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integrating FAQ and user-lists


I've had a project for 1 month or two regarding the important traffic in
"user" lists, the spam and the RTFM questions.

What I call "user" lists is a mailing list that a non subscriber will
use to ask for help. I oppose them to "other" lists, i.e. lists in which
only subscribers will want to write to.

Note that this separation is not that simple. For instance, I wrote to
-project, which is not what one would call a "user list", whereas I'm
not a subscriber of this list. But we may consider that, wanting to
defend a project, I _should_ subscribe. This is the reason why I
assimilate "user" lists to "non subscriber" ones.

Now we have to face many problems in debian wrt the traffic on our
mailing lists (user and others). One of these problems is the spam. This
could be solved by "closing" the lists, i.e. checking the sender address
and accepting the mail iff the sender is a subscriber, which is the
solution adopted by many mailing lists on the Internet.

However, this solution is only acceptable for "other" lists: for "user"
lists, we want any user to be able to sent a question.
Moreover, on "user" lists, we face a second problem : the FAQ that come
again and again, and the RTFM answers. This comes from the fact that
newbie users don't search the archive for a previous answer to their
question. The list traffic would be considerably reduced if they did.
To this purpose, I think that we should find a way to "force" them to
use the web search.

The analysis of these 2 problems led me to propose the following
solution : we should offer on the debian site, not deep into a "mailing
list" menu but as a main "Asking for help" link, a web formular for user
You could choose a language ('-user' beeing the default), ask your
question and give a few keywords.
Using the search engine on those keywords (or on the main content, but
I'm not an Information Retrieval specialist), we could look for possible
previous answers in the mailing list archives and propose them to the
user (by email). If no answer is found or if the user is not satisfied
by the proposed answers (which could be notified to the server by a
simple reply-to), then the mail is sent to the list.

Using this interface, we could close all lists, including the -user
lists, since newbie users would have a way to ask questions.
This would resolve the spam problem and reduce considerably, IMHO, the
RTFM/FAQ problem.

To sum up, I think we could :
1. "close" all lists.
2. propose a user interface with automatic search in the archives.

I don't know if I expressed my idea correctly (please excuse my poor
english). I'd like to know what you think about it. Please CC me in your
answer (mailto:nico@debian.org or mailto:nico@limsi.fr).

I inferred that -project was the right list to write to (rather than
-private or -devel) but I may be wrong. Please tell me.

Thanks in advance,
LIMSI-CNRS, BP133, 91403 Orsay, France

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