WordPress.org’s support forums are a vital resource and communication tool for users supporting their own sites and developers extending the software. Visiting the forums often means users have gotten stuck somehow and need to have a successful support experience in order to continue on their WordPress journeys. They are looking for help deciphering the meaning of error messages, migrating sites, debugging their sites after an update, and many other common struggles of self-hosting.
A ticket on Meta trac, which was opened three weeks ago, proposes that WordPress.org remove auto-closure from support forum threads and instead add a warning that the thread is old. Threads currently auto-close after a year unless manually closed sooner than that.
Amber Hinds, plugin author and CEO of Equalize Digital, made a case for instances where it is necessary to respond to an old thread:
- As a plugin dev, we forgot to subscribe to a plugin’s forum and only saw support threads many months later. Currently, there is no way to provide assistance on these threads.
- If a user requests a feature that is not currently available and you release it many months later, it would be nice to update their support request and let them know.
Hinds referenced a conversation on Post Status’ Slack where Matt Mullenweg recommended removing the closure for old threads completely and adding a warning in its place:
Let’s move away from auto-closing to just having a warning that you’re replying to an old thread
Not all participants in the discussion are in favor of leaving support tickets open. Several contributors contended that this approach can lead to unproductive replies piling up or multiple people jumping in on threads with similar unrelated issues, making it difficult for developers to solve the original request.
“Old topics mostly attract spam, me-too-pile’ons and random replies,
its very rare when an actual reply is needed to something that has no activity for six months,” WordPress support forums moderator Yui said.
“Current policy is to leave such topics closed, however, making an exclusion and manually reopen it at request can be made possible when the reasons for it are compelling (It can be discussed on Support team weekly chat, if needed).”
WordPress accessibility contributor Joe Dolson is in favor of giving plugin authors the ability to determine when a thread gets closed, a modification that partially addresses the issues at play.
“It would help alleviate it to give plugin authors the ability to close a thread,” Dolson said. “Though when you have thousands of open support threads, that would still be a pretty significant potential burden.
“I think there should be a better way of handling closed support threads – it’s a problem that auto-closed threads literally *cannot* be re-opened because they’ll just auto-close again. But I’m dubious about just leaving them open.
“At the least, I think that removing the auto-closing *must* come with some ability for plugin authors to close threads; otherwise this would become totally unmanageable.”
Changing thread closure policy could also impact the metric displayed on plugins, indicating how many issues have been marked as resolved in the last two months. If more people are allowed to jump in on threads with them open, the resolved threads metric may not be as meaningful.
Hinds recommends a hybrid approach, keeping auto-close in place but allowing plugin contributors to reopen threads, restarting the clock for auto-closure.
“I discovered 12 support tickets yesterday on a plugin I had not realized we were not subscribed to, which I want to at least comment on to see if they still need help,” Hinds said. “I can’t do this. It’s a frustrating experience for me and clearly a poor user experience for the original poster or anyone else who encounters that thread with a similar problem.
“Another option might be to auto-close them but add a button that allows them to be reopened by plugin contributors that sets another six-month (or maybe a shorter time period) timeline before auto-close.”
It’s easy to forget that most people do have a vast network of WordPress professionals available to answer questions for them on Twitter or other networks, so the forums remain an important lifeline for users. Contributors have not yet come to a decision about whether leaving threads open for longer will provide a better experience or not. The discussion on changing the auto-close policy continues on Meta trac.