A Chef Community on Stack Exchange

Chef-specific Stack Exchange has been proposed. Follow the proposal, ask a few questions, and read this post for more background.

At the Chef Community Summit in Seattle, we discussed how to make the new user experience for Chef users better. Distilling the concerns that I heard:

  • the places where users look for answers often have a low signal-to-noise ratio
  • access to Chef experts who participate in the community is often time sensitive (e.g. IRC)
  • when you find an answer, it can be hard to gauge whether it is a best practice, or a random opinion

There are technical sites that address these concerns, such as serverfaultstackoverflow and superuser. If you’ve never used one of these sites, I highly recommend it. The general model is:

  • anyone can ask a question
  • anyone can answer a question
  • you can vote questions and answers up and down
  • you earn reputation and badges for asking good questions or giving good answers

This has proven to be a powerful model: there are over 180,000 questions on serverfault alone.

Stack Exchange allows proposals for new, topical communities. In the interest of building a high-quality communtity where questions about Chef can be asked and answered, I have created a proposal for a Chef-specific Stack Exchange:

The process of getting a new site creating is quite deliberate. We need 60 people to follow the proposal, and 40 questions asked (not answered – yet), each with an upvoted score of 10 or more. If we hit that milestone, those who have followed the proposal are asked to sign it as an indication that they will participate when the site goes live. Finally, the site goes into beta, and we have to use it regularly for it to be promoted to a permanent site.

If you feel that a dedicated Chef community on Stack Exchange is something that would benefit us, then please follow the proposal and ask a few questions to help move the process forward.

Some people may ask why we need a dedicated Chef community when we already have serverfault and stackexchange, as well as an open proposal for a DevOps Stack Exchange. While you can ask Chef questions on the the general sites, the problem is asking your question on the right site with the right tags in order to get a quality answer.

If I go to serverfault (which is for system and network administrators) and search for questions tagged ‘chef’, I get:

  • 397 questions tagged ‘chef’
  • 66 questions tagged ‘chef-solo’
  • 40 questions tagged ‘chef-server’
  • 31 questions tagged ‘chef-client’

That’s just over 500 questions, but if I perform the same search on stackoverflow (which is for programmers), I get:

  • 1969 questions tagged ‘chef’
  • 285 questions tagged ‘chef-recipe’
  • 204 questions tagged ‘chef-solo’
  • 145 questions tagged ‘codechef’ (which has nothing to do with Chef)
  • 28 questions tagged ‘chefspec’
  • 10 questions tagged ‘chef-windows’
  • 3 questions tagged ‘chefdk’
  • 2 questions tagged ‘chef-template’

This illustrates one of the issues new users have when searching for information on Chef: is it a systems administration tool or a programming tool? Chef users walk a line between both worlds, so answers are split between two sites. New users who ask for help on serverfault might not get the same calibre of answer as those who ask questions on stackoverflow.

To be clear, this is a proposal created for the community to get behind (or not). If we are happy with the current state of affairs, then let’s put our efforts towards improving what already exists. Taking no action is itself an action, and a perfectly acceptable one.

If however we aren’t happy with the signal-to-noise ratio and the new user experience that having two question sites creates, then please consider supporting the proposal.

I look forward to improving the Chef community together.

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James FitzGibbon

James FitzGibbon has been vacillating wildly between Dev and Ops for nearly 20 years. He is a member of the Chef Team within the Infrastructure Engineering group at Nordstrom in Seattle, WA.