well, that's the hard one. You're going to see questions that are badly framed, easily answered via search, home work assignments, and occasionally ones by people that have no other motive than to cause trouble. They'll post in the wrong forum, double post, fail to provide all the information needed, ask for a different answer than the right one, sometimes write in garbled English because it's been run through a translator. You'll get people that respond to follow up questions badly or even rudely, or become defensive, or sometimes offensive about your thoughts on a post.

Sound bad? It depends on what you want out of it, and your viewpoint.

One reason is to score points towards whatever prize is out there, another is because you want to give back. The latter I admire, but in practice as long as you help someone your reason doesn't matter much. Giving back - which takes time and effort - feels harder when they don't seem to appreciate your efforts.

So...here's the thing. It doesn't matter if they appreciate it. Either way, you're doing it because you get something out of it. Civilized people say thank you, but unfortunately not all of us act civilized on any given day, so you either learn to cope with that behave badly or you stop participating in conversations with all the good people too. There's nothing wrong with asking for more information, pointing them to a URL that explains the expectations, but why engage with the knuckleheads when they persist? I email the URL to the moderator and unsubscribe from the notifications because I will spend my time on people that deserve it, and I see no reason to make it a contest of wills to see who can type longer and louder. Said differently, I have nothing to prove, so if someone thinks I'm wrong, that they are smarter than I am, whatever, that's fine and rarely a source of much more than a smile from me.

I'm not throwing rocks at Tom here. What he expects is what we should all expect, but it rarely happens - so that means we either omit it from our tool box, or we bend a little. Not great choices, but the ones we have.

Comments

Posted by Steve Jones on 28 April 2009

Good points, and I think our forums do work well.  One other thing I think helps is a "me, too" or an "I agree" in threads to give someone confidence that they've received a good answer.

StackOverflow has an interesting model as well, and is worth checking out.

Posted by Dugi on 29 April 2009

Yea, I agree with you Steve, I don't know statistics of new users and the posts per day or per month but as I can see everyday we have many posts with many replays and most of them are with positive reply or correct answer together with alternatives!

Andy, your title in this thread tells forum editors much things what to do with their forums to have good performance!

Posted by Lynn Pettis on 29 April 2009

I agree, for the most part.  Sometimes, however, you do need to engage the "knuckleheads" on the forums.  It comes down to how you deal with them.

Always try to be professional and respectful, don't let them drag you down to their level.  They are there looking for help, and sometimes you have to overcome their own previous training and beliefs.  Using cursor-based solutions vs set-based solutions is one that comes to mind as it seems to be one of the major concepts the permeates the forums.

When it comes to the language barrier, I think that is the hardest, but I think I have only walked away from one thread where that was the issue, and even then is was after many attempts to help the OP.

Posted by Andy Warren on 29 April 2009

Lynn, good comment and on target. As long as posters have a threshold for disengaging they will avoid a lot of pain. Doesn't fix the problem, but doesn't make it worse either.

Posted by Alex Rosa on 30 April 2009

Well, great post.

Let me tell you my point of view as a non-native English speaker.

Recently, I've decided to subscribe SSC Forums' feeds to help other people and to improve my English skills.

In my opinion, this kind of Forum is a great place to develop our ability to work with different people and to learn something new about technology too.

Posted by Andy Warren on 1 May 2009

Alex, that makes a lot of sense to me, and something to keep in mind if I can summon the energy to move beyond English one day myself!

Posted by mseteka.paddington on 28 February 2011

Hi Guys,

I'm new here, can you please help with the error below that i'm getting. I am trying to upload SQL Database but i'm getting the below error. Please let me know what could be the problem.

Connecting to Control Panel Database ... Success

Checking user databases ... Success

Finding database domain ... Success

Connect to Webserver FTP ... Success

Adding database user(s) ... Success

Connect to SQL FTP Server ... Success

Copying file to SQL Server ... Success

Connecting to SQL Server ... Success

Unzipping File ... Success

Getting Logical Name ... Failed:[Microsoft][ODBC SQL Server Driver][SQL Server]The media family on device 'c:\restoretemp\jst4u_2005_2.bak' is incorrectly formed. SQL Server cannot process this media family.

Restoring Database ... Failed:[Microsoft][ODBC SQL Server Driver][SQL Server]'replac' is not a recognized RESTORE option.

The backup was not successfully restored, aborted with error : 9688837

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