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From the research that I have done, a Q&A site (such as this one) is great for support areas of a website. "How do I do ...?" and "What is the best option for ...?" work well with this.

But when more continuous discussions are needed for things like "how should we format our ... so that they work well together?" where there isn't any simple question, but rather an evolution of opinions, it would seem that a typical discussion forum would be better suited.

The problem that I face is in needing both types for a web app that I am working on. I need a support section and it is important to get community involvement going in the form of consensus on various issues.

I could use both, but I think from a UX perspective it may be incoherent to users. Ideally I would like to use one or the other but the choice isn't clear to me.

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4 Answers 4

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If you need both, I think you are better off with using a forum that has the ability to ask questions and accept answers. If you look at the MSDN forums (e.g. http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/netfxsetup/thread/50c428f8-9417-4305-ac6c-05ff7062916d), you can see what I mean. The question is at the top, any accepted answers are shown bubbled up right underneath it, but those same answers as well as any other replies are shown in their normal, chronological order as well. You can limit individual forums so that some are Q&A only, others are discussion only, or both.

I know of one platform that has this functionality (and works pretty well) if you are looking for something like this: Telligent Community. It is unfortunately pretty expensive now, but it is a really good piece of software.

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A small UX aside: I rolled my eyes and laughed at that MSDN url. What an utter failure from a UX (not to mention SEO) perspective. –  tnorthcutt Apr 25 '11 at 21:29
    
@tnorthcutt - need to consider the target audience: developers. It really isn't going to matter what the URL is for developers that much. It would be nice, but when that system was put in place it wasn't nearly as easy to do. And URL being friendly hardly matters for SEO if the page content is good. –  Charles Boyung Apr 26 '11 at 1:43
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The target audience is humans, and the URL matters for humans. That URL is an utter failure from a UX perspective, if you're talking about UX for humans. –  tnorthcutt Apr 26 '11 at 20:42
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Jakob Nielsen disagrees with you (and so do I): useit.com/alertbox/990321.html –  tnorthcutt Apr 26 '11 at 21:31
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You've got to be kidding. Did you read the 2005 update? ...it's still important to have an easily guessable domain name and easily typable URLs. Or perhaps the 2007 update? ...people spend 24% of their gaze time looking at the URLs in the search results. We found that searchers are particularly interested in the URL when they are assessing the credibility of a destination. If the URL looks like garbage, people are less likely to click on that search hit. –  tnorthcutt Apr 26 '11 at 22:42
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Maybe you could have a discussion or a forum checkbox?! Using a different tab or view, like discussion section on the original Wikipedia. Personally I would go with the discussion tab from Wikipedia:

Wikipedia: discussion feature

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That is NOT what Community Wiki is for. It was misused like that for a while on Stack Overflow, but that is not its intention and is not what they use it for anymore. –  Charles Boyung Apr 24 '11 at 14:04
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Also CW posts do earn badges –  ChrisF Apr 24 '11 at 17:45
    
Thanx for the heads up. I've edited the post accordingly. It is strange though that so many people on stackoverflow.com have encoureged the use of community wiki for ambiguous questions and discussions. A usability issue, maybe? –  Benny Skogberg Apr 25 '11 at 9:11
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Creating another section with the same interface is how Stack Overflow solved the problem. First they created meta.stackoverflow.com to discuss the site itself. Then programmers.stackexchange.com for "subjective" software development questions. –  Patrick McElhaney Apr 25 '11 at 14:09
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We use GetSatisfaction to facilitate both. It allows you to have a conversation (though not in your traditional forum style) and mark replies as answers. It strikes a fine balance between support questions, features ideas, or just discussion points.

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If you have the luxury to customize the application, then you can have both the forum and QA in one application. Entries would be mingled together, but super tags or categories would be used (by users or moderators) to tag an entry as being QA or Discussion, and based on that, different reward and/or comment nesting rules etc. would be used for the entry.

If the two sections have very distinct areas of interest, for example stackoverflow is about software questions while meta.stackoverflow is about QA forum issues, then I believe it's alright to have them different, so meta could've been (I think it should've been) a discussion forum.

The above is involved but having two separate sections when the subjects are not clearly distinct won't work in practice.

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