Let’s say we want an internal company-wide Q&A site. We could go with Stack Overflow Enterpriseor we could go with Discourse with the Q&A plugin.
From what I’ve seen, SO has a major push towards not being a discussion forum, whereas Discourse has been primarily designed as a discussion forum.
In my opinion (and I could be completely wrong here), the Q&A plug-in for Discourse seems orthogonal to the purpose of Discourse; they are two entirely different things. Having a Q&A site AND discussion site combined dilutes the effectiveness of both.
I would like a dedicated Q&A site (SO Enterprise) and a dedicated Discussion site (Discourse). Links between both would be great so you get the best of both worlds but it’s clear they are entirely separate sites/forums.
What is your experience of this? What would you go for given the choice?
For an internal system, I doubt there is all that much actual strict Q&A activity that fits firmly into the SO model. Proper documentation and training should take care of 90%+ of the sort of questions that people would have. Most company-internal communication is around decision-making and debate, which is a discussion activity.
Stack implements a democratic solution-finding system. If the majority of people vote for an answer, that answer is assumed to be right. It has to work that way, because it’s designed to “scale”. If every dissenting opinion was allowed to block a resolution, nothing could ever get resolved.
Discourse QA adds a checkmark, but that’s about it. If someone doesn’t like how the thread went, they can still bump it, flag it, and just generally make noise. The topic never truly ends until everyone reaches a consensus.
Unless you’re as big as the US Postal Service or something, you probably want to reach a consensus, not just a simple majority. In groups that aren’t Internet-sized, dissent is too valuable to be hidden in a number like Stack does. Yes, even for “factual questions” that Stack is optimized for.
In a previous life, I worked at a largish company that licensed the SO software (before they stopped licensing it). There was some debate on the questions, but mostly it was a straight question with a straight answer.
Answers evolved over time and people did actually maintain those answers.
Re. “proper documentation and training should take care of 90%+ of the sort of questions people would have”: we actually found that the Q&A site was the first port of call. People realised that Wikis didn’t have the critical mass to attract true collaboration and Sharepoint just turned into a grey baron wasteland. What documentation there was, it evolved to point to the Q&A site.
We found that teams were actively putting the own ‘FAQ’ entries into the Q&A site.
We had monthly newsletters from fairly high up the food-chain with notifications on who score the most rep, who had the most viewed question etc. etc. We even had annual ‘University Challenge’-like competitions with teams composed of the most active users.
All-in-all, a very positive experience.
While the distinction between a discussion site and a Q&A site is a useful ideal type, real world needs are often less either/or. In particular, when answers are developed gradually and involving both the experts and those who ask questions, the process will soon resemble a discussion, not necessarily between conflicting opinions but between clarifying answers and clarifying questions.
It’s not by chance that the stack sites originated in a technical context where the need for such a ping pong process is usually limited. And with the very limited comments functionality, the limited need for discussion is accommodated reasonably well. But, for example, there is no way to acknowledge the contribution made by an answer except for upvoting it, which, I believe, formally endorses the answer as the correct answer and that is not quite the same as saying “thanks for your useful contribution”.
Here is an example of a patent related question where I experienced precisely these limitations:
tl;dr While I wouldn’t want to miss the Q&A sites, I think that for the vast majority of intranet sites, discourse will be the better option because it is much more flexible in allowing different types of interactions, including Q&A.
Hi Steve, wondering if you’ve made any headway on this topic. I’m looking to implement a similar internal Q&A site for my largish org and we are debating whether the rigid stance SO Enterprise takes around how questions and answers are managed is going to help or hurt adoption. Any insights you can share about your journey?
Sorry the for very late reply! We’ve trialled Confluence Questions, but it lacked features of SO that meant users didn’t return to it. It also crashed near the end of the trial and required 3 days of investigation.
If I had my way (and was in control of the budget!), I’d go with StackOverflow Enterprise. What I learnt at my last place where we implemented it was that the strict nature of the external site really doesn’t well internally. Although there was much more subjectivity present, it never escalated into a chat room.