Helping people using LibreOffice is possible through several channels. Today, this page on the LibreOffice’s website points to several existing options:
- searching the available documentation
- searching the help module that is embedded inside LibreOffice
- checking the archives or asking a question on one of the mailing lists of LibreOffice dedicated to users support (we have one in English, the others provide community support as well, but in other languages)
- using the same mailing list(s) but through a forum-like interface called Nabble
- relying on te Ask LibreOffice website
- asking for help on IRC
- digging (deep) into our wiki
At this stage the state and range of these options provide some real choice for LibreOffice users. However, managing social networks for LibreOffice (as I usually do) has made me realize that we have users requesting help pretty much all over the Internet, and that many of them are not even aware of the options above!
The way this issue is visible is by browsing our Twitter feeds (@libreoffice and @tdforg) ,our Facebook page and Google + community. What happens on each of them is different, but the need tends to be the same. On Twitter, we regularly have questions from users; but the specific format of micro-blogging on Twitter makes it rather hard to provide effective help; what happens then is that it turns into a conversation or a direct recommendation to use the different channels for community help (mailing list, ask.libreoffice.org, etc.) The silver lining with Twitter is that people on Twitter usually feel heard when the answer comes directly from the @libreoffice account. In the end there may be no solution provided on Twitter – although it does sometimes, thanks to volunteers who are on Twitter – but what’s sent along the replies in 140 characters is a strong social value.
Google + is a very interesting place, as a relatively important part of the activity inside the LibreOffice officially G+ community is geared towards users support already. Inside this community one meets people who cannot usually be found on our mailing lists – their home is the LibreOffice Google + group. This makes for an active group and an actual community.
Facebook is in this regard very different. Facebook has the larger, broader audience of all these networks. But it would be difficult to describe it as a community. People come and go, although the page seems mostly used as a way for everyone to get updates about LibreOffice and its project. Often times a few people will ask questions – yet it is rare to find anyone that will answer and provide help like on Google + or on a community support website.
Going back on our existing, official community support channels, one thing seems to become clearer. The Ask.Libreoffice.org website is growing in audience and as a community (which is a good thing). The users mailing lists do grow, but not as importantly as the Ask website. The English spealing users mailing list does not seem to gain much in audience, but its content tends to appeal more towards power users. Interestingly enough I got the same impression on the French speaking users mailing list.
Where does that take us?
Here are a few questions I would like to put out to interested readers and community members. Given all of the above, do you think we should expand our community users support options? In particular, here are a few ideas I was thinking about, keeping in mind, however, that for each of them we need volunteers:
- opening a twitter account dedicated to users support
- opening a Facebook page dedicated to users support
- distributing our existing documentation in other formats and form factors; notably, epub and the online documentation repositories and management system of O’Reilly.