Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Feedback and then some...

Wow, that was a lot of feedback on my last entry.  53 and counting.  Much of it excellent suggestions that I’ll be keeping in mind (except for some whacky font idea – if I cannot pronounce the font, I won’t use it… only kidding Howard).

The one suggestion to not have the “queues for asking a question” close will not be considered however.  Asktom used to work that way.  It was an email link.  I couldn’t go on vacation, do my day job, take a break – anytime.  That and it just didn’t scale, I couldn’t keep up with the inbound questions.  Enter – the queue.  I control how many new questions I accept.  I try to get a couple of hour turn around if at all possible – a day or two at most (usually over the weekend – or when an emergency comes up).  In order to get a fast turnaround, I must control the number of inbound questions.

I did think of a different queuing idea though.  Let me know what you think.  I’d let people “sign up” to ask a question – this line could be as long as it wants to get.  Now, every time I opened the queue up for new questions (I normally limit it to about 10 or 15 at most at a time), I could notify 20% of that number (say 2 out of 10) via email that “you can ask your question now” and give them a link that would let them do so.  That would let the other 8 out of 10 questions go to the public at large.

That way, I could tell you “where in line” you were (how many in front of you) and based on the rate I’ve been taking questions over the last period of time – how long it might take to get your slot…  Before you got into line – you could see how long it was as well – and how long it might take (that would maybe keep it from growing infinitely long?)

I’m not sold on the idea myself – for if I do the average of 200/300 questions a month, the “line” could get quite large (and full of bad email addresses as they change over time).

I am going to close questions – after 4 weeks – except for emergency bug fixes (sort of a private message you can leave that I WILL read – as I’ll have it notify me).  That I’m pretty much set on.  To cut down on the use of the followup as a “let me ask the same thing, but differently, with my tables etc….”.  I really want to have more “shorter” question/answers out there.

I like the “user metadata tagging” suggestion – that’ll likely be there.  You can tag the article with something you thing people might use to “find” it later.

Regular Expression searches – interesting, but a hard nut to crack.  I use Oracle Text to efficiently index – regex on the clobs (plural) will be not so efficient I think.  Will have to research that one.

But lots to absorb there, thanks much for it all.


Blogger scubajim said....

I like the queue idea. Maybe at the end of the 4 week queue you could have an automated email to the individual that says something like "Your place in the question line is expiring. There are currently 12,431 people in front of you. If you would like to retain your place in line please click on this link in the next 48 hours."

Also maybe set a limit as to how many places in this queue an email address can have.(1 per email address?) I could see people stuffing the queue and selling their place in line on ebay or craigslist. Hmmm, asktom queue scalping a new niche business.

Wed Dec 21, 08:03:00 PM EST  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

I like the "your place in line is expiring" concept. That would work.

There would be a unique constraint on EMAIL on this queue, definitely.

Wed Dec 21, 08:07:00 PM EST  

Blogger Gary Myers said....

Applying the 'laws' of economics.
You have a limited supply of "Tom Kyte" for answering questions, and want to limit demand for that resource.
The 'business' answer would be to increase charges. An alternative answer is to reduce the 'quality' of the response service so that fewer people want it.
You don't want to reduce the accuracy of the answers or their usefullness to AskTom users, but one 'quality' aspect you could reduce is the 'promptness' of the response.

If a person knows they won't get an answer for a week, they'll look somewhere else first (maybe even the documentation).
The queue concept fits in there, though email addresses are so 'ten-a-penny' that a unique key on email won't necessarily mean a person couldn't have a dozen slots in the queue.
Also, once someone gets a slot in the queue, even if they resolve their original issue, they may keep their spot in case something else crops up.
I'd suggest keeping the current 'Questions are open' system, but having a hard limit of one week between the question being submitted and you looking at it (maybe with an email in the middle that either allows the question to be dropped if solved, or automatically drops it if not responded to).

Wed Dec 21, 08:30:00 PM EST  

Blogger Tony said....

How about a way to know when questions are open. Maybe an email notification stating such or an RSS feed that indicates when questions are open/closed. That way I don't have to be on the site or constantly hitting refresh to know if I can ask a question.

Thu Dec 22, 12:04:00 AM EST  

Blogger scubajim said....

Another related economic tact is to have bidding on answers. People could bid for the 5 daily spots to ask questions of Tom. It certainly would finance Tom's children attending college.(grin)

Thu Dec 22, 12:26:00 AM EST  

Anonymous Kyle said....

Hi Tom,

I'm a little concerned about the line idea. I can imagine if the line starts to get long, users may get in line just to have a chance to ask a question, thus perpetuating the problem.

I kind of like the idea that Tony presented. Maybe an RSS feed to notify when you are taking new questions would work well. Then you could open the window of opportunity at a random time during the day, gather X number of questions, then close the window.

Thu Dec 22, 08:10:00 AM EST  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

I'd suggest keeping the current 'Questions are open' system, but having a hard limit of one week between the question being submitted and you looking at it

problem with that is people *demand* almost instantaneous responses. If I ignore something for a day or two - they start emailing (which is something I don't like).

Other problem is - the queue would never ever get empty. If I do the "take 10, answer 10" method - at least I get "done" sometime. I feel like I can "leave". If the queue was *never* empty... that would be a problem.

How about a way to know when questions are open.

I can do the RSS thing - only problem is it'll still likely be "luck" since it takes about 2-3 minutes typically to get ten. I might be afraid of "RSS DOS attacks" (unintentional ones)

Thu Dec 22, 08:22:00 AM EST  

Anonymous Scott Mattes said....

I don't see the line working much better. I get in line, you send an email at 0200 that I can ask a question and when I get to work at 0800 the window has expired.

At least with the "I'm taking questions now" approach, when I see it I can ask.

There probably isn't a better way, short of cloning, and that would take how many years to get each clone up to your current level?

Keep up the good work.

Thu Dec 22, 10:15:00 AM EST  

Blogger Bob B said....

On the topic of email entry/verification and queues. I'd suggest a restriction on accounts from free email services. Perhaps only allow n questions per domain or n questions overall (e.g.,,

A rebut of the closing of the queue.

1) Some things are questions and some things are follow-ups. The longer the question queue is closed, the more likely one (or more) questions will be posed as follow-ups.

This is especially true since unrelated follow-up questions are often answered. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds it annoying relocating an answer that was posted as a follow-up to a completely unrelated thread. Tagging may alleviate this, but there will still be questions asked as follow-ups.

2) I was not suggesting you answer the questions in the queue with the same depth as "featured answers" so to speak. Treat the questions in the queue the same way you treat follow-ups in your queue. Some are skipped, some are asked to provide additional information, some get quick answers, and some get put in your 10 - 15 "I'm going to answer this" queue. A way to check the size and estimated time of the queue both before asking a question and after the question was asked combined with email verification and one email per question should be sufficient to make the queue emptyable without more time than you currently spend reading follow-ups.

I believe your previous experience with the email version of AskTom resulted in so many emails because there was no way for users to check the progress of their question and no way for the user to search for your answer to a similar question. While questions appear that could easily have been searched, their frequency is quite low (at least publicly)

In short, I believe an open question queue with proper design/management will:

- Increasing question quality
- Increase follow-up relevancy
- Be less time consuming for you
- Provide better user experience

If those possibilities are worth throwing away due to a very poor experience with a different medium, so be it. I've been on the losing end of 10,000+ emails and understand the desire to eliminate anything that looks like it might do that again.

Thu Dec 22, 10:29:00 AM EST  

Blogger Stewart Bryson said....


I like the queue idea as well, but email is NOT the way to go: blogging is. I read AskTom in blog format, and it's excellent. You could have your "Most Recent" blog, or all of them, announce that you are taking questions. No mess... no fuss... no spam.

Thu Dec 22, 02:43:00 PM EST  


<< Home