Handling Duplicate Forum Questions

You’re right, I should have not responded to this thread. I’ll be posting a job offer hopefully before the end of 2019 for a “social media and tech support” person to professionally handle user queries because I just can’t do this anymore. It really pushes me the wrong way when the same question is asked over and over and over and over and over again every single day. This isn’t for me, especially when I’m trying to move the business along and write software for new and existing products. You might have noticed my absence from the VCV communities in the last month. You’ll continue seeing less of me, which will no doubt be better for the community.

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This is normal. It’s difficult to be the person responsible for everything (I know, I’m the chief editor in one small photojournal) and at the same time do amazing things. We wish you success, do your own thing and we will support as much as possible.

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I have to do a lot of customer support in my job and I get rankled sometimes, too. I also had my own business at one point for seven years, and I must admit, I never quite got comfortable with the phrase “the customer is always right.”

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I was head of a large advertising studio for many years so I understand stressful environments.

There are no winners when these kinds of communication breakdowns occur but we are professionals
here and should be able to work through them when they surface.

For me I just want the project to succeed, to make new friends and grow with the community.

Let’s just be awesome to each other, inspire each other and create wonderful things.

Pondering on this a bit (apologies for hijacking this thread), the primary issue with providing technical support on a public forum (this is an important detail) is handling duplicate questions. I’m fully happy to provide full support for an issue the first time it is asked, end of story. I want to make the first answer to a question as complete and informative as possible, because I think this is a reasonable amount of tech support.

Now to brainstorm a bit, consider that the average number of times a question is re-asked is N (in my experience this is around 25-50 after a year). How should I, the community, or a hired employee/contractor handle this situation? We have a few options.

  1. I can answer the question in full each time. Obviously not possible due to time, just getting that option out of the way.
  2. I can post a link to the original question. This has a number of issues.
    • I don’t have time to read all posts on the VCV communities.
    • The link to my “first answer” might be on the Facebook group, which is sometimes inaccessible to users without Facebook accounts. GitHub issues and Forum posts are fine.
    • Posting a link and nothing else might be seen as rude/dismissive, despite it usually being helpful.
    • The link to my answer to User 1 might answer question A, while User 2 asks question B. The answer might be the same, but it takes additional effort to explain to recast/equate the question from B -> A.
  3. I can rely on the community to answer user questions. Also the following problems.
    • Accuracy has been surprisingly low. Answers range from being 100% correct, approximate but still helpful, wrong, and completely wrong by damaging the users’ understanding or falsely damaging a developer’s reputation.
    • In the past, users have rarely posted links to previously-answered questions, despite this being the silver bullet way to help another user.
    • Customers often expect company involvement in answering their tech support queries, not “the community”.
    • This only works with questions asked on the communities, not email.
    • This only works with questions that are “obvious” to lots of users. Most people avoid answering questions they don’t know, which is good, but this leaves a lot of questions with no responses.
  4. I can hire work. This is good because
    • They can each duplicate question in full N times a year, and be happy doing so since I’m paying them.
    • They could also send links, as they are more familiar with searching for them.
    • They can serve as my middleman. A user can ask a question via email, forum, or Facebook, and in the 3% chance it hasn’t been asked before, the middleman could open an issue on GitHub with the question, reply with “Hold tight, I’m investigating the answer for you”, I answer it in full technical detail and generality, and they would respond with the appropriate “watered-down” answer of the user’s specific question. From that point forward, I would be “shielded” from spending any more time on the issue, since I have paid my cost in full when writing the GitHub Issue answer.
      The disadvantage is that this is a very expensive option, and the opportunity cost is other business opportunities like new plugins, commercial integrations with software, releasing Rack on other platforms, adding features, etc.

This is what goes through my mind each day and why the issue of answering a simple question is actually not so simple, as all options have disadvantages. This is constantly my source of frustration when anyone asks a question that has been answered before.

Remember to consider the math of this situation. There are around 100,000 monthly active users (MAU) of VCV Rack. Suppose 1% of them ask a question once a month, which is a conservative estimate of the true percentage. If I spend 5 minutes average typing each answer, that would be 83 hours, or 10 work days. That’s half the entire work month gone. From my perspective, the issue of duplicate questions is by far the obvious largest inefficiency, because if the issue of duplicates magically went away, I wouldn’t need a contractor, community help, or the need to even brainstorm a solution, since I would simply handle it myself.

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I can understand your frustration Andrew. My suggestion to you would be:

  • When you see a question on the forum for the first time, and you have the time to answer it, it’s generous and much appreciated when you do that. If you don’t have the time, just ignore it.
  • Repeated questions, often put lazily, I consider partly a function of rapid new user influx. I suggest you ignore it entirely. It’s a moderator job to clean these up quickly, close them heavy handedly with a “already answered here (link), please search before asking”.
  • If you think forum moderation is insufficient, which it probably is a bit at the moment, talk to the moderators or ask for some more of them. You do not have time to be the Rack developer and forum moderator at the same time, that’s for sure. Your job is to focus.

Don’t burn out Andrew. Ask for help and drop whatever balls you need to, which is a good exercise for the inner control freak as well :wink:

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If people want moderators to be more heavy handed then that can be done. I have not personally been heavy handed because in the great majority of cases it has been the first post from a new member and I don’t want to be harsh.

I have done a series of sticky posts over the last few months but they clearly aren’t read by new posters. There is a banner function that could be used if necessary.

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You can’t control social media it will drive you nuts. Society is too complex and diverse, what stands today will change tomorrow. I don’t believe any amount of statistics will help it’s not that kind of issue.

There are many reasons why people post the way they do, some are in a rush, some may have special needs and find social interaction difficult, some may be just starting out and are confused by the complexity of modular synthesis, some may just be naturally chatty and inquisitive, some may not be internet savvy and used to forums, the list is as diverse as all human life itself.
My point being you can only be responsible for your own personal space and actions. It’s not your job to reach out to everyone or answer every query, nor should you try because it will lead to frustration overflowing and nobody wins. If you feel uncomfortable answering a query, have other things on your mind, are tired just let it go, the sky won’t fall and the world won’t stop spinning. You’re not a machine.

I believe most people are good intentioned, but none of us are perfect and will make errors of judgement form time to time. Being exposed to public scrutiny and demands on a daily basis must be challenging if you haven’t been used to it. Celebrities go through the same sort of thing.

I don’t think you have to cut yourself off from the community, just approach it from a different angle. Give yourself some breathing space and filter out the things that would cause stress. Enjoy some of the music being created by your vision, enjoy the company of likeminded people.

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I’ve noticed you’ve done a great job lately Nik, and it’s much appreciated!

I think where heavy-handed is concerned the keywords are: Short, firm, friendly, helpful, consistent. I think lately there has been quite a few posts from new people, that should simply be dismissed quickly with basically a “search before posting”, and then deleted after a short while.

Yeah, the sticky posters are good for reference but not noticed by someone in a hurry. Banners can be the road to hell. I think the best thing might be, that when new users sign up, they’re met with a very big, bold message that says “search before asking, because… or else…”, because that’s the big irritant.

Thanks again for all your work Nik!

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What about a section at the head of the forum about ‘known or unresolved issues’ where folk could look first. It could even be locked from comments else you’d just end up in the same situation with multiple requests and demands.

It would just need someone to update it as and when issues appear that are deemed important arise and could easily be linked to from here and possibly fb. (I don’t use fb so I’m not sure how things work there.)

A little inclusive message about patience and that vcv is a new and growing project should be sufficient for most people.

Once folk know where to look for known issues there will be no reason to post unnecessary requests.

These ideas totally make sense to me in theory, but in my personal experience they don’t actually work in practice.
Sometimes (often?) people only join a forum to ask a single question; they aren’t interested in joining a community. I don’t expect these people to actually read the rules and make an effort to follow them. But then it only takes their first post to disrupt the forum, make it less usable and nullify all “our” efforts (sticky posts, warning banners, friendly reminders when signing in…).

I agree with this, and I suggest that a standard, impersonal reply 1) takes less time to moderators and 2) may be perceived as less harsh.

Anyway, huge thanks to @Vortico in the first place and to the other forum moderators for their work. It can be frustrating as hell and there’s no easy way to do it right.

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It will be an extremely difficult habit to break, but I will try to no longer respond to duplicate questions at all (except by VIPs) but instead make my first answer as complete as possible. To elaborate:

  • The contact page says that contact@vcvrack.com should only be used for “assistance with your VCV account, commercial VCV plugins, and other business/private requests”. This means I will simply click Delete on all questions about Rack. I’m not going to worry about hitting an auto-reply button because this would increase the probability of another email. A reply of any kind would strictly increase the probability of invoking negative feelings verses a non-response.
  • A “VIP” is someone that has or will benefit VCV in some higher-than-average way. E.g. celebrity, industry peer, customer with hundreds of $ of purchases.
  • My “first answer” doesn’t necessarily need to be posted on the first question. I will prefer answering questions on GitHub issues, VCV forum, Facebook user group, and other places, in that order of priority.
  • The goal of my (one and only) answer to a question is to create first-source content that others can cite. The goal is not to satisfy the asker, so my answer will be technical, not “dumbed-down”. It is up to other people to interpret my response to satisfy the original asker or future duplicate askers.
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I have spent 300+ dollars on commercial modules, including every single VCV commercial module, so that makes me a VIP.

Yet I was kicked out of the Facebook group.

Is that how you treat your VIP customers? Cause that’s very bad PR.

I’ve given you lots of slack because of it. I can kick you out of this group too if your behavior here goes against policy. I haven’t seen anything yet, so you’re currently in the clear.

Nope, last exchange we had you told me to take (I’m paraphrasing) “that sexist shit to gearslutz or muffwiggler” at which point I asked if you thought it was ok to be sexist on other platforms, and I was kicked out. There was no code of conduct at that point either so it was just you taking it personally.

This is your final warning. If you display your toxic behavior in this forum or continue to challenge my moderator decision, you will be banned from this forum too.

Let’s not get emotional now.

I haven’t challenged your moderator decision. I haven’t made an attempt to get back on the facebook group, which means I accepted your decision and moved on.

Can you elaborate on “toxic behavior” please? It’s a very subjective term and I wouldn’t wanna violate any policies regarding toxicity. I really love this forum and am happy to be part of it.

Since this is off topic, moving to PMs.

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as the lone “support” person on a project with hundreds of thousands of technical users, might I ask that you amend this a little bit? here’s what I’ve found has worked well for me in that case and when dealing with commercial products I’ve been responsible for:

  • do as you said - make your first answer as complete as possible
  • on followup questions of the same type, point to the previous response as the canonical answer
  • once the question has been asked 3 or more times, add it to your prominently placed FAQ

the reason I bring this up is that even when searching, it’s sometimes very difficult to find the canonical answer, but instead places where the question is asked again. having a direct pointer in each of those to the correct answer, or preferably a FAQ, helps those who search later, and helps solidify search results. I can point to many prominent projects where there is only one answer and no additional support other than users - that typically ends up with others not finding the canonical answer, and ultimately being very frustrated, which of course frustrates those trying to help them.

look, search engines still suck, and often times a thread about not getting an answer becomes the top responses when searching, why not shortcut that by simply linking to the answer yourself, at least until the canonical answers are prominent and other users get used to pointing to a single document that answers those questions?

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Sorry, this takes too much of my time. See my post above about hiring an employee and the “math”. Like I mentioned there, it’s a business tradeoff, and I haven’t decided on the profitibility of a tech support employee yet.

The issue is that the people who ask these questions are precisely the people who do not read the FAQ, no matter how prominent. Furthermore, many questions that are asked dozens of times are answered elsewhere in the manual. The FAQ would then become the entire manual, making it ineffective.

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