Let’s start fixing WordPress support.
The five words above are rife with problems, because “let’s”, the contraction for “let us”, means we have something for you that will make Fixing WordPress Support happen. And actually, we are about to announce something cool; several of our partners are working toward addressing WordPress support problems.
But let’s start with why fixing WordPress support is such a problem—and so important.
There really is no such thing as “WordPress Support”. That’s not to say that you can’t find people who know plenty about WordPress, both at WordPress parent Automattic and elsewhere, but that there’s no officially-sanctioned, always-the-right-place-to-reach-out-to-although-you-might-need-to-pay place that you can call and get answers to your WordPress questions. Microsoft has one. Apple has one. “WordPress” does not.
It’s a genuine WordPress Support Problem: Fixing WordPress Support Matters.
The page we’ve linked below and copied in this article’s illustration is one of the most egregious examples, and while StackExchange is consistently about as militant an example of the problem that you’ll find anywhere, this instance is merely convenient for this story.
The person asking the question was vague, but when someone asks for help and your response is essentially “you’re too stupid to warrant my time and I’m going to ridicule you for it”, something’s wrong.
StackExchange, a programmer’s resource, is notorious for this kind of thing, so let’s stipulate that fixing WordPress support isn’t happening at StackExchange. WordPress support problems are not programmer issues, even though programming is often involved.
It makes us think of comments we made about The WordPress Community when we launched; when you believe you are the community, you reduce the community’s value.
Fixing WordPress Support won’t be easy; it starts with questions like Why Does WordPress Not Work Like My Other Software?, ends with simple frustration as you pick up a manual and hope for the best, and in between takes issues like how WordPress can maintain its growth into account. But we’re working on it, and would love if you helped.
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There’s support, and then there’s “support.”
The support forums, for example, are explicitly a forum for support. If you have an issue, you can freely take your issue to the forums and try to get the community to lend a hand. If someone who can help is available, they’ll help. If not, then you’ve likely stumbled upon something far bigger than a quick answer by a passer-by.
The WordPress Development StackExchange site, however, is not a support forum. It’s a question and answer board. You ask a clear, concise question and the community offers answers. Good questions are up-voted, good answers are up-voted, and the cream of the crop (allegedly) rises to the surface. Poorly-worded questions are down-voted, not to ridicule the asker, but to indicate that the question needs work – the asker can always edit the question to re-earn their reputation points back.
I’ve been a moderator of the WordPress Development site since it was in beta. Not because it’s a replacement for the official support forums, but because a Q-and-A board is a useful addition to the “support” offering for WordPress. That being said, it’s got a very different format that typical support boards, and that obviously comes across very differently in both the content presented and the way visitors interact with the site.
I always investigate accusations of community misconduct on the board thoroughly, so your suggestion that the post above was “one of the most egregious examples” prompted me to look further into this issue.
First off, no one “ridiculed” the poster. The only comment left on the post was by the original poster criticizing their own Google skills and inability to quickly find a solution elsewhere. The question itself was down-voted not as ridicule for the topic, but as a way to indicate that the question was too vague, poorly worded, or merely doesn’t fit on the site. (Low-reputation members cannot close posts, they can merely down-vote. Down-votes flag posts automatically for moderator attention so we can a. help the poster clean things up or b. take action to clean up the site if necessary).
Further, the post was put on hold not by unilateral action by the moderator team, but by popular vote by several longstanding members of the community. Beyond that, the “on hold” message explains why the question was locked, links to even more clarifying material, and even links to an example/walkthrough for how to clean things up and rewrite the question so it does fit.
That’s a significant amount of material provided to help educate a new site member on how to interact with the tool they’ve chosen to use. Apart from a face-to-face video call to explain things, there’s not much more that can be done. This is an entirely volunteer effort, and the user in question not only created their account the same day they posted, they haven’t come back to the site since!
“when someone asks for help and your response is essentially ‘you’re too stupid to warrant my time and I’m going to ridicule you for it'” – This is not what happened here. Not at all. That you would suggest otherwise shows you don’t really understand the point of the site you’re critiquing and don’t really care to dig any deeper.
Eric, thank you sincerely for that.
Obviously there are perspective issues we disagree on, and that’s … OK, right? So I’ll skip to the bottom, and quote your quote and follow-up comment:
I’ll cop to not ever quite having been able to crack the code at StackExchange. Certainly I understand who’s “there”, and that every community has a self-defined appropriate conduct policy. LITERALLY … and I may had said this briefly in the article … it IS the responsibility of people who post to understand and at least try to adhere, and no question he went awfully far afield.
My real concern is twofold:
First, the guy got downvoted. For asking a question. Seriously? WHY? I understand downvoting an answer, but a question? Unless it’s abusive in some way that makes no sense at all (says me).
Second, getting support is too hard. Non-geeks are behind the eight-ball to start with, and when they ask for help and the response is not only NOT a response but says “dude, how dare you?” it may defend “the integrity of StackExchange”, but it also makes the site’s rules look kind of stupid. And the whole point of The WordPress Helpers is dealing with that.
Again, thank you for taking the time to respond, and so thoroughly. But I think we may need to agree to disagree. You’re in great company, though!
Remember, a question down-vote isn’t a flag that you did something wrong or inappropriate or need to take it as a negative critique. It’s effectively giving a “thumbs down” to the question – a way to say “I don’t think this is clear” or “This doesn’t make sense” or, and more specifically, “I don’t think this question belongs on the front page of the site where new visitors are looking for examples of how they should ask questions.”
For the record, despite having a high reputation on the board, even my questions are often down-voted. It’s less of a “this is dumb” indicator and more an “I don’t understand, please come back and clarify” one.
If a question is abusive, inappropriate, etc then it can be explicitly flagged for moderator attention – which is a very different mechanism (and is 100% transparent to everyone except the moderator team).
Thanks, Eric. We’re probably still at odds on the big picture, but the specifics are helpful!
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