As alluded to in another thread, I am “going pro” in the sense that I quit my job and I’m trying to make a living through my blog and building web properties. This thread is your big chance to contribute to not only my virtual but actual real world failure! Failure is always an option!
There’s not a lot of overlap between the Q23 audience and my blog, so I figure it’s safe to ask questions and gather feedback here. I do ask that you please don’t cross-post any of this information on my blog.
It’s also appropriate to ask here because the “web property” I alluded to is a sort of forum itself, and Q23 is one of my favorite forums, if not my favorite forum of all time. The signal-to-noise ratio here is outstanding, and it’s often the place I turn to when I have weird questions that need reasonable answers, like where I can find T-Shirts of +1 AC. Q23 is a great community and a perfect illustration of the power of focused community as a forum.
The forums we’re planning to build are somewhat specialized. They’re not meant to be one-size-fits-all like phpBB and vBulletin and the like. We’re designing them to accommodate software developers and other technical geeks. We will be seeding it with the fairly sizable audiences that have grown up around my blog and the other (unnamed) person who is sponsoring this project.
My love of blogging has evolved from the fact that I can put quality information on the 'net that actually helps people understand and solve their problems. And even make a living at at it! But I’m only one guy, and although millions of people post on forums, very few want to start a blog. I’d like to build a system that lets everyone participate in this virtuous cycle. The one-sentence version of what we want to build is this: like Experts Exchange but without all the nausea-inducing sleaze and quasi-legal search engine gaming. It’ll all (eventually) be ad-subsidized, no subscriptions or purchasing anything per se.
We’re still in the “tossing around feature ideas” stage now. This doesn’t have to be a super-complicated project; just a focused (on techies/geeks/programmers), smarter, easier to use version of the forums we all know and love. Here are some of the ideas we’ve floated so far:
[li]clean, simple, clutter-free 37signals-esque design. Even this forum (vBulletin) is far too cluttered with a bunch of feature noise I never use.
[/li][li]some form of “achievements” system, ala Xbox Live, to encourage participation in meaningful ways
[/li][li]The ability to mark a good answer to a question, and float it up under the question so you don’t have to read an entire thread (and the many wrong or half-answers) to figure out what’s going on.
[/li][li]The ability to collaboratively summarize threads, wiki style (think rottentomatoes.com meta-reviews of all the reviews), and float that to the top.
[/li][li]When you post a new question thread, automatically perform a Google or Lucene search to see if your question has already been answered-- without moderators or other users having to manually chime in, “read the FAQ / Sticky”.
[/li][li]Digg style voting Yes (was helpful) or No (wasn’t helpful) on individual posts
[/li][li]Once you accumulate enough Karma / points / whuffie, a “hire me!” option opens up, so people with a lot of expertise in a single area can be recruited, if they want to be. This is sort of like starting multiplayer games on Xbox live and looking for people with 800+ points in Guitar Hero, for example. You know they have to be pretty good, right?
[/li][li]Not only post “how do I…” threads, but post “here’s how you…” articles as well. Forums can accommodate both of these kinds of threads, but we’ll make the distinction a little more explicit.
Some other sites that do similar things, for background:
http://askville.amazon.com/ and http://answers.yahoo.com/
Google Answers (defunct)
So what do you guys think? What features would make sense for this sort of next-gen technical forum? If you’re in that audience (eg your job or background is technical), what would you like to see?