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Helping in the WordPress Forums is an Education

Helping in the WordPress Forums is an Education

I haven’t had time to spend much lately on the WordPress Support Forums and Forums, so I set aside an hour to help out, then found myself spending two. The support forums are addictive. Helping people is addictive. And fun.

If you are a WordPress, or familiar with the inner workings of, spend some time on their forums. It’s a huge learning experience.

Helping on the WordPress Forums is Fun

There is something really satisfying about helping someone solve an issue on the WordPress Support Forums. By blogging a helpful article, you get a bit of applause, some criticism, feedback, and often a lot of support questions, but there’s something special about reaching out to individuals crying for help. I find it much more satisfying.

Each question posed is a challenge. A challenge to figure out what they are really saying, what they want from you, and what they really need. Many WordPress users don’t speak English as a first language and are having trouble finding WordPress help in their language, so they hit the WordPress Forums and try their attempts at English or post machine translations which don’t speak WordPress. Your first step in the support detective business is often translating their intentions.

Help is sometimes as easy as providing a link in the WordPress Codex, the online manual for WordPress Users, to give them the directions they need. Sometimes it means you have to put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and get out your magnifying glass.

It’s the detective help that I like. I love prowling through code and uncovering the flaws. I love digging through search engines and the WordPress Codex to find the right page to help them. I always enjoy checking out Plugins that might solve their problems. I learn so much in the process.

There is so much to know about WordPress, it’s bewildering at times. Doing the weekly Blog Herald WordPress Wednesday News helps keep me informed and up-to-date on what’s going on around the WordPress Community. Getting to know WordPress fans at WordCamps and blogging events teaches me a lot about how they use WordPress and push it beyond its limits. But the knowledge I gain by digging for answers to support forum questions really teaches me the most about how WordPress works, and how we can make it work better.

WordPress Forums: The Good, The Bad, and The Unhelpful

There is a lot to complain about in the various WordPress forums, and most people do. There is no end of complaints, but for the most part, they are just a bunch of frustrated people trying to figure out how this blogging this works, and how to make it work with WordPress.

The WordPress support volunteers and Automattic staff members, required to spent at least three weeks on the various support forums before they can take on their full responsibilities, give their all to helping fellow WordPress users use WordPress. They report bugs to the developers, track down Plugins and Themes, find solutions, dig through hundreds of blogs and code to find boo boos, and calm down the frustrated and irritated who toss blame around left and right instead of realizing that they shouldn’t have removed that chunk of code in the middle of their WordPress Theme because they didn’t know what it was.

Sure, tempers flare on both sides from time to time, but if you spend a few hours being poked at by pissed off people, it’s hard to maintain your own cool. It takes a very special kind of person to endure. It’s tiring to say over and over “If you would provide more information, like the link to your blog, we could help you.” or “The problem isn’t with WordPress but with your web host. Have you contacted them?”

The true heroes of the WordPress Support Forums are those who have been at it for years. Years of reading garbled words and minds. Years of being yelled at across the screen and even called names. Years of work for the occasional thank you and show of appreciation for the hard work providing WordPress help entails.

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For the most part, WordPress fans know the routine. State the problem clearly, simply, and include as much information as possible to help resolve the issue, such as version number, errors, and the proper names for the parts you are talking about. I recall one person who was screaming mad because we couldn’t figure out what the “thingy in the right corner” was. We couldn’t get her to tell us if it was in the WordPress Administration Panels or on her WordPress Theme. There was a problem with the thingy in the right corner and she kept demanding we fix it. How?

Publishing code is also difficult as it is bad manners to publish meters of code in a forum post. Few people notice the trick of using the backtick in the forums to post code, nor understanding that they can’t publish code with a copy and paste. Luckily, many are learning about the various collaborative debugging and code pasting/holding services such as pastebin, and others mentioned in Writing and Publishing Code in Your Blog and Blog Comments. With a link to the code in the pastebin, WordPress support volunteers can go through the code and possibly find your problem without clogging up the forums.

The biggest problem the forums face is the lack of specific detail to resolve the problem.

How to Make the WordPress Support Forums Work Better for You

In order to resolve your problems in the WordPress or Support Forums, or any support forums for that matter, try the following:

  1. Search First: Support givers hate to be redundant. By searching first, you may find the answer. Don’t give up after one try. Attack it with various synonyms. Try the forums and Google.
  2. Submit Your Request in the Appropriate Forum Section: Each forum has different sections. Make sure you put your request in the right one. For installations issues for the full version of WordPress, post in the Installation section. Have a problem with your Theme or design? Try the Themes and Templates section. Don’t put recommendations and suggestions for improving WordPress any where. Put them in the Requests and Feedback so those tracking that area will be watching. If you are test driving the latest bleeding edge version of WordPress, comment in the Alpha/Beta section and leave the rest alone.
  3. Be Clear, Specific, and Detailed: Be very clear with your request. Be specific as to what is really going on. Name it. Show us the details. Give us the version number of WordPress you are using. Tell us the customization features you have done that might be a part of the problem. Did you install a WordPress Plugin recently? Did you change Themes? Did you upgrade recently? Was it a full upgrade (deleted and replaced files), a partial upgrade (uploaded only the changed files), a web host upgrade, or an automatic upgrade? Be as detailed as possible to help us pin down the problem, and possibly attempt to reproduce it.
  4. Provide Help for the Future: By explaining your question fully, and providing a fully developed answer as the support provider, and tagging the request with clear keywords and search terms, you create a reference for future users seeking the same help. A title like “my blog is broke” doesn’t help someone search for the solution to your problem in the future. Nor does short and sassy answers that don’t explain things fully. Ask and answer with respect to the future so others can get help faster when they search first.
  5. WordPress Plugin and Theme Help? Go To The Authors: If you are having a problem with a WordPress Theme or Plugin, go to the author’s site first. Ask them for help. If you have purchased a WordPress Theme or Plugin, the ones who sold it to you are your support team. It is highly possible you will not find the help you need for every WordPress Plugin or Theme in the WordPress Support Forums. There are just too many to keep up with.
  6. If You Want It Looked At, Leave a Number: If you want a WordPress support volunteer or staff to check out the problem on your site, please leave the blog’s URL (link). Without it, there isn’t much anyone can do.
  7. WordPress Blog Hacked? If your WordPress blog has been hacked, don’t blame WordPress. WordPress mandatory security upgrades and patches are announced as soon as a security issue has been found and fixed, often before the security vulnerability has even been made public. Announcements come into the WordPress default dashboard panel, and are made on the WordPress Development Blog, Blog Herald WordPress Wednesday News, WordPress Support Forums, and on the Administration Panels of current WordPress versions. The WordPress development team is working overtime on keeping WordPress secure. It’s up to each individual WordPress user to keep their blog updated and secure, too.

WordPress was built by a community, and it continues to function because of the community. If you want to be a part of the community, why not volunteer a few hours a month to help other WordPress users and give a little back to this fabulous free thingy we use every day.

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