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Warning: While this question will talk about a particular software, I want to get a discussion going, on the situation in general.


I was looking at the questions coming over the last week, and I found quite a many sub-standard questions about a particular software, namely opengeo suite. You can have a look at the latest questions tagged opengeo.
I was intrigued, and went on to the official site, and was greeted by this on the support page:

For all users of the the OpenGeo Suite Community Edition, you can use StackExchange for questions and suggestions. Please tag your posts with "opengeo".

When a similar query was raised on the main site, the 'official' answer we got was:

...where they simply provide a single link to Stack Overflow among other links of places people can go to discuss Subsonic. I think that's an OK nudge and if you want to seed it with one or two questions yourself, that's fine too.

But outsourcing your forums or support to Stack Overflow alone is abusive and definitely frowned upon.

I think what Qgis does, is well within this, as it mentions GIS.Stackexchange as just one of the avenues. It infact goes further ahead and asks the users to follow our convention :

GIS StackExchange allows you to ask questions and get answers from a wide range of users and experts in the GIS realm. If you have a question specific to QGIS, tag it with the qgis keyword, otherwise use an appropriate tag.

Since StackExchange is question-based, you should not ask multiple questions in a single posting. Also, make sure you flag the question as answered once you receive a satisfactory response.

On the other hand, I believe that what opengeo does, is very detrimental to this site, and the community.

In fact if you go to their old forums, you will be greeted with this banner: enter image description here

I think that in the long run, this will push the most clueless users towards GIS.SE, and the opengeo tag will be full of questions which cannot be answered or are not a good fit for a Q & A site.

Once again, I'll like to point out that I have nothing against this software or the people involved. I actually love the software, and know that brilliant people work there who are doing tremendous work for the FOSS movement in GIS.

  • 1
    This has been noted before in the case of QGIS. – blah238 May 26 '13 at 2:22
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    I'd noticed this too - I suggested that a questioner asked OpenGeo directly as it was an OpenGeo repo that was broken and the came back here with that link. – Ian Turton May 26 '13 at 6:20
  • opengeo.org/support/gis.stackexchange.com now returns back to OpenGeo. I know GIS-SE can be like a fast response for technical support - in some cases it becomes a long list of comments - guilty of it myself. – Mapperz May 27 '13 at 16:00
  • @Mapperz. The Long list of comments is a necessary evil. IMHO a support forum is more of a back and forth thread, more suited for forums rather than a strict Q&A site like ours. – Devdatta Tengshe May 28 '13 at 2:47
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    Could you point out some of the problem questions? Rather than pointing at the source of traffic, I think we should handle classes of problem questions on a case by case basis. – Brad Koch May 28 '13 at 14:11
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    Devdatta, thank you for bringing this to our attention and doing a wonderful job of seeding the conversation. – matt wilkie May 29 '13 at 17:20
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    Hi all, I'm a developer at OpenGeo. We just came across this discussion and want to do our best to be good citizens on StackExchanges and GISse. The OpenGeo Suite repackages several open-source projects that are already well supported on StackExchange, so we thought that our users would be welcome here. Per comments on this page, we are looking into sponsoring the "opengeo" tag and will be encouraging our staff to participate in discussions here on GISse. Please let us know how else we can contribute to the success of this forum. – David Winslow Jun 3 '13 at 15:19
  • @DavidWinslow I think you could get in touch with Robert at rcartaino@stackexchange.com – Devdatta Tengshe Jun 3 '13 at 15:31
  • @DevdattaTengshe thanks for the tip. We are already exchanging emails with the stackexchange advertising staff. – David Winslow Jun 3 '13 at 15:34
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    @David Thanks for weighing in! Yes, your users are welcome here, but as you can see from this thread, there are some concerns associated with how they are presently redirected here and with precisely how they will be supported on GIS@SE. With the constructive suggestions made in the answers here, and with your good will, it looks like we are well on our way towards a mutually beneficial and amicable relationship. This is a good thread for discussing your plans with our community, but if you ever need to talk with the mods, just flag this thread and we can set up a chat room or email you. – whuber Jun 3 '13 at 16:55
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There are a few separate issues here, so I'll answer them one at a time.

  1. What to do about poor quality questions
  2. Specific product support on GIS SE
  3. What to do if problems arise

What do to about poor quality questions

Putting aside the specific problems mentioned above — remember that most users are going to find this site through 3rd-party referrals. Whether it's through Google Search or content attributed to this site (or even a 3rd-party forum recommending us for support), users are rarely going to understand how this all works from day one. Remember the end goal — if you continue to provide great answers like you have in the past, you stand a good chance of attracting some great new users who will add value for years to come.

This is a great opportunity to build up a body of questions that establish yourself as the source authority over any other site out there.

Stack Exchange is well equipped to handle an influx of poorly-asked questions — voting, wiki-style editing, and community self-moderation are all there to help ultimately curate great content. But remember with new users, please make an extra effort to be welcoming, patient, and thoughtful to users acting in good faith. Provide gentle guidance when they get it wrong. But remember most of all that we are what's different on the Internet, and the purpose of building communities is to help guide new users so they can become constructive, contributing members of this strange place we call Stack Exchange.

Specific product support on GIS SE

For OpenGeo and companies like them — if these projects are a part of the GIS landscape, then absolutely we should encourage these communities to become part of the ecosystem of this site. The developers of these projects have communities of their own, and if someone is searching for answers about the products they use every day, I sure would like them to find this site.

But that doesn't mean that companies should outsource their entire customer support channel here (e.g. bug reports, feature requests, etc), or simply link into this site without context. GIS SE should be but one support option for these products.

We get a lot of requests from project teams about how they can use Stack Exchange to support their communities effectively. These special interest groups have become a huge source of excellent questions and avid, supporting communities on a lot of sites. I'm not sure why this isn't working in this case, but I see no reason why this site couldn't provide fantastic technical support for end-user products used by GIS experts! It takes just a bit of coordination and understanding between the communities.

What to do if problems arise

I'm not assuming ill intentions in any of these cases. Most of the time you can simply contact the site owner to clarify what type of support is welcome from their community (refer them to this post and the open letter I am quoting below).

GIS SE should be but one support option for these products (no bug reports, customer service issues, general discussion, etc). Take care of a well-meaning community, and handle their introduction as I outlined above.

But if a product provider is, essentially, misusing Stack Exchange, we have the means of restricting or banning their content outright. I can't imagine it should come to that. Most developers realize that their community is our community, and at the end of the day, any developer acting in good faith probably does not want to be labelled a spammer… or a nuisance to a community that comprises heavily of their customer base.

Good luck!


An Open Letter to GIS Project Teams

We get a lot of requests from project teams about how they can use Stack Exchange to support their communities. Stack Exchange works really well for technical support, as long as you're not trying to outsource your entire customer support channel to Stack Exchange. There's a good meta post covering the issue below; the top two answers are worth reading:

Is it okay to use Stack Overflow as the support forum for a product or project?

We've had the best results from following the model used by Google Android to support their developers (Android Developers: Hello Stack Overflow!). Following their example, we've put together a few guidelines about how to use Stack Exchange for community support:

  1. Start with a page on your site listing where members should go for various support-related tasks. Stack Exchange should only be ONE of the options available. Make sure you have other resources for support apart from Stack Exchange. Issues like bug reporting, feature requests, generalized discussions, and specific customer support issues do not fit into our Q&A model, and will be quickly closed by the community.
  2. Please don't try to "seed" common questions about your product on Stack Exchange. Our communities are very sensitive to this type of astroturfing, and they can react very negatively when a company seems to be posting staged questions simply to get them out there on Stack Exchange. You don't want to be labeled a spammer. Communities expect questions to represent actual problems asked in good faith from those who are actually seeking the help.
  3. While we have a very active community, there are some questions that can only be answered by one of your internal team members. Make sure you jump on these quickly to establish your tag as THE place to get help with the harder questions. Have someone on your team whose job it is to monitor the tag daily and respond to any unanswered questions. Monitor activity on your tag using tag filters and subscriptions. You can setup a subscription to notify you or your team whenever there is new activity on your tag at http://stackexchange.com/filters/.
  4. If you want to make your tag look more professional and complete, consider sponsoring your tag. Sponsoring tags adds your logo to the tag itself and lets you to control the content of the Tag Wiki. You can see what a tag sponsorship looks like by checking out the Android tag (https://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/android).
  5. To attract more folks to your project, you may consider running ads on Stack Exchange. Targeting technologies and topics of interest to your community is a great way to reach people who wouldn't otherwise have known about your project. To discuss advertising and tag sponsorship options, please contact ads@stackexchange.com.

These suggestion may not all apply to your situation, but I hope you find them helpful to get started. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Robert Cartaino
Director of Community Development
Stack Exchange Inc.

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    thank you Robert. The guide is useful, timely, and much better than what we've been trying to cobble together. I'm especially happy to see #3 there. – matt wilkie May 31 '13 at 5:39
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This isn't specific to GIS.se, I've encountered this trend on a number of other software products directing to Stack Overflow, even, I think, a commercial one. I'll try and dig up the examples and follow on meta discussion if any.

To get back on topic: I'm not prepared to say, out of hand, that offloading most or even all of a project's support and/or Q&A knowledgebase to a Stack Exchange site is wrong. If the source project has people willing to patrol those questions and answers and ensure they meet or exceed our quality expectations, and co-exist well with our existing community, I'm provisionally in favour.

OpenGeo? probably ok. Esri? Probably not, the volume would be just too damn large, even if they did have staffers actively gardening.


I do consider it poor taste and quite disrespectful to not raise the prospect with us in advance of throwing the switch. That alone has me reaching for the brakes in this particular case.

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    +1 - A huge plus to your final comment. As @kirkkuykendall said, there may be many synergies with having support centralized on GISse or one of the other Stackoverflow sites. The key in this case is that there was no discussion between OpenGeo and Stackoverflow/GISse staffers prior to them doing a blanket referral and co-opting this site as their support forum. It seems like a pretty unprofessional way for them to handle the business they are trying to grow. Any OpenGeo staff feel free to chime in here! – Get Spatial May 28 '13 at 4:09
  • Out of curiosity, because I wasn't here at the time, did QGIS notify GISse before referring support questions here? – user3461 May 28 '13 at 14:45
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    @GeoKevin, not that I'm aware of. However qgis users have been incredibly active in GIS.se from our earliest beginnings and qgis.org added the link and wording as "one of" the support options, not "the" support option, and have kept all their other channels open and active -- albeit with GIS.se proffered as the first port of call. In short, they've acted in perfect accord with the community and permission, as such, was not needed. – matt wilkie May 28 '13 at 20:31
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I think in some ways it's good for the GIS community as a whole to have support related questions here. If someone gets stuck on a particular problem using a particular GIS package (like a bug that can't easily be fixed), there is a chance that someone will offer solutions based on a different package. It is much less likely that this would happen on a vendor-hosted support forum.

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If the company puts no effort into monitoring the tag and guiding people to how to ask good questions it can only end badly.

This happened with Synergy over on Super User and it didn't end well. In fact it ended with one of the then Community Managers contacting Synergy.

There were increasing numbers of Synergy questions that were low quality and clearly written as though the poster thought Super User was the main (if not only) support portal for Synergy.

There's also this question about using Stack Overflow as a support forum which reiterates the problems. The solution is, as Jeff points out in his answer, for the support to come from the community wanting to ask questions here rather than the company forcing people to come.

Stack Exchange should be an extra place where people can get help and should not replace the company's own site.

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    Thanks for sharing your experience, Chris! (BTW, I see you are a mod on five sites. That must be an SE record. And reflects an unusually high tolerance for pain... :-) BTW, we are aware of that reply by Jeff. The problem is that it just confirms this unilateral outsourcing of support to SE is wrong; it doesn't actually give any guidance concerning what we can do about it. – whuber May 29 '13 at 19:31
  • @whuber - Has anyone from GISse contacted OpenGeo staff to start a discussion? Or, what is the process for doing so? I suppose it may actually have to come from the Stackexchange top level as opposed to a sub-site. – Get Spatial May 29 '13 at 19:47
  • @Get Spatial Good question. The mods are in touch with the SE team right now concerning that very issue. Before any action is taken we would like to conduct our conversations internally here on Meta. My guess is that the contact with OpenGeo will come from SE; if it does come from the GIS site, it will certainly be with the guidance and blessing of the SE team and acting under the community's advice as reflected here. – whuber May 29 '13 at 19:50
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    It looks like the Synergy problem resulted in a reasonable resolution, which is still in effect. That's one possible model for us to consider here. – whuber May 29 '13 at 20:05
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I noticed the Help Center now contains a section about this:

We are not a GIS Software Support Site. We encourage you to seek official routes for support for specific issues you may have.

I'm not so sure that we aren't a de facto GIS software support site given the frequency with which we receive such questions. I try to steer people dealing with obvious faults or configuration problems to the appropriate bug tracker, technical support site, etc. but it seems more like a tidal wave than a trickle.

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    +1 In the absence of a Close category for "appears to be seeking Software Support", I think Downvoting such Questions and upvoting Answers that redirect to the appropriate bug tracker, technical support, ideas, etc site may be a way to help steer this. How to define "seeking GIS Software Support" will be hard, so I think "we know it, when we see it" may have to apply. – PolyGeo Mar 15 '14 at 0:05
  • And, of course, for such Answers to be upvoted they would be wise to mention that the Question only looks resolvable by the vendor/developer, and preferably provide specific advice on how to contact them. – PolyGeo Mar 15 '14 at 1:35
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Having vendors offer StackExchange as a support resource is actively encouraged. A good example of this is the sponsored tags program - all those tags on StackOverflow with an image have been paid for by that company.

It's beneficial to this site to direct GIS newcomers and professionals here - it grows the body of knowledge managed by this site and draws in new and future experts.

Dealing with low quality questions is a separate problem entirely, and StackOverflow has adapted to deal with several common newcomer references, the review queues, close votes, and plain old up/down voting. So far, it looks like this has been applied well here.

Perhaps someone should reach out to these vendors if we'd like them to change wording, or even to promote sponsorship.

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    Can you provide a citation for 'the practice is encouraged'? according to meta.stackexchange.com/a/13282/150020, having stackoverflow as the only support forum is discouraged. And Isn't a link to whathaveyoutried.com banned on stackoverflow? (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/172758/…) – Devdatta Tengshe May 28 '13 at 13:44
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    Missed the exclusivity part and the whathaveyoutried ban. The point remains, directing traffic towards this site in general is good. The community should try to welcome and assimilate newcomers, pointing them to the best resource for getting started. If nothing else, there's close votes. – Brad Koch May 28 '13 at 14:06
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    I would love more involved users in our community. What I am afraid of, is that some things like support is more suited to a forum, where a back and forth discussion can take place. the stackexchange site are not built to handle that kind of back and forth. This will cause most of the question to be either closed, or remain unanswered. – Devdatta Tengshe May 28 '13 at 14:45
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I only became aware today, via Can I forward my customers to StackExchange websites to ask their technical questions about my software? at Meta SE, that GIS SE actually has a section of its Help devoted to Can I support my product on this site? which starts:

We get a lot of requests from product teams about how they can use Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange to support their communities. Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange works really well for technical support and we welcome this, within limits. If you follow a few simple guidelines then you, your users, and Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange can all benefit.

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