Standing in the street trying to hear yourself think

Evan eapache at
Wed Jul 8 16:14:53 UTC 2009

On Wed, Jul 8, 2009 at 5:46 AM, Andrew Sayers <
andrew-ubuntu-devel at> wrote:

> I think the model we're heading towards with the signpost is that the
> wiki page contains questions that have been asked before, while IRC and
> the wiki discussion page are for new questions.

Makes sense to me. Add the forums to the "new questions" section.

> If it works, I think #ubuntu might want to look at the signpost model.
> Being able to click "I have a problem with my hardware -> video card ->
> NVidia card -> unsupported NVidia card" would satisfy a bunch of users
> without needing direct support, and would make it easier to direct
> people towards the "level 2 tech support" channels.
> Done right, a signpost-like model could also ensure that level 2 support
> requests are well formulated.  Leaf nodes for unknown problems might
> look like this:
> === Modern NVidia card with no known issues ===
> Your problem is not covered by this guide. Go to #ubuntu-video and say
> "I have a problem with my modern NVidia card (TYPE).  This card has no
> known issues.  My problem is: PROBLEM".  Make sure to replace "TYPE" and
> "PROBLEM" with the type of card you have and the problem you're having
> with it.

This gave me an idea for a small application (probably PyGTK) that could be
included in Ubuntu under System>Help somewhere. It would collect all the
various help docs currently available in System>Help, as well as all the
wiki pages that are applicable (/Support/<release>/... or whatever structure
is decided on) and provide a signpost menu based on those. Additionally, if
the user gets to the bottom of the signpost and their problem isn't solved
or they have additional questions, there could be an option "Get live help".
This would collect useful information first, and then run a script which
automagically launches an irc client with everything set up, and into the
right level 2 channel.

As example, if user Bob is having trouble with no sound, he goes to this
application. He gets shown a page (scraped from the wiki) on checking volume
levels, and other common problems. He then clicks on the "My problem isn't
solved, get live help" button. It would use apport-collect and stick a
folder on the Desktop with useful information, then connect him to irc on
the #ubuntu-sound channel. This way the signpost can be automated, the user
doesn't have to understand IRC beyond "type message and hit enter", and the
user already has a collection of useful information available for the helper
to peruse.

> About people asking already-answered questions - As I half-suggested in
> another post, I think the second-order problem here is that many
> approaches make it easier to post than to search.  I would recommend
> forums drowning in deja vu to try putting roadblocks between the user
> and the "send message" button.  Preferably, these roadblocks should be
> in the form of search buttons :)

Agreed. The easiest way to get help should be to DIY. Preferably we would
make DIY easier, rather than making live help harder.

> I also think there's a third-order problem here: developers don't have
> to-the-eyeball strategies for delivering their content.  Expecting users
> to trawl through old posts seems intuitively reasonable, but the
> evidence is that it doesn't work that way.
> Here's a nice demonstration that convinced me of the need for software
> to deliver information right into the user's eyeball.  It doesn't work
> unless you actually do it, so please have a go - I promise it's not a
> trick.
> For this demonstration, you'll need a thumb and a digital watch.
> Hold your thumb at arm's length and stare at your thumbnail for a
> moment.  Then place your watch over your thumb, such that the "seconds"
> counter is over your thumbnail.  With your thumb still at arm's length,
> stare at your thumbnail and count the seconds going by.  You should be
> able to count the seconds easily.
> Now place your watch to the left of your thumb, such that the "seconds"
> counter is jammed against the side of your thumbnail.  With your thumb
> at arm's length, stare at your thumb and try to count the seconds go by.
>  You might be able to detect when there's a change, but will be
> completely unable to read the numbers.
> 90% of the rod and cone cells in your entire eye are pointed at an area
> about the size of your thumbnail.  So information just one thumbwidth
> away from the point you're focussing on is almost impossible to take in.
> To solve the third-order problem, I recommend putting the above
> demonstration in front of developers' eyeballs :)

Trawling through old posts is problematic simply because there are so many
which are irrelevant or unsolved. It's really annoying to search the forum
for a problem, see that the third or fourth hit is *exactly* what's
happening to you, and then find out that nobody ever answered the post.
Ideally there would be a way to convert a forum post marked as [SOVLED] into
a wiki article. In a perfect world this would happen automatically, and
these wiki articles would show up in the forum duplicate-post auto-search.
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