I've thought about a bunch of useful and, dare I say, cool stuff while I was answering questions in the Portuguese forum. These would, in my opinion, help alleviate the problem of "forum overload", as chubbard so well put it (http://duolingo.com/#/comment/105270) and get more language queries answered.
1) "Has this been posted yet?"
One reason that is causing this overload is redundancy. Some people call users lazy for not checking if their issue has been previously brought up. They're right, but I don't say that, despite not doing it myself. As an interaction designer, I like to think of the users as customers, in the sense that "The User is always right" (User as a collective, not as an individual, mind you). It's the UI that has to adapt, and do all possible work. Computers are good at that. Why not let Duolingo check this for us? The user types the title, and if those words are present in other discussions, he has the option to enter those discussions instead, or go ahead and post anyway.
2) "No one has answered my question!"
As it is, the language discussions are only sorted by date and/or popularity. Even if Duolingo starts directing all the problem-reporting "spam" (bad translations, sound...) to their staff, and creates a separate tab for non-related lesson queries, there's still a lot of questions unanswered, because they get lost in that flood of discussions, and after a while, the only way they will get noticed is if another person is doing the lesson that led to to the question. Why not signal, as in other forums, the answered questions? (And signal questions to begin with, by the way. Some discussions are just comments and opinions). Imagine you have a question. If you're satisfied with the answer(s) you get, or you find them helpful, but still incomplete, you mark them so. Of course, you should only be able to give a "correct answer" grading and one or two, tops, helpful answers. That way, if you are able and like to answer questions, you can go directly to the ones that haven't been (satisfiably) answered. Once you are enlightened, you can close it by marking it as answered. However, one change I would do to this common implementation is that I would allow another person besides the author to reopen the discussion, otherwise if he still has questions about the subject, he might open a new thread to make sure he gets answered, and thus adding once again to the redundancy problem (Reopening discussions could not take away the points won by correct answers, for obvious reasons. "What points", you ask? Bueno, read on, meine Freunde!)
This would take advantage of gamification, as helpful and correct answers would get points, encouraging experts to help furthermore. I would create a separate point system though, to prevent the current system to loose its meaning as a language(s) level assessment, as well as some titles, like Beginner, Intermediate, Expert or, if you want to get fancy, Schoolteacher, Assistant Instructor and Professor, for instance. Maybe not, doesn't have a clear hierarchy as the former example. Anyway, naturally, these levels would be specific to every language. One might be an expert in Spanish and not know the first thing of German. And while I'm on the subject of gamification, why not some badges for language and also tutoring (forum duty) achievements?
Ok, I think that's all. Sorry for the long post, especially since I'm not describing anything new, but I'm a bit of a nitpicker. What do you think, fellow Duolinguists?
In general, anything to improve efficiency both in the purpose of the website(language learning and web translation) and communication/education/assistance for participants, I heartily agree with. Since you are a specialist in this area, watch out, you could get hired:) Votes and responses to threads are indicated, as you know. You are proposing a fairly refined concept/model in your post. I am not a programmer-you may be- but it may take some serious hammering and chiseling to incorporate these features. I have been thinking that vocabulary needs a Jump To button to search out words or verbs and their conjugations independent of the occurrences in the lessons. The Windows>Edit> Find cannot drill down past the frame on the screen. I don't know if Mac OS in any of its flavors can either. Feedback needs to see where the user's message is in the program, rather than cluttering the world with screenshots. Well this thread could end up being one of the longest.
– I'm not a programmer either, I only have a very rudimentary idea of how these things work in the background, but I'm sure implementing all of this would be quite a big undertaking. But hey, I'm just throwing some ideas around, it's up to the staff to make that assessment.
– Regarding looking up conjugations and stuff, some people here, including myself, think there should be a grammar area with all the lessons' grammar instructions compiled, extended with conjugations and other basic grammar information.
– No, Ctrl+F / Cmd+F will only show the visible info, in any OS and browser, to the best of my knowledge. That makes it quite difficult to find a discussion subject in the general forum, since we get all the results from all forums. That should only be the case when clicking on a non existent "All" section.
– It doesn't seem to be so popular so far, unfortunately. Maybe it's the daunting size of it, but I feel that if you want to discuss matters seriously, you need to get into detail.
I've been on duolingo for about a year, and it is striking that some of the features you describe used to be implemented. "Discussions" used to be either "Questions" or "Discussions" and you would browse one or the other category easily. You could also "watch" a discussion/question thread, and that status would automatically be assigned to any thread you initiated or posted in (that is still true, possibly only in the background, as you can select to get email notification on watched threads' activity). I also believe (not remembering clearly though), that you could single out the "question" threads having no answer yet - no assessment on the quality of the answer though, even a response by the thread's initiator would take it out of the "no one answered" shortlist. My guess, considering some of this went away, is that they are active on the matter and what we have right now is purely transitory. I do like your ideas though!