A Better Answer: By Mark Ireland
FMETalk (on Yahoo! and Google) has been a staple of the FME community ever since I joined Safe. Dale gives a great history of it in his newly released blog post.
But, behind the scenes at Castle Safe we’ve been working for some time to improve sharing information in the FME community. In particular, there were tools and benefits we wanted to provide you folks that just couldn’t be implemented as part of the current FMETalk group.
So, in place of the FMETalk Google group, we’ve just launched a new tool called FME Community Answers. Let me show you round and explain some of the benefits.
What’s Wrong with Google?
Well, there’s nothing really bad about the current FMETalk group, but we are a bit limited to what we can do with the site. We can’t change the look and feel and, more importantly, we can’t integrate it very well with all our other systems. By moving to a self-hosted site we can eventually tie the group together with the FME support queue, the FMEpedia knowledgebase, Safe’s CRM, and maybe even our PR database.
For example – as you’ll see – if you ask a question in our new group and it doesn’t get answered, we can automatically promote it to a support case and have someone in the Professional Services team look into it.
Interoperability, eh? What a great idea!
“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple” – Dr. Seuss
How does FME Community Answers Work?
It’s just as easy as FMETalk. You create an account, sign in, and off you go: you’re part of the community!
Creating an account is simple, and you don’t need me to show you how. But, one suggestion I have is that you use the same email address as we have on record for your support cases. That way it will be way easier to give you integrated access to all the user tools we have on offer.
Once on the site you can ask a question:
You can answer a question:
And – if you noticed above – you can vote on answers depending on whether you think it is good or bad. The “asker” also gets to decide which of the answers he/she thinks is the best:
If you choose, you can also edit your profile to get email notifications whenever one of your questions receives an answer:
To get everyone started we’ve seeded the site with a few setup questions, and selected power-users have had access for a week or two now, so there’s more to see than a blank page, even at this early stage.
“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.” – Claude Levi-Strauss
Beyond the basic community, another reason to switch technology was to find a way to reward the users who answer to most questions. So, that’s what we did. If you answer enough questions, and get enough upvotes, you may find yourself on the list of heroes (like this particularly odd-looking bunch):
The marketing team tell me that the biggest heroes will receive a cargo of ivory, apes, and peacocks for their trouble. OK, probably t-shirts and sporks, although we have been known to splurge on electronic items when the occasion demands….. and I have heard rumours!
The other “reward” will be better interoperability. Like I mentioned, we’ll be able to promote questions to the support team, and do things like tie in FMEpedia to try give an immediate answer to any question. Longer term we’ll probably see the same login give you access to your list of support cases and – I hope – a list of your PRs (Problem Reports) lodged with the development team.
“Love is the answer, and you know that for sure” – John Lennon
As FME Community Answers is going to replace FMETalk, we will be closing down that group. We’ll leave it open for a short while, but then we’ll turn off all posting to that group. At that time, if there are open questions and discussions we’ll move them over to continue on the new site.
What we can’t do is move the entire set of previous posts from FMETalk to Community Answers. There are just way too many of them (nearly 27,000 by my count) and there’s no way I know to download them all. However, what we’ll do is leave to group open for viewing, so any useful information in there won’t be lost.
Then FMETalk will sail off into the sunset…….
“My whole life is waiting for the questions to which I have prepared answers” – Tom Stoppard
Where Do I Sign Up?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. Or you could just click this link.
And please do sign up to the community. The success or failure of this – like FMETalk – will depend on the full range of FME users. The staff at Safe will obviously be involved and act as moderators, but we’d like most of the questions and answers to come from YOU! We figure it’s good for users to have a place where we don’t interfere too much. We’ll only step in when there’s a question that’s gone without an answer for a few days, so that no-one is left waiting.
In short, we think the new Community Answers site will be an excellent Q+A system for all FME users. But – just in case we’re wrong – we want to hear what you think as well.
“Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes the answer is, you’ve got to be kidding!” – Jimmy Carter