I was asked to develop a users support community forum for a small and young hi-tech company. This kind of forums is very popular with companies these days and is a great alternative to the official product support lines. An example of what we look for is the Analog Devices' Engineer Zone forums.

I am totally noob to this area so any advice will be appreciated - how to start developing such a site, what platforms are available (preferably open-source/free) and what are the advantages and disadvantages of these platforms.

Is a stackexchange style forum appropriate for such site?

* If you think there is a better SE site to post this question, please let me know.

  • Only half an answer: there are several stackexchange clones out there. The difference between them and yours is that anyone may answer questions, whereas if you're running the site I would think the users expect your staff to take part. It still may work though, as you may get other users helping too. – paulmorriss Aug 12 '11 at 11:14
  • @paulmorriss - thanks. Obviously, an open forum is where users are encouraged to participate and contribute by answering other user's questions. The staff are expected to participate as they are, well, staff, but the nature of this support channel is that it is less strict than the average customer support. Anyway, can you please point me to a SE clone platform that I can use? – ysap Aug 12 '11 at 13:05
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  • @paulmorriss - thanks for the link! The first answer summarizes the available options and it seems like OSQA is where I should start. – ysap Aug 12 '11 at 13:49
  • @paulmorriss - Make this an answer and I'll rep you! – ysap Aug 12 '11 at 13:49

A stackexchange style forum would be appropriate for this site (although there are many many other support forums out there). For a list of clones see this meta.stackexchange.com answer. The stackexchange model is designed around users helping users, but if your staff can take part then that's even better. If I were you I'd tweak the code so that users that are staff are clearly identified as such.

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We have been using OSQA (a free software StackExchange clone) which is quite useful for public-access queries. (Note however that OSQA is not very actively developed, so AskBot might be a better choice these days.)

However, we haven't seen a lot of buy-in from our clients and partners, which may be related to our non-consumer industry, so they may not be used to using the public web professionally (in some cases, not even LinkedIn). So we're in the process of putting together a login-only bbPress forum, since our sysadmin suggested they might feel a bit more secure there (emotionally and technologically). We are planning to treat posts something like tickets, for example by encouraging users to mark them as solved, etc.

So the short answer is, the Q&A interface has incredible utility and I hope it becomes the norm, but if you find it doesn't gain traction with your userbase, a forum (possibly private) might be a better answer.

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  • Thanks for the great insight. By this time, we have established a forum site based on the phpBB engine (phpbb.com). It works fine, considering our tech-inclined audience, but many times I find myself "blessing" the interface for lack of customization and personalization options. – ysap May 8 '13 at 14:15

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