ExpressionEngine Stack Exchange: A community divided? brought to you by META Q
Interior Ad 3 brought to you by The META Q

Will Stack Exchange support splinter the EE community?

ExpressionEngine-ers have recently banded together to commit to a Stack Exchange Q&A board. The Stack Exchange Network is a group of community-driven question and answer based websites. Initially geared towards technology and computer programming questions, the Stack Exchange Network has expanded into a wide variety of different subjects, including ExpressionEngine support.

Commitment for the EE support board recently hit 100%. The next step is beta.

When we first heard about it, we were somewhat ambivalent. We are avid EE users, and one of the reasons we pay for EE is the built-in support. So we weren't exactly sure how we felt about the whole thing. We took some time, slept on it, drank a cup of coffee and typed out our thoughts.

Here's Q's take on the whole Stack Exchange issue. But of course, we'd love it if you'd weigh in below.

Clinton Reeves, back-end developer:
It's all about saving time

I have been back and forth on whether or not this is a good idea for ExpressionEngine and for the ExpressionEngine community as a whole. While the forums provided by EllisLab may not be the greatest in the world in terms of response and overall usability, the truth is, the information collected by the forums gives them the ability to learn a lot about their product, the issues users are having and features they are looking for. 

“Moving discussions away from the current forums [...] may ultimately degrade the quality of the product, i.e. EE.”

With this information at their fingertips, EllisLab had the ability to make educated decisions in respect to future development and enhancements of ExpressionEngine. Moving discussions away from the current forums separates EllisLab from this data, which may ultimately degrade the quality of the product, i.e. EE.

On the other hand, as a developer, I love Stack Exchange and all of the tech-related sites in the network. Over the years, StackOverflow alone has saved me countless hours and brought me back from periods of sheer madness. I support the idea, only because of the amount of time it will save me.

Holly Gerard, designer:
Customer support is a double-edged sword

Customer support is always a tricky thing to tackle, especially in the world of the Internet. I have had both good and bad experiences with forums and with actual online customer support.

I feel like user-generated support systems can be a good thing when it comes to getting the answer you desire quickly and without having to specifically deal with an outside source (like calling someone on the phone). Other times, forums can be a hassle because you may not exactly find the answer you are looking for, or even find the topic being discussed anywhere – then the waiting game begins.

“Sometimes it becomes more of a nightmare to deal with the support, than it would be to figure out the problem yourself.”

Sometimes customer support can be super helpful and other times it is not helpful at all. Sometimes it becomes more of a nightmare to deal with the support, than it would be to figure out the problem yourself. Live support does come in handy for the development of websites without many users, though. ShowIt (which is commonly used by professional photographers for their galley websites) is a good example of this. There are few users, and therefore, few forums, so the customer support that comes with the price tag definitely comes in handy.

With all of that said, I feel like it is almost a toss-up: both in-house and outsourced support have good and bad sides. Both come in handy in different support scenarios.

Terris Kremer, front-end developer:
I go where Google goes

Generally speaking, when I search for help, I don't go straight to any specific site (like StackOverflow, for instance).

“I only care that help is somewhere and that somewhere is findable.”

I raise my odds with a good old fashioned Google search. If I end up on StackOverflow, that's great. If I end up on EllisLab's support forum, that's cool too. If I find help somewhere, it's high fives all around.

So there it is: It doesn't concern me where the help is.

I only care that help is somewhere and that somewhere is findable.

Susan Snipes, owner and principal:
What about add-on support?

What do I think about a Stack Exchange for ExpressionEngine?

My initial reaction was alarm and concern. I love ExpressionEngine and I thought it was unfortunate that part of the community would splinter off to create a new forum (albeit a forum with better usability). And I thought: Hey, what about the support EllisLab is supposed to provide as part of the paid license? Now, we'd get support from our peers instead? That's not right.

Our team discussed this crazy notion, and I looked into it more. I read the blog posts on EE Insider and Exp-resso's blog and the thoughtful comments. I read the commitments on the Stack Exchange proposal. And I learned what this is all about. This isn't going to replace technical support and bug fixes from EllisLab. I'm still on board for private support if the model makes sense. (EllisLab, how's that coming along?)

And now, I think a Stack Exchange for ExpressionEngine will be pretty keen. The method of voting up the best answers is effective and clear. Well implemented tags are handy. It is a better solution by far than sharing resources on Twitter via #eecms. It will be a great way to build our already amazing community.

“I'm still on board for private support if the model makes sense.”

EllisLab had an opportunity to make better forums a while ago (better usabililty, community involvement), and missed the chance. They were once the "go to" support place for many add-ons. It's too bad, under different circumstances, better EE support forums would could have been the place to channel this energy.

I end up on Stack Overflow from Google searches, but I'm not well-versed in this ecosystem. I'm sure I will adapt and figure it out, as will everyone else. That isn't a big deal.

But this is my bigger concern: How might this work for add-on developer support?

Now that the EE Forums are not the place for add-on developers to field support questions, I've seen and used many different support solutions: Devot-ee forums, email, the main EE forum, individual run EE forums, Get Satisfication, Tender, and plenty more. Whew. Will this be adding yet another option to the mix?

Mike Wenger, front-end developer
Stay dedicated, no matter where

The strength of a community is dependent wholly on the enthusiasm and dedication of those a part of it. The ExpressionEngine community is full of dedicated individuals, from the EllisLab team to third-party development, to the end user.

My first response to the news of the Stack Exchange proposal was: Why would the community want to take away from one centralized location for the community to gather and share useful knowledge and troubleshooting?

“As long as add-on developers and community members play the responsible part of contributing to the cause they are fighting for now, I'm all for the transition to Stack Exchange.”

I think I was initially concerned that it would cause dilution of the quality and accessibility of information by spreading it across multiple channels. The fact that the Stack Exchange commitment phase for this came together so quickly says quite a bit about what the community as a whole wants; something that we can get behind and support. From the look of it, it seems like this may be the thing. So having said that, my viewpoint has gone from concern to support.

However, I do feel that as a paying customer of numerous add-ons and of the EE core, that the support associated with a paid product be should also be worth the cost of the product. In other words, if developers of add-ons and EE users who used to contribute greatly to the EE forums are going to encourage the transition, they should remain highly active in the Stack Exchange discussions. 

In short, as long as add-on developers and community members play the responsible part of contributing to the cause they are fighting for now, I'm all for the transition to Stack Exchange.

How do you, the EE community, want to get your support? 
Do other developers plan to use the new Stack Exchange for their add-on support? And how?

Photo credit: scott swigart


Meta Q Crew's avatar

Meta Q Crew

The Meta Q Crew consists of the talented folks at Q Digital Studio, who happily bring you Meta Q each week. We're passionate about all things web. We love ExpressionEngine. And of course, we love you.


What others are saying

Rob Hodges

I personally think it’s a good idea. I’ve seen a lot of grumbles about EL’s response times and if EL are not going to engage with the community (outside of direct email, I know I know), then the community moving their focus to StackOverflow is definitely an interesting move. The upvoting/gamification of support may lead to a higher quality of support as well.

In an era when all the boundaries of EE are being pushed by third-party add-on devs rather than EL, giving the third-parties an open forum for support can’t be a bad thing… right? I remain optimistic!

Anna Brown

The proposed Stack Exchange site is for peer to peer support, it’s not a replacement for the Ellis Lab support nor is it a splintering in my opinion.

I for one cannot normally wait 2 days for answers to my questions, pure and simple. And my questions, when I have them, are not generally ones supported by EE forum support. I think most of us, after a certain number of years in this game, are in that same boat.

Many senior level EE developers do not use the EE forum in its current form because of these two reasons. Instead we post questions to colleagues via IM, Skype or Twitter. This method of getting peer support does not add value to our community for the long term primarily because the “correct answer” is not stored in a public place.

This proposed Stack Exchange site has the potential to become that public place if we embrace it. The benefit of the Stack Exchange experience is an archive with tagged questions and the correct answer voted up by peers. This is *HUGE* and should be looked at as a community being proactive and finding a way to get and give support that meets their needs. In the end, EL benefits with a reduced number of support requests… this cannot be a bad thing.

If you choose not to use the Stack Exchange site, EL staff will continue to provide support via the forums. Additionally, most developers following the #eecms hash will take time from their day to help if forum question URLs are posted to Twitter.

For years now I have found *correct* answers to non EE questions on Stack Overflow in a matter of minutes. Google search, Stack Overflow and FireBug are three everyday tools that I simply cannot live without.

I have been an enthusiastic supporter of this SE site because I need it to do my job and I am thrilled to see everyone finally rally around this idea! <3 <3

Your truly,
Anna @mediagirl

David Dexter

I don’t see a community divided there at all.

Personally I see SE as an excellent resource and learning tool in addition to the ExpressionEngine forums. Often times the problems we encounter, or the solutions we can’t seem to grasp on our own, aren’t a ‘support’ question for EllisLab. Say you’re working on a tricky front-end solution which requires a few add-ons and some killer javascript is that EL’s responsibility?....no. The community can lend a hand, you learn a new solution method, and the next person that needs something similar comes along and the problem is solved.

When I was first learning to program I relied heavily, as many people do, on these peer to peer solutions. And as stated earlier, at the end of the day, its about finding the right solution to your problem! Why not have additional resources to do that.

I’m excited to see the beta in action.

Billy Khan

I stopped using the forum for support a long long time ago, i knew it was time when i found the #eecms hashtag more supportive. Fortunately my dogged personality forces me to keep at problems until they are resolved. Like Anna, Google/SO and firebug are must haves.

I am not precious about where i seek support from, as long as its fairly quick and helpful. If i need help, it means i have hit a show stopping issue which I need to resolve quickly in order to move forward, and EE forums have often left me hanging whilst the response times on SO for example have been insanely quick. With my other dev projects (other than EE) I search google and inevitably end up on SO/SE. If this starts to happen with EE (which it already does with SO) then so be it. Its a natural progression for people to end up where quality support lies, and if that becomes SE over EE forums then so be it.  This isnt confined to EE, I find myself on SO looking for help in various languages/systems/etc support. 

Billy
@nextbigleap

Natalia Ventre

The current forums are okay for technical support, but sometimes I’d like to ask what is the best way to accomplish something with EE, or if certain add-on will solve my problem, I think that SE will fill that gap.

The #eecms hashtag is great for fast answers, but sometimes 140 characters is not enough.

I think that EE on SE is going to be positive, I personally don’t care who answers my questions, as long as they’re right, and if I can help someone, that’d be great too. SE is a very polished q&a system, so I’m not concerned about the quality of the answers.

 

Angie Herrera

I can’t emphasize enough what Anna said about the SE site being for peer-to-peer support. The official forums clearly aren’t going anywhere, but they do have a limited scope (having a question moved to the community forum to the reception of crickets doesn’t help much).

The way I see it, which I believe many would agree, is that the SE site will just be one more resource for EE devs. And what a great resource it will be! :)

Jean St-Amand

I rather think of the new StackExchange initiative as a strong alternative to the community help forums - first party support, whether for the core product or for third party add-ons are likely to remain, at least for the foreseeable future - within the support realm that each developer chooses to use.  I’ve been an active participant in the community help forum for years - penance for all the help I received from the community myself as I got my #eecms legs under me.  The community forums were a good start, and I still frequently try to help community members out there when I can, but I have to admit, I’m rather drawn to the functional framework of vote up/vote down and accepted responses and a means of helping community members - not just the ones that pose the original question but those that seek answers to similar questions in the future. I see the SE initiative as an enhancement to rather than a divide in the community - one that will likely get considerably better as the community embraces it more broadly.

Nathan Doyle

I’ve heard the thoughts about support and community being divided somehow though, I don’t quite understand that perspective to be honest.

No one rallied together saying “let’s get together and divide support and the community in half” or anything of that nature. This is something which has been put on the table before. The community just happens to be ready to push it through this time. If anything the SE/SO “movement” has brought the community and support closer together.

There hasn’t been one central location to get support for web development of any kind in one place in the past and if there ever was a place SE/SO would be it. We are just bringing ExpressionEngine home!

Add-on developers now have a place where they feel they belong. Questions which weren’t really appropriate to ask of EllisLab are now welcomed! Plenty of room for devs and designers here. Shoot, I was over answering some UI/UX questions the other day on that particular SE site. It’s fun though, none of that could be done in any of the EllisLab forums and rightfully so.

I’ll give you another example:

Stash questions! Stash is an amazing add-on though, is fairly complicated to pick up quickly. I personally had a few questions about it and I’m sure I will in the future as well. The only place to really ask questions was in the Devot:ee forum directly with it’s creator. Mark of course has always been super supportive though, I really hate to bother him over and over with questions for an add-on which is free. With the new SE/SO site I was able to get 5+ answers in less than an hour. The answers were all very helpful, I didn’t have to bother EllisLab or Mark Croxton for their time and the people who answered my question received bonus points (rep) as a thank you for helping out. Also, people who have a similar question will be able to find said question and the correct answer allot quicker than ever before. No more reading through 3-5 pages of forum posts to find the answer. Everyone is happy!

The forum and EllisLab support (via email) aren’t going anywhere nor is the Devot:ee forum. The Twitter #eecms hash isn’t going anywhere so, nothing is changing on that front either. Though, if you want an answer quickly or if you want to ask a question which isn’t core EE related there is now a great place to do it. It’s a great tool, SE Q&A sites that is, really!

I also hear EllisLab has been struggling to keep up with support. Now, I’m not sure that’s true or not though, this is the word on the Twitter streets and around town. I think having the SE site will help remove some of that strain (assuming it exists) and allow them to get back to doing what they do best. Things like squashing bugs and pumping out great software. So again, win win, we’re all happy!

Having a SE site is important to the community in more ways than one; from a morale standpoint! Things of late have been, well, less than perfect. I mean, Erik Reagan is even giving a presentation called “ExpressionEngine & EllisLab: Should We Be Concerned?” so, it’s not like there isn’t something going on. Everyone has their own view of this in some form or another so, I don’t really need to bring it up more than to say that the SE/SO movement has, in my opinion, been a great morale booster for the community on a whole. We’ve rallied together as a group, as a community, to get something done and we are blowing away other proposals, we’ve already moved to the third stage, constantly are in the hottest proposals list and have now reached beta; all in less then a month! The commitment has been amazing, to say the least and we should all really be proud of what we’ve accomplished in such a short amount of time!

Oh, by the way, the group/community I’m speaking of even includes members of EllisLab Dev Team itself (love those guys!) So, there is no divide here, just change, scary I know but, for the better!

Also, for what ever it’s worth, there are two other CMS which have SE sites. Both are great CMS (let’s play nice now) though, ExpressionEngine is an amazing CMS and I personally believe it should be up there with the others; where it belongs in the SE/SO lime light if you will. This gives ExpressionEngine, EllisLab and the community itself validity.

(Unless of course you’re in the “Frat Boy” camp and don’t want to be close to anything non OOP or similar; seriously?)

Finally, if you still have feelings about this somehow damaging what you once knew or your memories of the way it used to be etc. then I can’t imagine anything anyone has said here will help you. Though, if you are are curious to know what this is really about though, need a little help consider hitting up @mediagirl (I know she doesn’t mind) or myself (@natetronn) on Twitter; we’ll be more than happy to help you in anyway we can.

Adrian Macneil

I fully agree with Anna and David. I see this as a great complement to the official forums, to cover everything that the official paid support does not (add-on support, advanced templating questions, questions about which add-on to use in which situation). I also don’t see a community divided in your post - most people seem to be in favor of the Stack Exchange site.

I do agree that this is not simply a place for add-on developers to ditch their support responsibilities, but I feel it will become hugely more valuable if developers make the Stack Exchange site their primary public support forum. For our own add-ons, I intend to offer support via Stack Exchange and email - the only change here is instead of using Get Satisfaction (which most people seem to loathe), we are using a (better designed) Q&A site, shared with other developers. Where this will really shine is when people have questions involving more than one add-on - currently this is a pain and usually involves us emailing the other developer to get them to join a thread. With a shared support location, this will be a piece of cake (and the other developers will most likely already find the thread due to the awesome features available such as email notifications for a certain tag).

I also think what Anna touched on is really important - most mid/senior level EE developers have questions which would not be supported by EllisLab anyway, and currently the only place to get support for these is on Twitter. By bringing these questions into Stack Exchange, we are creating a valuable lasting resource for the community.

folgen hier

Ah, but there’s the difference: it only takes ONE person (of questionable talent, but still) to make a blog successful.
To make a “community” successful, you need many talented people working together. That is much, much harder.

investigación

Of course we all want the community to be involved and to be responsible. But how in earth are we going to achieve that? There needs to be a leader that ensures it all.

Fantastic beat ! I would like to apprentice even as
you amend your web site, how can i subscribe for a blog web
site? The account aided me a acceptable deal. I had been tiny bit familiar of this your broadcast offered brilliant transparent idea


Speak your mind