I've seen, somewhere, a web-site at which one can ask questions and,
somehow, they have people who get back to you with answers; a human-assisted
internet search system. I just woke up (2008/Dec/16, 5am) with the idea that
this is actually a potential use for a bug-tracking system. Crucially, it would
be reasonably straight-forward to arrange for such a system to engage
volunteers, who are good at searching for information on the internet, in
helping others find the information they want.
The biggest bug on the internet, after spam, is that (for all that Google and Wikipedia help a lot) it isn't always easy
to find the information we're looking for. However, as Linus has observed, many
eye-balls make all bugs shallow. So:
Set up a bug-tracking system to address this problem.
Provide for general public sign-up as users of the system.
Allow everyone, even non-users, to submit bugs.
Each bug describes the information sought.
Each comment on a bug describes an attempt at finding that information.
A bug is closed when a comment on it locates the requested information.
Even after a bug is closed, folk can still add further comments.
A crucial feature of the system would be building up the community of
people who find answers to questions and contribute them so as to resolve bugs
in such a system. This would principally focus on getting such people to
register as users, although provision should be made for letting anonymous users
also provide answers. Those running the system – e.g. the supplier of a
bug-tracking system, using this project to show off the system's features
– would serve as a core group of users with special privileges within the
system (e.g. ability to delete inappropriate content or ban users who routinely
do unwelcome things) and could select other registered users to whom to extend
extra privileges, based on those users' track-records of behaviour within the
Registered users can get the system to e-mail them about progress on bugs,
so registering makes it easier to get answers out of the system; anonymous users
can book-mark the URL of the bug that's created for their query, and maybe use
an RSS feed (if the bug-tracker supports that), but otherwise they have to come
back and check for progress sporadically.
There shall doubtless be spam, but we can provide for users (whether
registered or anonymous) to flag a bug or a comment as spam: those with delete
privileges can search for such flags and delete spam; this privilege can be
extended to those registered users whose flaggings of spam are routinely found
to be valid.
It would be worth setting up a parallel wiki which contains advice on how
to search for the information you want, for all to read; registered users could
have home pages there (e.g. as [[User:Name]]) which they can
edit for themselves; edit privileges on the rest of the wiki could be allocated
based on prior user behaviour, e.g. those found competent at solving bugs could
have broader write permissions.
A registered user can declare intent to investigate a query by
assigning the bug to self, ideally non-exclusively (i.e. several may be
investigating it in parallel); registered users can also verify their bugs as
fixed when someone else claims their comment answers the query.
The main things a volunteer can get out of the system are the kudos of
having helped others by finding answers and the fun of searching for such
answers; my main ground for supposing that folk shall volunteer is that I
believe many smart people actually enjoy helping others, at least within their
own areas of expertise; the system's main goal should then be to make it easy
for volunteers to contribute in ways they enjoy.
Of course, the system is likely to get started better if those setting it
up actually employ a fair few smart people to work on answering questions for
the general public; the prospect of getting a job doing this might also serve as
an added incentive to volunteer, if evaluation of competence of registered users
is a factor in recruitment; hiring searchers would ensure the system works, so
that those with questions shall bring them to the system, thereby providing a
supply of interesting questions for volunteers to play with.
I particularly think of this as a good way for a supplier of a
bug-tracking system to show-case its functionalities.
Obviously, good search functionality within the bug-tracking
system shall be useful, e.g. to find whether a question is already answered and
to enable volunteers to find queries they're interested in investigating.
Bug-tracking systems provide for each user to configure a default display
of the system, and other views they routinely use: the system could also provide
some anonymous-access views of open issues in the system, via which volunteers
can contribute to the system without registering; such views could be selected
from among the views more widely used by registered users.
User-management features of a bug-tracking system would provide the means
to organize the community, via the granting of privileges to registered users
who've exhibited relevant competence and good judgement.
The system could automagically search all the usual sources (including the
system itself) for keywords in the bug report, to construct a first comment on
each bug, as it is submitted; if the submitter finds their answer there, they
can close the bug immediately; this would keep the system clear of questions
that volunteers would likely find uninteresting.
I don't see such a system displacing Google, but it might well
complement the more familiar ways of searching for information on the internet.
A few organizations and businesses have the ability to set up such a system and
at least some possibiliy of a motive:
Suppliers of bug-tracking systems, as described above.
Google or other search providers, as a natural complement to their
automatic systems and as a way to find out what problems they need to over-come
to make those systems work better for end-users.
Wikipedia or a kindred content aggregator, leveraging their existing
community of contributors and, in the process, discovering topics about which
it'd be worth commissioning some content.