ExpressionEngine Stack Exchange: A community divided?

Q Crew / Posted 11.13.2012

Will Stack Exchange support splinter the EE community?

ExpressionEngine-ers have recently banded together to commit to a Stack Exchange Q&A board. The Stack Exchange Network is a group of community-driven question and answer based websites. Initially geared towards technology and computer programming questions, the Stack Exchange Network has expanded into a wide variety of different subjects, including ExpressionEngine support.

Commitment for the EE support board recently hit 100%. The next step is beta.

When we first heard about it, we were somewhat ambivalent. We are avid EE users, and one of the reasons we pay for EE is the built-in support. So we weren't exactly sure how we felt about the whole thing. We took some time, slept on it, drank a cup of coffee and typed out our thoughts.

Here's Q's take on the whole Stack Exchange issue. But of course, we'd love it if you'd weigh in below.

Clinton Reeves, back-end developer:
It's all about saving time

I have been back and forth on whether or not this is a good idea for ExpressionEngine and for the ExpressionEngine community as a whole. While the forums provided by EllisLab may not be the greatest in the world in terms of response and overall usability, the truth is, the information collected by the forums gives them the ability to learn a lot about their product, the issues users are having and features they are looking for. 

“Moving discussions away from the current forums [...] may ultimately degrade the quality of the product, i.e. EE.”

With this information at their fingertips, EllisLab had the ability to make educated decisions in respect to future development and enhancements of ExpressionEngine. Moving discussions away from the current forums separates EllisLab from this data, which may ultimately degrade the quality of the product, i.e. EE.

On the other hand, as a developer, I love Stack Exchange and all of the tech-related sites in the network. Over the years, StackOverflow alone has saved me countless hours and brought me back from periods of sheer madness. I support the idea, only because of the amount of time it will save me.

Holly Gerard, designer:
Customer support is a double-edged sword

Customer support is always a tricky thing to tackle, especially in the world of the Internet. I have had both good and bad experiences with forums and with actual online customer support.

I feel like user-generated support systems can be a good thing when it comes to getting the answer you desire quickly and without having to specifically deal with an outside source (like calling someone on the phone). Other times, forums can be a hassle because you may not exactly find the answer you are looking for, or even find the topic being discussed anywhere – then the waiting game begins.

“Sometimes it becomes more of a nightmare to deal with the support, than it would be to figure out the problem yourself.”

Sometimes customer support can be super helpful and other times it is not helpful at all. Sometimes it becomes more of a nightmare to deal with the support, than it would be to figure out the problem yourself. Live support does come in handy for the development of websites without many users, though. ShowIt (which is commonly used by professional photographers for their galley websites) is a good example of this. There are few users, and therefore, few forums, so the customer support that comes with the price tag definitely comes in handy.

With all of that said, I feel like it is almost a toss-up: both in-house and outsourced support have good and bad sides. Both come in handy in different support scenarios.

Terris Kremer, front-end developer:
I go where Google goes

Generally speaking, when I search for help, I don't go straight to any specific site (like StackOverflow, for instance).

“I only care that help is somewhere and that somewhere is findable.”

I raise my odds with a good old fashioned Google search. If I end up on StackOverflow, that's great. If I end up on EllisLab's support forum, that's cool too. If I find help somewhere, it's high fives all around.

So there it is: It doesn't concern me where the help is.

I only care that help is somewhere and that somewhere is findable.

Susan Snipes, owner and principal:
What about add-on support?

What do I think about a Stack Exchange for ExpressionEngine?

My initial reaction was alarm and concern. I love ExpressionEngine and I thought it was unfortunate that part of the community would splinter off to create a new forum (albeit a forum with better usability). And I thought: Hey, what about the support EllisLab is supposed to provide as part of the paid license? Now, we'd get support from our peers instead? That's not right.

Our team discussed this crazy notion, and I looked into it more. I read the blog posts on EE Insider and Exp-resso's blog and the thoughtful comments. I read the commitments on the Stack Exchange proposal. And I learned what this is all about. This isn't going to replace technical support and bug fixes from EllisLab. I'm still on board for private support if the model makes sense. (EllisLab, how's that coming along?)

And now, I think a Stack Exchange for ExpressionEngine will be pretty keen. The method of voting up the best answers is effective and clear. Well implemented tags are handy. It is a better solution by far than sharing resources on Twitter via #eecms. It will be a great way to build our already amazing community.

“I'm still on board for private support if the model makes sense.”

EllisLab had an opportunity to make better forums a while ago (better usabililty, community involvement), and missed the chance. They were once the "go to" support place for many add-ons. It's too bad, under different circumstances, better EE support forums would could have been the place to channel this energy.

I end up on Stack Overflow from Google searches, but I'm not well-versed in this ecosystem. I'm sure I will adapt and figure it out, as will everyone else. That isn't a big deal.

But this is my bigger concern: How might this work for add-on developer support?

Now that the EE Forums are not the place for add-on developers to field support questions, I've seen and used many different support solutions: Devot-ee forums, email, the main EE forum, individual run EE forums, Get Satisfication, Tender, and plenty more. Whew. Will this be adding yet another option to the mix?

Mike Wenger, front-end developer
Stay dedicated, no matter where

The strength of a community is dependent wholly on the enthusiasm and dedication of those a part of it. The ExpressionEngine community is full of dedicated individuals, from the EllisLab team to third-party development, to the end user.

My first response to the news of the Stack Exchange proposal was: Why would the community want to take away from one centralized location for the community to gather and share useful knowledge and troubleshooting?

“As long as add-on developers and community members play the responsible part of contributing to the cause they are fighting for now, I'm all for the transition to Stack Exchange.”

I think I was initially concerned that it would cause dilution of the quality and accessibility of information by spreading it across multiple channels. The fact that the Stack Exchange commitment phase for this came together so quickly says quite a bit about what the community as a whole wants; something that we can get behind and support. From the look of it, it seems like this may be the thing. So having said that, my viewpoint has gone from concern to support.

However, I do feel that as a paying customer of numerous add-ons and of the EE core, that the support associated with a paid product be should also be worth the cost of the product. In other words, if developers of add-ons and EE users who used to contribute greatly to the EE forums are going to encourage the transition, they should remain highly active in the Stack Exchange discussions. 

In short, as long as add-on developers and community members play the responsible part of contributing to the cause they are fighting for now, I'm all for the transition to Stack Exchange.

How do you, the EE community, want to get your support? 
Do other developers plan to use the new Stack Exchange for their add-on support? And how?

Q Crew

The Q Crew consists of the talented folks at Q Digital Studio, who happily bring you essays and insights every week. We’re passionate about all things web and digital. We love ExpressionEngine. And of course, we love you.