Hi all,

Having recently heard that Synergy (an open source application) was requested not to use Super User as an official support forum, I have been wondering whether it would be worth trying to get a Stack Exchange site created precisely for free software projects to use as their official support channel.

I realise there would be some overlap with Super User, however SU seems to be aimed more at "how do I" questions rather than a specific issue with a specific application.

I was going to put forth a proposal but one of the tips said these sites are supposed to be for experts - "pilots not passengers". A support site would by definition be for the passengers (with the pilots/devs participating of course), so I am thinking that this proposal would not be accepted - which is a shame, because without Super User there isn't really a single place to go for this kind of support - each open source project has a separate mailing list, for example.

What are other people's opinions? Would a dedicated support site for free software be useful, or does it go against the general type of site that belongs under the Stack Exchange banner?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

A bit of background:

Stack Exchange is not a product-support forum for specific companies. It's a community of users who want to create an archive of expert answers within their particular area of expertise. It's okay if companies wish to highlight Stack Exchange as a great place to get technical questions answered and help bring traffic to help support a community of users:

The problem begins when a product-specific company starts to "outsource" their technical support to a Stack Exchange site. Users looking for this type of support are not going to realize that they are speaking to a larger community, so the questions inevitably sound very out of place and localized. So we don't allow companies to link to us with the intention of saying, "If you need help with our product, ask it on this [Stack Exchange Site].

So back to your question:

A proposal to provide an "official support channel" for software projects would likely be closed. The Stack Exchange users can already ask their questions about software products (open source, or not) on Super User. That's what it is for.

But a site dedicated wholly to "official support" would be problematic. Questions in Stack Exchange are generally expected to be of general interest to other people on the Internet. The site becomes a public resource. But official support-style questions — like the site you are proposing here — would include a large number of very specific issues not typically applicable to the larger audience of the Interent; obscure technical support issues, customer support, feature requests, bug reports, billing issues, praise and customer complaints— they really just don't fit the model of a Stack Exchange Q&A site.

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I don't have any problem with developers using our site for 'dedicated' support, the problems I do have are:

  • (Synergy) developers do not monitor this website regularly. This sounds to me like take, take, take, but never give anything back. Furthermore, I'd expect the developer to behave like any other user and also answer other questions or else limit himself to providing support to questions about his own product. This should not be an excuse to spam your product on every related question.

  • The type of questions should be Q&A questions. Jon Skeet had a nice example here

Where-to-post summary:

  • How do I? -- StackOverflow!
  • I got this error, why? -- StackOverflow!
  • I got this error and I'm sure it's a bug -- file an issue!
  • I have an idea/request -- file an issue!
  • Why do you? -- the mailing list!
  • When will you? -- the mailing list!
  • You suck and I hate you -- contact us privately at me@glennbeck.com!
  • You're awesome -- aw shucks!

    Basically: we want questions about you not knowing how to do something. All the rest are bug-reports, feature-requests or discussions and off-topic for any SE-site (AFAIK).

I disagree somewhat with Rebecca that using Stack Exchange for dedicated support is backwards, we have to start educating people that we provide answers to their questions. Developers pointing to us only emphasizes that. However, it should be clear what we're there for and I would almost demand there's a dedicated person who keeps track of the questions of their product. If they see something that doesn't belong on the Stack Exchange site, it's their duty to help us keep it clean.

I do believe that this could be a win-win situation and there should be no need for separate SE-sites if others already exist. It just takes more than a simple link to our sites to make it work.

Update in response to Robert's answer Note that the questions should be limited to performing tasks with the software, no bug-reports or feature-requests. While those can be obscure too, they will help any other user of that product.

As for the MSDN comparison: I think its unfair to point to Stack Overflow and its a chicken-egg problem. Yes, we want to get these questions organically, but that's assuming we're THE source for that topic on the internet and everybody out there knows what we're doing. Newflash: none of the other SE-sites has truly reached that status and even Super User doesn't even come close to the ubiquity of Stack Overflow.

So I would applaud any company who would want to collaborate with us, but that doesn't mean its free for all.

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WOW. So if someone is sure they have a bug, they're supposed to file an issue report with the company and wait for a fix?? And a bug report is off topic? Then how in the world is discussion supposed to take place between people who have found the same bug and have workarounds to share? The huge value of many discussion sites is that often a community can provide critical support so that people can help keep each other operational during the lag time before a bug fix can be delivered, which depending on the product team can be anywhere from hours to days to weeks to months to never. –  Michael Stocker Nov 29 '12 at 12:44
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