Answers and, well, answers being repeated.

As someone who has been here for a while, I can see patterns of repetetiveness in a good proportion of questions. This makes me think of a problem and a suggestion for an improvement.

The problem first - it's quite plain that people are not able to find much to answer their initial question (including me)

  • Some don't bother to search at all, there's not a lot we can do to fix that.
  • Most do search, but don't find a useful answer, even though there is often one or more questions that do answer them - that implies that search and/or tagging isn't working.
  • Most of the repeated questions have very similar answers, and people who answer them end up saying the same thing over and over and over

Suggestions

  • The simple one - a short batch of FAQs that would be part of the intial search for answers, and the people trying to help could point to. The FAQs should have common and obvious tags/labels to help, I think.
  • The slightly more complex one - "existing questions" is a start, but an intelligent scan that looks through the FAQs

Examples - this week, I've seen at least five questions about running SQL against a Jira database. A simple pointer to a short page saying "don't, it's a bad idea becasue..." would be nice. Then there were the three "Jira doesn't do field level security, see JRA-1330" answers, and the handful of "Restrict issue type available by user" answers. The fact these keep coming up, over and over and over, tells me that something is not working here.

I don't have many ideas on how to fix this, the suggestions above are just things that would work for me (it worries me that I know the url to JRA-1330 without having to even look at it because I've referred people asking the same so many times). I'm not sure this a question really, but I think it's a subject worth a discussion, as Answers has been running for a while. We had the same problems with the forums, and I was hoping Answers would be better (it is, in other ways, but it's not helped with the repeated questions).

9 answers

1 accepted

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Gone are the days of Super Man and Spider Man. Its time for Hercules!

Either do a Google or implement Hercules for Answers ;)

I think we can improve the current system when a person hits a submit button a list of approved answered questions that would match their question could pop up. This would help cover the people who refuse to look and the people who tried to look but for some reason did not find what they were looking for. So bring on Hercules with alittle (or not so little) extra logic.

The search of Answers is quite weak, and Google search is what we practically use for searching Answers.

If there can be mechanism to search Answers and determine a kind of percentage/similarity with an existing answer (like 80% close), this could make people to read those before posting.

Along with that another option is to warn the user when he/she clicks 'Submit' that this is probably a duplicate question. [Condition could be that the search shows results above some percentage (say > 80%]

Hercules mostly works off log files which is a lot easier than parsing natural language, because there are a finite number of log messages that it searches for. Sometimes people post a stack trace so that could work, but not in the examples Nic gave.

I say just improve search and let the community decide what is the best answer to a question, rather than create an official FAQ.

I wonder if stackoverflow has this problem, it doesn't seem to really.

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Search:

It's been on my list for some time that search needs improving. Besides the performance issues (which we're now mostly past), it was the second most popular improvement from the survey we did (see feedback from Answers survey).

We've begun to implement improvements to search beginning with the search API. It's got a couple bugs in it, and we've been testing and iterating over it. This first iteration may have actually made things worse, if that were possible, but the groundwork is there for real improvement. The search API uses a django equivalent of Lucene (called Whoosh) that indexes content both for keyword retrieval and metadata (for example you'll be able to find your own answers, as Bob mentioned).

Basically all of this is groundwork towards an advanced search UI.

FAQ:

We have a so-called FAQ in the JIRA documentation, and you can see what happened there - basically it turned into a dumping ground. Or try the Licensing FAQ, which is hard to read and find your answer. I'd like to avoid those pitfalls: either having it turn into one big long unreadable list or a dumping ground for everything. There's also currenly an FAQ which is really instructions on how to use Answers, so if we did an actual FAQ we'd need to distinguish it.

With the caveat of those pitfalls, it seems like a good feature to be able to quickly/easily link to common answers. We have a placeholder at Improve search results of canonical answers, and I just added a new feature request to add a dynamic FAQ.

Hercules:

Jamie's right, Hercules is about log file pattern matching; it's much harder to match natural language, which again goes back to improving search.

Also:

I wonder if stackoverflow has this problem, it doesn't seem to really.

Check out their blog post. Seems like some degree of this is inevitable, although hopefully search and an FAQ can help a bit. Certainly search is the place to start.

From that blog post, I'd say the problems are equally accidental dupes and borderline dupes. The suggestion of dealing with them is appropriate tagging. AAC does not have enough well delineated tags, and the users don't use them well either... maybe there is scope for improvement in that area.

I understand Hercules is looking at log patterns but it eventually searches the knowledge base right? Can we do something similar? i.e. look at the question summary being posted (instead of log pattern) and search the answers forums (instead of knowledge base) to find matching questions?

Sounds like Suggestimate?

Ofcourse, improving search is indeed a good place to start at. Above suggestion is a 'nice to have' feature.

PS: The problem is, Atlassian has made it a habit of implementing 'nice to have' features and people doesn't expect anything lesser these days ;)

Doesn't that just bring us back to better search? Not sure this is a job for Herc.

AAC does not have enough well delineated tags

Yeah, that's on the list too: Clean up AAC tags.

Better search to start with, for sure.

I think I confused a bit with Hercules and Suggestimate. Anyways, I hope you get the idea. I really like those suggestions that come up when creating an issue in support.atlassian.com. That will be my 'nice to have' feature.

Hrm, no need to pay for a plugin to do that: http://blogs.onresolve.com/?p=123 ;-)

AAC already has a suggestions feature... hasn't helped me but then I pretty much know what is here already!

You are a genius, as we all know, and I don't know why I failed to remember abt it because I think I have seen this sometime back!

To add, when I said suggestimate and hercules, I just wanted to highlight the functionality because I know they won't work as it is in Answers.

Anyways, I haven't noticed that suggestion feature before but I just did a quick test to find out it was there! They have continued the trend of putting 'nice to have' features - have they?

http://blogs.onresolve.com/?p=123

I must say that this is awesome, never heard about it. But I know now ;)

I understand Hercules is looking at log patterns but it eventually searches the knowledge base right?

The javascript that shows suggestions as you type is called 'virgil', which we blogged. I think that's what you're thinking of.

Answers does indeed have this feature, although given that it sits on top of the poor search matching, it's not doing much use. Once we improve search, the auto-suggest feature will improve as well.

That's indeed the one! Thanks for pointing it out.

That stackoverflow posts says something about merging questions "We will use our new moderator question merge function to merge them together without losing any answers or comments" Would be interesting if we have this for Answers as well, could have merged all those 'database direct update' questions till now into one thread :)

An update:

We've changed the search engine! It's now using Haystack and Xapian. It should be both more performant and give better results.

A few of the questions aren't being indexed, which I'm tracking here.

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Andrei [errno] Community Champion May 05, 2012

a comprehensive FAQ has been a long time coming. I move for Atlassian to create a placeholder FAQ and pre-seed it with SQL answers :)

I would rather they update their documentation before spending time on a FAQ. There are some HUGE holes in the doc that are badly in need of filling. Just my $.02. (BTW, this isn't a slam at Atlassian. The ones who speak up are the ones who care...)

This isn't about the documentation, it's about people asking the same question over and over and over. Not because the documentation is bad, but becasue they simply can't find a useful answer (of course, there's nothing we can do about the people who can't be bothered to search, but it's obvious a lot of people do search, and get no luck). It would also make life easier for people answering - instead of <exasperated sigh + explanation>, a simple "read FAQ #4 and get back to us if there's stuff missing" (with FAQ #4 pointing to any relevant docs of course)

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I think we all can agree on one thing... The Atlassian Answer search isn't good enough. Me as Nic I'm always using Google with the 'site' label.

That's the first step and almost everything it can be done. Because when you create a question it shows a little list with question that could have the answer, but as this is too weak, you can't find anything there, already been there.

Other thing, not very, very useful and only for users that want to help is to indicate in the answer the other question that already has the answer, sadly we can't report as duplicated because it isn't really duplicated.

But, in general, I think the real problem is that maybe the messages and indications that A Answers gives are not clear enough (or people ain't clever enough :/ ). If you take a look how often the people use the answer box just to comment a question...

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What about the repeated semi-automatic answers that troll and direct people to sales email addresses... If you can't add value to an answer in a technical manner, dont tell them to contact you on email to sell them stuff.

As far as I know, we do our best to answer "sales" related questions right here, in Answers. Not doing so would kind of defeat the purpose.

I have told people to contact our support team to do in-depth debugging that couldn't really take place on answers for security reasons.

I'll follow-up with the pre-sales team and make sure this isn't a trend. Thanks Robert.

-Simon

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Search doesn't work for me - I can't even find previous answers I have written :(!

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Same here. I have much better luck with google using the site:answers.atlassian.com option.

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I think you have to be very specific with the keywords to find what you are looking for. but yea, sometimes I cant find the questions I asked before, I had to go to my profile and went through the list of my previous questions to find what I need.

And is it just me or the old forum search much better than Answers?

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Well, things have moved on, but...

I'm still unconvinced by the search (sticking with google site: is a giveaway), although it's certainly faster.

We're still getting at least weekly questions on restricting the issue list, using SQL and field security. Still no way to say "<sigh> see questions 5, 9, 12, 34, 56, 82.... (of 80,000)"

As this is old, I guess we should restart the suggestions

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