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This question is not about whether add-ons should be discussed on our Stack Exchange site (I think we probably all agree they should!). It is more about the type of questions.

It seems like the push, at least on Stack Overflow, is for questions that are specifically about programming, would be likely to generate an answer that is of use to the community at large, and would have lasting value. On Stack Overflow questions that don't meet those critera are sometimes closed as "too localized:"

This question is unlikely to ever help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet

A couple interesting discussions on "too localized" on Stack Overflow Meta (1, 2, 3).

Or they are sometimes closed as "off topic:"

Questions on Stack Overflow are expected to relate to programming or software development within the scope defined in the FAQ. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about closed questions here.

It would seem that some "product support" type of questions (specifically, non-technical questions about EE add-ons) could potentially fall into this category, at least on Stack Overflow.

With that in mind, on to my question

What kind of product-support questions should be allowed on the EE Stack Exchange site? Is there a place for any/all of types of product support questions on the EE Stack Exchange site? Or is a separate product forum a better place?

For example, consider a couple questions posted on Stack Overflow which were closed as "off topic" or "not a real question"

  1. https://stackoverflow.com/questions/13291725/expressionengine-store-by-expresso
  2. https://stackoverflow.com/questions/13238010/expresso-store-sample-checkout-template

Should the ExpressionEngine Stack Exchange site allow questions like this? What type of guidelines about questions like this should we have in our FAQ?

UPDATE: Also see the more specific question, Should we be directing official add-on support here?

6

We get a lot of requests from project teams about how they can use Stack Exchange to support their communities. I see no reason why this site couldn't provide fantastic technical support for add-on products closely related to the use of the ExpressionEngine product. But this site should not be used for typical customer support issues (bug reports, feature requests, etc). More on that in second —

Stack Exchange works really well for these types of sub-community technical support issues…

but, but, but, but…

as long as the company is not trying to outsource their entire customer support channel to Stack Exchange. There's a good meta post covering the issue below; the top two answers are worth reading:

Is it okay to use Stack Overflow as the support forum for a product or project?

Support of Product Communities on Stack Exchange

The interest HAS to come from the community first
Please don't try to "seed" common questions about your product on Stack Exchange. Our communities are very sensitive to this type of astroturfing, and they can react very negatively when a company seems to be posting staged questions simply to get them out there on Stack Exchange. You don't want to be labeled a spammer. Communities expect questions to represent actual problems asked in good faith from those who are actually seeking the help.

Technical Support Only
Stack Exchange should only be ONE of the support options listed on the product's main site. Make sure you have other resources for support apart from Stack Exchange. Issues like bug reporting, feature requests, generalized discussions, and specific customer support issues do not fit into our Q&A model, and should be quickly closed by the community.

Become a Resource to the Community
While we have a very active community, there will likely be questions that can only be answered by internal team members. If you are going to support a product on Stack Exchange, make sure you jump on these quickly to establish your tag as THE place to get help with the harder questions. Have someone on your team whose job it is to monitor the tag daily and respond to any unanswered questions. If users are asking questions about your product, you do not want your tag to become a ghost town. Monitor activity on your tag using tag filters and subscriptions. You can setup a subscription to notify you or your team whenever there is new activity on your tag at http://stackexchange.com/filters/.

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    Great answer, thanks for chipping in Robert. I think what you mention about the interest coming from the community is important - this entire site has been created and promoted by the community, with no involvement from EllisLab. So we should definitely aim to keep things that way, rather than forcing people to use it. – Adrian Macneil Nov 16 '12 at 23:26
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I would tend to disagree that "support" questions don't belong here just by virtue of being "support"; and I vehemently disagree that third-party addon support questions do not belong here. My thoughts:

  • any question that looks like "how do I do X" absolutely belongs here, even if X is a very simple thing, because it's a question that more than one person is going to have sometime in the future. (If it's something that there's a definite previous answer to, then we close the question as a Duplicate, with a redirect to the previous topic.)
  • questions of the form, "I'm trying Y and it's not working" belong here too! The reason it's "not working" may be a bug, or it may be a conceptual error. If it's a bug, someone can answer "this is a known bug, contact the dev", and close the topic; if it's a conceptual error, then it's absolutely appropriate to ask a community of peers for help. Either way, again, the answer will likely be useful to a broad cross-section of people.

My reasoning is that we want the SE site to be a one-stop shop for answers. If we insist that third-party commercial addon support stays siloed into the individual addon devs' helplines and support forums, we lose that benefit. Obviously some questions do belong in the devs' support forums -- but I have absolute faith that this community can make that determination on a case-by-case basis rather than making some sort of one-size-fits-all ruling.

ExpressionEngine isn't just a single product, and we shouldn't treat the SE EE site as if it were. ExpressionEngine is a platform that integrates with a ton of third-party addons, many of which change its behavior in various ways, and many of which are integral to people's development processes.

There is no reason to make a hard-and-fast distinction between "this is an addon" and "this is first-party", or between "this is a Support Question" and "this is a Community Question" -- that is exactly the problem with the EL forums that ultimately drove people to create this site!

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    I think everyone would agree with you that questions about third-party add-ons will be a major part of the site since they're so central to any work in ExpressionEngine. I'm asking what type of third-party questions should be allowed, or whether we just approve of any type of third-party question. Now that I think about it, a better question might have been, "What types of questions should be allowed?," since it would apply to both 1st-party and 3rd-party topics. – Alex Kendrick Nov 15 '12 at 22:51
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    Is it possible to ommit certain tags from the front page? If so, here's my thought: allow third parties to run it as they see fit with 2x tags "vendor" and the name of their product. If we omit "Vendor" the frontpage isn't bombarded with vendor-specific questions but we still give people like Pixel & Tonic or Exp:resso the ability to use SE as their central support platform - which ultimately helps the entire eco-system. My 2p. – Mutual Nov 18 '12 at 14:29
  • Good suggestion. There is an option for users to set ignored tags on the homepage, but having the filter applied globally by Stack Exchange could be beneficial. @Robert would a filter like this be considered for a Stack Exchange site, as Andie described above? Or does this need to remain as a user preference? – Alex Kendrick Nov 20 '12 at 15:26
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I've been thinking a lot about this idea of using the EE SE site for official add-on support, so I'm glad you got this started as a discussion.

First, let's consider this guidance from the email we all got to start this beta:

Ask difficult, specific questions - the kind of questions pros and experts ask each other, not the kind of questions novices ask pros, because a site full of pros and experts will attract everybody, but a site full of novices rapidly becomes boring. No easy questions, no survey questions, no polls, no intro-level/basic questions, no unanswerable hypothetical questions.

To me, this does not point to encouraging the site as a place for first-tier add-on support.

Here's a reply from on of the founders of StackExchange, Jeff Atwood, which has been posted in reply to a few different projects asking a similar question ("can I use StackExchange sites for official project support?"), which takes the line that using SE as your primary official support mechanism is a no-no.

Is it okay to use Stack Overflow as the support forum for a product or project?:

I think this idea of using Stack Overflow as an official support forum is inside-out : the community has to adopt the project, find it of interest, and talk about it on Stack Overflow. Pushing to one particular destination from inside the project feels like forcing a fit for the community rather than letting one organically evolve... outsourcing your forums or support to Stack Overflow alone is abusive and definitely frowned upon.

Also, this additional answer to the same question provides what I think are some reasonable guidelines:

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!

The problem with directing users here for add-on support is that they likely won't distinguish between code-based, technical questions; bug reports; installation problems; feature requests; and control panel interface questions ... only the first of which really belongs on a StackExchange site.

But perhaps others disagree!

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    I think questions like: "how do i prevent lots of queries for listings of entries with lots of playa fields", is a valid question. same for "how to convert a matrix and file based image gallery into channel-images", or, "How can i use low-variables to set the channel= parameter for a module"... So IMO there is definitely room for how-to questions involving 3rd party (e.g. commercial add-on) stuff. – GDmac Nov 15 '12 at 23:33
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    I seriously disagree that we should only allow "code-based, technical" questions here. The whole point of creating this site was that too many EE questions are off topic for Stack Overflow, and that the EL forums don't easily allow us to support third party add-ons. – Adrian Macneil Nov 16 '12 at 0:07
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    I'm specifically about add-ons using SE for official support - not about whether questions about third-party add-ons should be allowed in general (obviously they should be, as probably half of what we do in EE involves them). – Derek Hogue Nov 16 '12 at 4:01
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    What's wrong with providing official support here? As I said below, I think pure feature requests and bug reports should be directed to developers in private, but I think this is the perfect place for official add-on support. – Adrian Macneil Nov 16 '12 at 4:03
  • See Robert's post ... I don't want us to violate the guidelines set out by the folks who just gave us our own place in their community. – Derek Hogue Nov 16 '12 at 4:08
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For commercial addons with official support channels most questions would be best directed to the official support link. However there may be instances where a user is looking more for a how to approach something rather than dealing with bugs in the addons. In that case it should be allowed.

non-commercial addons I think should be fair game for support from the community.

3

I'm in full agreement with Adrienne here. The reason I have been pushing this proposal so hard is that I believe it will be a huge boost to the community for all add-on developers to support their products in a single place. Currently these are spread across multiple Get Satisfactions, and multiple installs of the crappy EE forum plugin. I intend to move our public add-on support here, and will be encouraging other developers to do the same.

I personally hate seeing questions "closed as off topic" on Stack Overflow - it seems to be the cool thing for moderators to do, and I would hate to see for this site to turn into another war zone like that. If there are people willing to answer a question, then I don't believe it should be deemed off-topic.

Note that this is different from being closed as "not a real question" - I still strongly believe we should close any question that cannot be answered, but as far as whether questions are on topic - if it involves ExpressionEngine, I think it belongs here.

For example, let's look at one of the questions you linked to:

I'm working with Exp-resso Store for ExpressionEngine for the first time and wondering if there are sample checkout templates available anywhere.

You would be amazed how many times we get asked this. Our product installs example templates for you, and it's mentioned in the documentation, yet people don't read the docs, jump straight in, and email us asking whether there are any example templates. It would be a shame to see questions like this closed - they are perfectly answerable, and helpful to many people further down the road.

I think questions like that are entirely on topic for this site, and I will be very upset if I see them getting closed.

Examples of other questions I think are on topic:

  • I'm having a problem with css in my channel entries loop (fine, you're using EE, and we're here to help)
  • I'm trying to install this add-on, and getting a PHP error (fine, it relates to EE - hopefully the developer or someone else can take a look at the code and make suggestions)
  • I'm trying to do X in EE and getting a PHP error (fine, again we can probably look at EE source code and help you)
  • Are there any add-ons for EE which support X (I know this would probably get closed on Stack Overflow, but I think we should allow it - it's still helpful to future users)
  • Is there a way to do X in add-on Y (this is different from a feature request below, since it can have a definitive answer)
  • I'm trying to write an add-on to do X, do I need an extension, plugin, or module (fair question, again can easily be answered)

On the flip side, I think the distinction we should be making is which questions are "unanswerable". For example, I think the following questions are unanswerable and should be closed:

  • I want to report a bug in add-on X (pure bug reports should not be allowed, you need to email the developer)
  • I want to request a feature in add-on X (feature requests also cannot be properly answered - but note this is different from "is it possible to do X")

I don't think we will have a problem telling customers that pure feature requests and bug reports should be reported to the developer, and everything else can go on Stack Exchange. I think that is a reasonably easy distinction to make in my mind. But I think it will be a huge tragedy if we start heavy-handedly closing questions as "off-topic" simply because they involve add-ons.

  • Agreed 100%, and Adrian said it much better than I did! – adrienne Nov 16 '12 at 2:58

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