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Currently, I am designing an API product for developers. In our team, we had some endless discussion whether we should offer a forum solution for our product or using an existing well-known knowledge sharing platform like Stack Exchange.

Do you think that being dependent on an external party in terms of knowledge sharing will affect user experience in positive or negative way?

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What do you mean by 'using an existing one' in this context? Are you asking if it's better to appropriate an existing technology to use for your own purposes (such as reskinning it into your brand colours) rather than build your own, or are you suggesting people go off an use the existing separate system itself (i.e. you having nothing directly to do with it) - sort of like "if you have any development questions then we recommend using StackOverflow"? –  JonW Nov 8 '13 at 10:18
    
Not rebranding an existing solution but mainly recommending using an existing one. –  Abektes Nov 8 '13 at 10:45
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Will your team have a presence in discussions and responding to questions from your users? If yes, I would say that a forum on your own site is much better. Most forum packages will let you configure roles or groups so that users who are from your team can have a beacon of some sort next to their avatar or name, which makes it easier for users to identify them. This would seem more professional and suitable for a commercial product.

A public platform such as Stack Exchange would be suited for open source or products which are already heavily in use - if you don't see many users taking up your product soon then it's going to be a little difficult for early adopters of your product to get help. Your team members probably have some reputation on Stack Exchange sites, but your users won't be able to immediately recognise them as team members, unless if you mention their usernames on your website.

Another plus point of having your own forum is you can create forum categories (e.g. Installation, Usage, Bugs). Whereas if you use a public platform you depend on users to use the right tags for their questions in order for your team and other users to find their questions.

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If there are other systems / information out there that are already performing the function that you need then there's no need to reinvent the wheel. That just causes fragmentation throughout the web; something that doesn't benefit the user in the grand scheme of things.

For example, take a site about film reviews. If they're discussing the film and want to give you further information about the cast and crew would it make more sense for the site owners to do all the research into the crew, post links about each member who worked on the film and supply a little biography about them on their own website and have to manage and maintain all of that information locally, or would in make more sense to use a source that has already acquired and provided that information - IMDB? That movie site owner isn't going to be able to provide a better source of information than IMDB already does, so why spend time and effort making a substandard clone of it? Heck, IMDB even provide API support for just this reason - they've got a wealth of useful information and provide the ability for anyone to use it.

Another example is why sites like Github exist - if someone has needed to create something to perform a specific task then the chances are it's already been created. So why do it again yourself if someone else has already done so?

So I see this as a similar situation. Why reinvent the wheel with something substandard when there are already great implementations that have solved the problem already there and available to you?

Don't create something like a forum just for your one product in an attempt to retain ownership over it. You can't own knowledge and knowledge kept to a small set of people will stagnate. If there is already a system in place with a good community then just jump in there - share the knowledge and learn something more in the process.

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