my idea of a question forum...

I’ve been thinking about creating a question forum (not necessary inside this forum), and had to consider lots of different things about it.

2 goals it would have:

To help answer questions related to the FIRST robotics competition quickly and efficiently, to make sure teams get the answer they need as soon as possible.

Categorize answers in such a way that its easy to search for the answer in different category, so teams can them up easily without clogging up the forum.

It would be something like the FIRST yahoo board last year, except with all the lesson learned from the mistakes that one made, and improved with a more organized forum.

And it wouldn’t be an official Q&A forum representing FIRST. It would be a gathering of minds in FIRST helping teams around the country by answering questions they have with years of experience and knownledge with the competition.

All the discussions about the competition will still happen on CD forum… this question forum will be just for questions answering only.

If, I find the means to setup something like this, I wonder how many people would be interested in helping answer questions?

Sure! That’s a great idea. I could help out with it. I think a questions forum would be a great help to everyone.

While I was thinking about this, I had to consider different things:

Who would be answering questions in this?
How to category the answers/questions?
How to promote this and get enough interests to keep it alive?
Would teams really need this?

The big question is: Who would answer the questions?

There is something good about getting everyone, in that the more people we have, the quicker the answer will be posted. And the more minds thinking about it, the better the answers would be. But at the same time, I worry about having random people come in and post random answers that adds no value (may even confuse the people who asked the question).

So I thought about it being “invite only”, and make sure all the answering people know what they are talking about. But how would we make it so it doesn’t come up as unfair/selective…? The good thing about “invite-only” would be the quality of answers and the overall effectiveness since it won’t be endless debate on different things. The down side is, with limited people there might be some questions people can’t answer.

At the same time, there will need to be a selection process to figure out who gets to answer questions…

The most important point, though, is to get questions answered quickly and leave all the discussions in CD.

Hmm… this will need more thinking time…

Second thing is categorizing the answers, and put it in an index, so that teams can easily look up the answers.

But how do we divide the answers? Into regions of the country? or Topics? or both? It would be nice for teams to ask questions like, where do we buy pneumatics in Bay Area, California? and have teams from around that place answer those kind of questions. At the same time, it would be useful to divide the forum into topics like CD. But for the example question above, would you put it in pneumatics or west coast?

Maybe we could put the question/answer in both categories?

Third thing is publicity. If there’s not enough interest to ask questions and enough people to answer them, its likely that people will stop using it. We will have to make it successful and helpful in order to develope a reputation, and that takes time. If it won’t last more than a month, then its not really worth developing…

Forth thing, I still need to convince myself that something like this would be worth the energy doing. It would be if teams find it useful and there’s enough interest to keep it going. Otherwise, its just not worth doing.

Any comments/ideas?

You could possibly add a certain ‘group’ of people…so they have “Answerer of thine questions” by their name, kinda like the Mods on here. (But, if you choose to have many of them, restrict editing privelages)

I agree with evulish. Have a select group of people from different parts of the country in different areas of expertise. That way, they can answer region-specific, as well as technical questions. Have maybe 30 people who have answering privileges, and maybe 3 or so with editing privileges.

As far as categorizing, I think that questions should be sent in in a different format, other than the standard posting. That way, the “answering group” can view unanswered questions, and assign them to the category or categories that the question fits best. Moderators could also add links in different categories later.

Another thing that could be done is have a two-level “answer” and “comments” section. The “official answers” would go at the top, but anyone could post a “comment” that would appear below the answer.

I definitely think that it is worth doing. There are almost 2000 members here, and that is a pretty good base for such a program. We can publicize it to other teams, and possibly get FIRST to put something on their site, like, “If you need help building your robot, go to for help from other teams in your area and across the country.” We won’t get every team, but enough will find out, and those that need help will probably find their way here.

Great idea guys.

As far as having a group of Answerers, my big concern is people saying “how come I don’t get to be an answerer?”, and think that we are only picking favorites to give privileges to. That is definitely not the cast. We would be asking helps from people like Joe Johnson and Mike Martus on CD, Andy Baker on Technokats, Raul and Al from Wildstang, Chris and gross on Beachbot, along with other engineers/mentors on other teams because of their experties in the competition.

I just don’t know what to tell people when I know there are enough answerers, or I know they wouldn’t be of much help… Its easier for Chief Delphi because they only accept people on their team for moderators.

Then for categorizing, two things we can do. We can sort questions by dates, so we know which ones hasn’t been asnwered for a long time. Then after questions are answered, they will be moved to the appropiate category which the question remain in the question forum for a day or two indicating its been moved to this or that forum.

The people who asked the question will still know where it is, and afterward people who want to look up answers can find it in the appropiate category.

We just got to come up with a way to make sure the question forums get clogged up with 200 questions like how it was in Yahoo board last season. Trust me, I was there… There were so many questions that it was impossible to go through all of them at the end… (I also remember one of Dr. Joe’s questions about regional wasn’t answered for 4 weeks or so.)

Mean while, this question forum is designed to answer people’s questions about the competition as fast as possible… All the discussion can happen here in CD. If people see some interesting topics, they can post the same thing in the appropiate forums in here. As I said, this would be a compliment to CD, not competing with it.

It would also act as team support of FIRST, except with lots of people with close knownledge to their area and lots of experience in the competition. So, even though the answer are not words from FIRST, it would still be valid in the form that “yes, please take a look at rule ##”, or “here is what we did last year”, etc.

Well, I don’t know… I would definitely love to see more responds from more people.

Joe Johnson, Raul, Andy Baker, myself and others have talked about just such an idea a couple of times this year. We came to one conclusion that the person(s) answering the questions would, by necessity, need to exclude themselves from competition or team work. It would need to be done by people who have no interests in that particular year’s competition in order to be believable by the persons asking the questions. As much as we believe in “gracious professionalism”, it is a hard thing to trust for newcomers to the competition. By excluding yourself from competing you lend trust to the question and answer.
However, e-mail and this forum would be able to speed things up quite a bit as many of us check the boards during lunch and evenings and could render some answers pretty quick. Sort of like an advisory tech team to FIRST. (who during the season gets pretty bogged down with all the tasks that need to be done.)
Season’s Greetings All

*Originally posted by Al Skierkiewicz *
Joe Johnson, Raul, Andy Baker, myself and others have talked about just such an idea a couple of times this year. We came to one conclusion that the person(s) answering the questions would, by necessity, need to exclude themselves from competition or team work. It would need to be done by people who have no interests in that particular year’s competition in order to be believable by the persons asking the questions. As much as we believe in “gracious professionalism”, it is a hard thing to trust for newcomers to the competition. By excluding yourself from competing you lend trust to the question and answer. **

Over here at WRRF, we promote the idea that teams can ask other teams for help, or at least ask each other questions we have about the competition… As a result, there are e-mails floating around using the WRRF e-mail list asking for advices or clarification of rules, etc.

It wasn’t easy earning the trust of people, but at the end most people realize they got more out of the program if they communicate with other teams and learn from each other.

Same thing with this forum: Lots and lots of people come in to talk about things in FIRST because they know they can get more out of this than just figuring things on their own. Who told them this place is trust worthy? No one. But teams simply take it for granted because of what other told them, and what they see in here.

That’s what I mean when I though about publicity for this idea. If it can’t show teams that its helpful, then no one will continue to go in and ask/answer questions. Then all the effort is wasted.

No one say they should take the answers they got as words of FIRST, and some don’t… But overall it was more helpful that they got some answers instead of nothing.

People like you and Andy Baker, Raul, and Joe Johnson have a reputation of being one of the best people in FIRST in answering questions with great responds. How did that happen? Well, people simply know by reading whatever you guys wrote in CD forum, and decide for themselves that “wow, they really know what they are talking about.”

Same thing with some of the best people from teams around California. They are simply willing to help answer question, and provided some very useful stuff to teams around them. As a result more and more people are willing to seek help because they heard great things about the answerers.

Mean while, I continue to stay in a position where I am representing WRRF, or on Team 000 as someone not belonging to any teams, in helping different teams around my area. And it turns out that people are willing to take my words because I am honest to them and answer questions the best I can. That’s why I have this idea of expanding this into the next level.

I don’t expect anything big happening all at once, and I am willing to start from the small step of just doing something like a question forum for WRRF teams. Maybe in time people will get the point of this.

The reason I posted this thread, is to ask people what they think, and asking for advices. After all, you guys are the best people to ask questions to about FIRST things.

Ken, great idea.

Hopefully, I can help with some input.

You mentioned three topics:

  1. Who will be the “answerers”? and how are they determined?

  2. How do we categorize these questions?

  3. How do we publicize these important topics?

Who and How?
OK… as for the question of who and how to determine them, I think that anyone should have the ability to answer these questions. Some of the best stuff that goes on in the CD forum is when a student comes up with a great answer to a difficult question. Sure, it is nice to see “experts” give their opinions, but it is also good to see experienced students show their stuff.

If the Forums had a page of “Hot Topics” links (see below), then the categories could stay in the current categories that Brandon has already set up.

If there was a page that just highlighted “hot topics” or “hot questions”, then it would get plenty of publicity. I know a slew of people who come in here (or used to) and get frustrated to see sooooo many threads which are pointless to them. They are not used to the forum and not really keen on filtering out the chit chat stuff… but they still want view or respond to the meaty, technical, or otherwise important issues. This page could be closely monitored by moderators and they could pull the trigger quicker on posts that might seem out of line or needless. If this “hot topic” page gets alot of notice, then the pointless posts would be self-minimalized (I hope), and the “who and how?” above would take care of itself.

On a side note… sure, the experienced experts are out there, but we also are kinda set in our ways. FIRST definitely needs new ideas and fresh faces to be experts too. I am honored that you guys give me and other experienced FIRSTers credit, but we may not be as well-versed in some of the technical advancements outside of our occupational fields. There are many experts out there, and this “questions forum” will bring them out of their shell.

Andy B.

Great points Andy.

About the who, I didn’t mean to only have the people I mentioned. The way I imagined it, there would be plenty of people answering questions. I already know at least 10 people just in WRRF who would love to help out, and that’s just a small region across the country.

I understand your point about not limiting to the “experts”, but at the same time, I am worry about opening it to EVERYONE. It is very easy for some random trouble maker to come in and give false answers.

Having a selected group of people will make sure we have good valuable answers and organized short discussions. Al was saying how the question forum has to be believable to teams, and that means getting people others trust, and I agree. I think having a selected group of answerers would give the forum a good reputation by showing teams that only good people are giving answers.

The way I see this, is the answerers won’t be limited to the original group of people we ask for help. We will have a good number of people to start with, including the names I mentioned as well as lots of experienced people who post on CD. Only answers from those people will show up. Mean while, others are allowed to submit answers, and only displayed when moderators approve. As we go along, it will be more apparent who are potentially good and who aren’t.

Again, having a selected group of people is to make sure we have good people giving good answers. The most important thing is to give people responds they need as soon as possible. All the free-for-all discussion can happen in CD.

As far as category goes, I agree that it should follow what Brandon had in CD. At the same time I would like to see some “regional” forums, for people asking questions only teams from around their area could understand/answer. It would be divided into forums like: “Bay Area, California” for specific area, then states like “Texas” or “New Hampshire” that include all areas, and regions like “Midwest” and “West Coast” to sum up the states.

Also, I like your idea of a hot topic page. It would be great for publicity, and a quick mean of looking for important questions.

Last thing, this question forum will be closely moderated, to make sure questions get answered ASAP and moved to the right category, and make sure it don’t get clogged up by many threads.

Thanks for replying!

Difference between CD forum and the question forum:

Everyone can post anything related to FIRST in CD
Everyone can ask questions in QF, but only selected group can answer.

There are chit chat and other forum for off topic discussion in CD.
There will be no off topic threads in the QF.

CD is great for deep and interesting discussions.
QF is great for short, clear replies for people who need them right away.

Few more things the question forum will do:

An index for people to search for answers easily.
Make sure every questions are answered, and if some questions are too tough for us, it would be directed to FIRST.
All questions will be answered quickly and efficiently in a professional manner.
Answers will only show up when the answerers agree on them. Of course, the whole thread will show up with the are different opinions, to show people the thinking process.

Thanks for the kind words. It seems like what we are looking at here is a moderator who directs the questions to a group or expert (via e-mail) and then the reponse is posted to a forum that is read only. That way members do not have to sift through a variety of replies to try and find the answer they were looking for. The thread title would be the question. There would be a parallel forum where people could respond, disagree, correct, but all would know the difference between the two.
That is not to say that the tech forums haven’t been working very well so far. I envy Delphi for having so many visitors.

*Originally posted by Ken L *
**At the same time I would like to see some “regional” forums, for people asking questions only teams from around their area could understand/answer. **

If you design it right, there can be many ‘pointers’ to a specific question, and you can make it show up in multiple places. (ie: ‘Technical’ and also ‘Mid West’) It would be very similar to any 'Moved: ’ posts you see on the forums. There is only one record in the database – but it shows up in multiple forums.

And, someone above said there could be ‘question + answer’ and then discussion following. You could keep the thread locked until a moderator answered – and then it could be opened for discussion afterwards. Or, like Al said, there could be a parallel thread somewhere else for discussion, with a link from the answer post. (ie: ‘Discuss this here.’)