There has got to be a better way
Replies: 48 - Last Post: Aug 15, 2012 9:22 AM Last Post By: travelinstyle46
Aug 5, 2012 11:37 AM
There has got to be a better wayI've just finished scrolling through another 'here's my 23 countries in 35 days Europe tour' thread. Practically every day we see the same questions being asked over and over again. We see the same answers being given time after time and the same, why don't you use the search function or read the stickies. Yet instead of ending there, a thread such as the one I just scrolled through goes to 5 pages!
The reality is we (regular posters) cannot control what gets asked by a new poster. We cannot get them to read stickies before they post. We cannot expect them to know any more than any other new poster. So what's the answer?
I think that regular posters should refrain from giving any information or going into any detail on any question for which the information has been supplied countless times, other than to provide them a link to a previous thread or sticky. We cannot control them but we can control ourselves.
Aug 5, 2012 1:05 PM
1If it takes a minute or two to answer a question, and I have those minutes to spare, I see no harm in replying even if the question in question would have been asked and answered a thousand times already. Sure, a link to a previous answer would be another way to go, perhaps even more useful, but takes longer than just quickly scribbling something. There's plenty of bigger annoyances than FAQs in the world.
Having plenty of "simple" questions to answer also makes it easy for new members to feel like they are contributing, and thus hopefully lure them in as more-or-less regulars.
Aug 5, 2012 8:52 PM
2I agree with travlinstyle46...I find I read the question think: Been there, done that..and decide I'll pass even thought it's a simple question and I know the answer.
mpjohans...since even when provided with accurate, detailed information in a very timely fashion people don't bother to say thank you, I think most posters won't be back until they want something else, and may even have created a new name because they would have forgotten their old one.
Anyone can reply to posts as they want, just as it always has been. travlin is just making a comment that I think many of us have thought and felt over and over again.
There is life after TT, others like tonly_b have certainly found it so...
Aug 5, 2012 10:08 PM
Aug 5, 2012 11:40 PM
4Of course, anyone has the option to reply or not.
I agree with Aribo, going through old threads may not be very enjoyable and fruitless, perhaps a complete waste of time and all you may get out of it is a large headache. I frequently do searches on another travel forum for things I've written in the past so I can direct people there, and oftentimes it's not an easy task with sometimes having to go through 10-15 pages of unwanted posts until I find the one that I want although it is recent and I use many quite explicit search terms to greatly narrow down the options. I don't really understand why a 2005 post and other old ones may be given preference to a 2012 post where the information in it is at least current?
It's not hard to quickly answer some questions, I just do it if I feel like it.
But I know from another travel forum where a common answer is to see the items listed in the upper right hand corner, some people don't have an upper right hand corner as they are not using a PC but another device such as an iPhone to communicate with. You don't know the limitations that someone is working under when they ask questions. I like to say use your public library, but they vary in quality and someone might not even have one or easy access to one.
Aug 6, 2012 5:26 AM
5I used to think so too previously, travelinstyle, but putting myself in the OP's shoes have made me change my outlook a bit on that. This, what BthDth said, summarises it:
Ex. My dad went to China on work two weeks ago. I had already read that entering on a one-way ticket isn't a problem but that wasn't enough to satisfy my anxiety: I needed more info.
Of course, this isn't to say that I don't search previously before asking questions. Whether I want to ask again depends on the type of question.
Then again, while providing links to previous threads is more helpful than saying "Do a search", finding old threads can be time consuming, as said.
Aug 6, 2012 7:27 AM
6Regarding giving links to past threads, what I meant was not doing a lot of digging for them but rather linking to stickies and any specific threads you want that are easy for you to find.
For example, there are stickies on 'budget and itinerary' and 'the universal work to fund travel answer' etc. It's not just about the W. Europe branch either, it is about all branches. Basically, any time a new poster starts a thread that has been done to death many times. Rather than answering, an attempt to FORCE them to read some threads and or use the search function.
For example a recent question on another branch was, 'which bank should I use to access travel money' type of question. This is a question that often generates a lot of confused and incorrect information. Yet the answer has been clearly spelled out many, many times by myself and others. So when it comes up again and the same old misinformation and confusion arises it is not doing the OP any good. What should happen is the OP is directed to the correct answers that have already been given.
Posts on things like itineraries or 'should I buy a RTW ticket or point to point' are others that recur daily. Yet if the new poster had done some reading first would probably change what they ask and HOW they ask it.
When someone gets snarky as BthDth refers to, when they don't get the answers in the way they wanted etc. instead of getting into a debate, 6 answers all saying, 'read the sticky on itineraries here: xxxxxxx link gives them no choice but to read it and then come back or go away.
Aug 6, 2012 7:32 AM
7An alternative MIGHT be an actual FAQ branch. Someone writes an answer to a FAQ and submits it for inclusion. It is discussed and refined before the final product is included as an answer to a FAQ. Any new posters of a version of that FAQ then find themselves getting 6 responses saying read this FAQ: xxxxxxxxx
Again, THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY.
So the question I am asking is what are YOUR ideas for that better way? It's called brainstorming. Rather than picking apart why finding a thread would be difficult or whatever, what is your answer that will WORK? Just consider what would happen if when a question is asked they get 6 responses with the same answer. It wouldn't matter if 1 or 2 others answered with something else. The message they would get would be quite clear. Read this xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Aug 6, 2012 7:51 AM
8I'm touched by your faith in human nature, travelinstyle.
Do you really think that if a poster writes a vague OP and receives 6 answers directing him/her to a different thread or a sticky and one or two saying, "If you have nothing nice to say, why do you have to answer at all" or someone giving one piece of information, they won't ignore the 6 and thank those who gave "useful information", if they come back at all?
I don't believe an actual FAQ branch will work, any more than the FAQs at the top of each travel branch work. How many people actually read them before posting their own OP?
To look on the bright side, many of us obviously get something out of this since we are still here, still answering questions (often selectively), still feeling a part of this online community. So indeed, there has to be a better way, but while things keep moving along, there is no great motivation to change, is there?
Aug 6, 2012 8:08 AM
9I agree completely with bjd above. The only useful thing that I can see being done is to force people when posing a question to include as much pertinent information as possible, perhaps by being required to fill out a small section to appear at the top of the post including: nationality; country of residence; arrival and departure points; beginning and ending travel dates; mode of travel; interests; etc. Then perhaps more meaningful answers can be given. How do you answer a question like this one I've seen, "What's the best way to get from the train station to my hotel?" when the city, train station and hotel aren't even given?
Edited by: marcopolko
Aug 6, 2012 8:27 AM
10For example a recent question on another branch was, 'which bank should I use to access travel money' type of question. This is a question that often generates a lot of confused and incorrect information. Yet the answer has been clearly spelled out many, many times by myself and others. So when it comes up again and the same old misinformation and confusion arises it is not doing the OP any good. What should happen is the OP is directed to the correct answers that have already been given
I remember quite a few threads in which two or more regulars spent weeks or even months debating among themselves what the correct answer is to questions like "the ultimate way to" this or "the universal answer to" that. If I were an inexperienced traveller looking for tips to, say, find work abroad, I don't think it would help me if I'd have to wade through 100+ posts in which person A claims his is the only right answer and person B says that's all rubbish because his own experience is different and so on.
The success of whatever "better way" we would propose here, depends on the readiness of (new) users to engage their brains. I'm in a positive mood today, so I guess no more than 50% of them are beyond redemption, while the remaining half may actually benefit from a structured FAQ thread or stickies such as MTL's.
If I limit myself to the WE branch, I often wonder if anyone ever looks at or updates the FAQ thread as it is now. There are about 140 posts about faily random topics regarding all countries covered under the branch, and anyone can add posts without any supervision (every now and then I ask the mods to move a post out of a thread when a new user thinks "FAQ thread" means "place where you can ask the same question for the 1000th time").
What might work for the 50% (again, this is a positive estimate) who aren't dumb/lazy/clueless and are really willing to make a little effort to plan their trip with our help, is to divide the FAQ thread into sub-threads covering:
- general travel practicalities: visas, budget, Eurail vs point-to-point tickets, travel in winter, safety etc.
- topics related to specific countries: journey planner for the Netherlands, events calender for Germany etc
This will only work, however, if someone regularly supervises the FAQs and controls which posts are considered worth adding. That "someone" would of course have to be a mod, who'd then probably spend half his days mediating between two bickering regulars who are convinced that only their opinion and experience are the truth.
Aug 6, 2012 9:58 AM
11Clearly we can all think of reasons why something will not work. Voicing (writing) those reasons however will get us nowhere. When I had to work for a living I participated in many meetings in which things just went around and around and nothing ever got resolved.
Occassionally (rarely), I participated in meetings however when things did get resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Usually that happened when all participants had a common understanding of the problem (I think most regulars here have that knowledge), understood how brainstorming should work and had a common goal (solving the defined problem).
It appears that the second point (how to brainstorm) may not be clearly understood here. It is about generating a list of possible ideas that could lead to a solution to the problem. One thing you do not do when brainstorming is analyze/criticize any one idea. This is the creativity killer. Evaluating ideas too much kills new ideas. It does. Our minds shut down in a way if too much analysis goes on. A little bit is ok, but as soon as you start going into detail you have gone too far.
So far we have a list I would say looks like this:
Don't expect new posters to change.
We can control our input
We can direct to stickies/other threads
We can just scroll on by a thread asking the same old, same old
We can just answer the question again if we feel like it
Have an FAQ branch and limit our responses to telling the poster to read it
What would motivate us to change how we respond?
A required 'input' section at the beginning of a new thread that the OP must fill in
A means of agreeing on what a 'right' answer is
Better supervision and control of any existing or new FAQs
It's actually not that bad a list so far if you look at it as a list without all the analytical comments back and forth in between.
As I look at it I find I have a few analytical/critical comments but do not find it hard to limit them. Just scrolling by (point 4) or answering again (point 5) does not solve the problem. I think we all agree there is a problem. So I would scrub those two from our list.
A required input section (point 8) would require major programming $ on LPs part and is beyond our ability to influence I believe. I also don't think it necessary. We could just direct them to an FAQ saying 'provide enough relevant info such as............ if you want answers.'
The points 9 and 10 about right answers and existing FAQs should be assumed to be solvable. If we do assume we can find a way to make them work, will that solve the problem we are looking for a solution to? If they will provide us the solution to the problem, only then need we look at how to solve those subsiduary problems.
Aug 6, 2012 10:43 AM
Well, I don't. Making things more difficult for first-time posters equals less first-time posters, propagating to less posts overall, leading to to a slow decay towards silence of the TT. If someone is really that annoyed by stupid questions, don't answer, or answer with the usual condescending tone that some like (which the poster might actually deserve as well). To keep a forum alive, and not an archive of (mostly good) answers, repetitions just have to be tolerated.
Deciding that a specific topic has been answered to death is short-sighted; even on threads with very common questions, I occasionally come across some new points-of-view, which would not have surfaced by linking to a previous thread and deciding that the "best" answer has already been given. I have a feeling that these are often provided by users with relatively few posts as well; rejuvenation is usually beneficial for any community.
So I fully agree with bjd's last paragraph. The forum is reasonably good as it is, for the forum part. The FAQ part needs to be heavily reorganised, but that's not up to the users, but the maintainers, which apparently still haven't had the time to do anything (visible) about it.
Aug 7, 2012 5:37 AM
13(Noting the irony that posts such as these could well qualify as a FAQ all of their own)
People will post what people will post. As a general rule, if I reply I do so if I think I can offer some piece of information the OP has missed and hasn't been covered (or hasn't been covered entirely correctly) in other replies.
Trying to explain to people how you think they should travel is pointless. If people ask for an opinion on places to go, the amount of time to spend there, what to do or any other such general things, this isn't something they can get from stickies and faqs easily. They just want an opinion, and these are by their nature very personal. I think one of the real problems this board has is that it has a bunch of (generally very knowledgable) regulars who are rather stuck in their ways. It's difficult and intimidating for people who are, after all, just after a bit of friendly info or advice from people they assume to be vaguely like-minded in terms of their love of travel. Some of the regulars forget, often, that people don't know things. People haven't experienced the things they have experienced, they aren't as familiar with the places they're talking about, and they probably aren't very experienced travellers in many cases.
I suspect that if, instead of linking to past posts or referring people to faqs and stickies, regulars only posted on questions where they felt they could add some value to the discussion, this might clear up a lot of the issue. By this I mean, offering specific thoughts on things the OP has actually asked about. Not being pedantic about how they've asked. Not offering general travel philosophy instructions. Just looking at what their identified issues are and responding to them, or suggesting why you can't.
Obviously, some OPs want general travel philosophy discussions, but in general many people just wanna know if 2 days in Paris is enough time to see the Eiffel tower, have a peak at the Mona Lisa and bugger off to the next place on their list.
Aug 8, 2012 2:04 AM
But there are other difficulties with this reasoning. The issue isn't with first-time posters. Most people posting questions are first-time posters. The issue concerns the quality of the questions and the characteristics of a certain type of first-time poster.
Similarly, post #19 biases description towards "blame" attributed to the regulars with the first-time posters the innocent victims. This only results in different people talking about different sub-groups of both posters and regulars.
I, for one, also have my own expectations regarding minimal skills of posters -- both sides have to do their part. And I prefer calling a dumb question dumb, and not simply pander to whoever happens to upload a few lines of text onto the forum. Why should they set the ground rules?
I contribute to other forums. The ones which work best include a combination of (i) consistent and frequent moderation (the 'mods' are active in maintaining quality control), (ii) the forums are thematically more focused which seems to result in better informed new-posters and therefore better questions, and (iii) the better forums also have a better-defined purpose.
The LP forum covers a lot of territory with a wide variety of users. It's practically a free-for-all with only explicit abuse and SPAM consistently removed by mods.
Other than that, the forum content is determined entirely by the users. t46's query partly concerns whether the group of users called 'regulars' might come to some sort of agreement on how to reply to certain types of problem situations. It's self-moderation and content control (which ought to be the responsibility of the web managers, forum moderators)
But there are very few shared ground rules regarding the structure of TT. There's no philosophy behind the TT. What I mean is: suppose it was a site devoted to independent travel. People want ideas on how to plan longish trips, want more detailed info beyond the tourism must-sees, etc etc. If someone comes along and "just wanna know if 2 days in Paris is enough time to see the Eiffel tower" they can be redirected to trip advisor. Why not? People also come to the forum asking about cruises and are informed that this isn't the right place for that sort of topic. But, no .. anyone can come here and ask any question at all.
I've thought about t46's concerns, sometimes with half-in-jest scenarios, sometimes more seriously.
1. FAQ pages are for people who unfortunately do not read FAQ pages. MTL's effort with the sticky is proof enough of that.
Nonetheless, well-structured resource pages would be an improvement. This, however, is a task for the web managers (purpose of site, etc). A "How to plan a trip" resource page, for example. Or individual initiative ..
2. Screening the users at registration is something I have wondered about .. something similar to the help wizards you find on some sites or in software applications. Ask people at registration what their question is. If they're looking for the musts in Berlin, then link them directly to the LP resource page on Berlin. That's a chore and a half, one big problem in efficient programming. Pay me and I might take it on.
Or a checklist of questions to eliminate so much of the vagueness in some of the first-timer posts. They're clueless, I don't begrudge them that, but it means they don't even know how to ask a good question, or understand a good answer when they see one.
And, some will never learn, they simply don't get it.
3. Self-management. At one extreme, (just as a thought experiment, mind you) one might have people taking turns at replying to all of the itinerary posts. You'd have to set up a roster with so-and-so taking it for one week, someone else the next. A cut-and-paste answer, including links to a FAQ page etc can be attached to each itinerary post. Then wait and see if anyone comes back for more. Considering that the regulars are no less a mottly crew as the people who come here with questions, any consensus solution along these lines will be partial at best. But even partial solutions might be better than nothing at all.
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