An Analysis of Online Community-Based Software Help Forums

Learning and using complex software has shown to be a challenging and often frustrating task. It is important to get to know what types of questions average users have for current software and how they seek help. A main channel of information, that a user can now utilize when encountering problems, is online help forums. Despite numerous research about online discussion sites, there is little examining the communication activities from a software learning perspective.

In this project, we located three popular commercial software applications’ online forums based on the software’s complexity, popularity and varying forum community sizes. We first addressed a statistic analysis of threads across the three forums within a 12-month time window. This analysis characterized the three forums from their efficiency to software learning help. Then a content analysis was performed to 1200 threads randomly selected from the 12-month period. It categorized general questions, and revealed common communication patterns as well as recurrent problems faced by forum users in the help seeking process. To provide further insights into these issues, we report on the results of a set of questionnaires to users of these forums. We believe that the analysis and insights will provide important guidelines and implications for the future development of effective community-based software learning tools.