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I manage a support forum for software that changes pretty rapidly. Content therefore ages out in usefulness.

We are currently trying to figure out how to address this... and if we should. Does anyone here have best practices around labeling/archiving/removing older content? Heck, even going through and locating what is "older" content can be challenging.

Has anyone tackled this? How have you addressed it?

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  • When you say it changes pretty frequently, do you mean that core functionality changes often or just that you're pushing out new minor releases every hour/day/week? Are your (intentional) functional changes confined to less-frequent major versions? Jun 30 '15 at 20:43
  • We release updates frequently. We have an array of products and several of them get good sized updates frequently as well.
    – Lisa
    Jun 30 '15 at 21:36
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If your platform offers tagging, use it. Tag by version and by feature (if the post is about a particular feature) and by platform if you support more than one. (Even if you intend them to be the same, your Windows implementation is probably a little different from your Linux one.)

Versions: If you're doing frequent releases you probably have major and minor versions. For example, Firefox pushes new versions all the time, but things don't really change much from 37.0.3 to 37.0.4. There might be bigger changes when 38.0.0 comes out, though. I recommend a tag for each major version. Stack Overflow, for example, has separate tags for Java 5, Java 6, Java 7, and Java 8.

Category tags: But sometimes the version doesn't matter; your question is about (to continue this example) Java. Or Firefox. Or your product. So in addition to the version tags, have the category tags. (This is assuming that your site covers more than one category/product.) If your site supports hierarchical tags then make the category tag the parent of the specific-version tags.

Features: Most of your questions aren't going to be about the product as a whole; they're going to be about specific functional areas. Whatever those are in your product, create tags for those. If the boundaries are fuzzy, analyze a sample of your existing questions and figure out how they should have been tagged. Then do it.

Platforms: Probably helps; won't hurt. Someday you're going to release a Windows-only plugin or a Linux-only console or...something.


I've described a general approach to taxonomy here, but how does this help you with your problem of identifying old content? First, version tags are pretty obvious here; when you're no longer supporting version 6 and even your most stubborn users have moved on to 7 or 8, any question tagged 6 or earlier is subject to review. But don't freeze or delete them just yet! Some of those questions might still be relevant in later releases; a question way back on Firefox 3 that's about local caching might still be relevant, while one about the URL bar probably isn't. You can use the feature tags for additional filtering here.

The feature tags themselves can help you. Suppose you introduced a shiny new widget several versions back and later removed it (your users hated it or whatever). Questions about that widget will be obsolete when everybody has moved on to the newer version.

As for platforms, pretty soon you can probably retire those questions that were specific to Windows XP.


As for what to do about it, there's rarely value in outright deleting content (that isn't or wasn't wrong) just because it applied to an older version -- so long as it's properly tagged so that no reader would mistake it for current. Somebody might still be using that, or be tracing something back through several versions ("what did this feature replace, anyway?"), or just be curious, or have followed a link from some other site. Or be helping Uncle Bob, who never moved on from his Windows 95 machine with the CRT monitor but who still wants to browse the web... ever so slowly. You just never know when information will still be useful to somebody.

You might, however, consider closing old posts to further edits, in part so you're not spending effort maintaining it and in part to signal that, really, this isn't current. Some sites (like Stack Exchange) have the concept of the "historical lock" for posts that are now obsolete but are heavily linked or otherwise still interesting.

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  • This makes a whole lot of sense. We have a diverse offering of multiple products and use categories and tags right now so we have a good setup in place to implement this. Thank you!
    – Lisa
    Jul 1 '15 at 15:16
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Can you add an algorithm that ignores or perhaps down-plays "older" posts - where you can tell it how old is "old"? If so then this might be the solution. The idea would be that the older posts would appear lower down the search results to show their current, less important, status. You don't want to make them impossible to find though.

This way the questions and discussions on the older versions of the software will be harder to be found when searching or browsing the site.

Having said that though, if your software and the hence discussions around it change quite frequently then you might not need to do this anyway as there'll probably be enough new posts to push the old content off the home page or even the first few pages.

You could also introduce a tagging system so you can easily indicate which version of the software the post is about. This will also help you find the older posts when you want to do a clean up at some later date.

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  • Do you mean to exclude those posts from search? I'm not sure this is a great solution as we may have people using those older versions and want to be clear that the content of the post/troubleshooting may no longer be pertinent. That information should still be findable. We do have tagging in place; using tags to label outdated content is something we're discussing as well. We'd considered it for outdated content but not version numbers. Thanks for the idea!
    – Lisa
    Jun 30 '15 at 21:37
  • @Lisa - Not exclude, but give less importance to, so that they appear lower down the search results.
    – ChrisF
    Jun 30 '15 at 21:40
  • that makes sense and I think that there is a request for the software we are using to do that. Thank you Chris! Now to find a clear and obvious way to indicate those when people do inevitably click those results. :)
    – Lisa
    Jun 30 '15 at 21:51

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