More search functionality for discussion forum

I notice that, often within two days of each other, certain topics get posted over and over again. I'm sure we all see them, and many of us get aggravated by them.

The problem is, I don't see (and if I'm missing it, and someone would explain, then I will start explaining to other people to pass the word along) a really good way out of the situation.

The obvious alternative is to search the forum for related topics. I think a little information about how the search function works would be good, in the (awesome) Help page: I discovered by experimentation that searching for a phrase of more than one word would get me any post/thread that used all the words, in whatever combination, but that if I put the phrase in quotes, it would only search for that phrase. Very handy, and information which I think should be made more accessible.

Even so, however, the search results are less useful than they could be.

  1. I can't find any information on how results are organized. Are they most recent first? Original posts before comments? Discussion board they occurred on?

  2. There's no timestamp. It's impossible to tell whether someone asked the question you're interested in 8 months ago or 8 hours ago. In some cases (especially with questions about new courses and things in the incubator) it really matters.

  3. Not enough text excerpted to give a sense of whether the result is likely to be useful. The fact that it gives the post topic would help, except that people are fairly uninformative in their topic headings, a lot of the time.

  4. Too many results for something that doesn't have fields the user can select for sorting. I got 211646 results in my search for 'other resources spanish' (not in quotes). That would be okay if I could filter the results to, say, only things that have been posted in the last year on the Spanish (English) board, with original posts containing those words first in order of date posted, followed by comments. As an undifferentiated mass, 211646 approximately = 0: when I see that with no way of sorting through the responses, I give up. Maybe, if I'm clever, I can come up with a better keyword search, but there are some topics that are just going to be that big.

  5. The search has to be redone after each try. What I mean is, if I'm on the main Discussion screen and I type 'thai incubator' into the search bar, getting a few thousand results, and I think 'Thai for English speakers?' looks like a promising subject line and I click on it and see it was posted 2 months ago, and I decide I'd like to see if anything has been said more recently and go back...the search has vanished, and I'm back on the main discussion page. I have to redo the search every single time. After a few tries, again, I'm likely to give up.

I think the discussion forum could be enormously more informative and less frustrating for serious members if the search function had some additional functionality. Please.

July 8, 2015


It is not a matter of the search results being a mess. It is a result of people not liking to search, and the fact that duolingo has a very relaxed definition of "spam". As an example, there is a sticky post showing the new help page, with answers to often asked questions, and people still ask the same "absurd" questions. It is a forum culture that duolingo fosters here by their relaxed nature.

Anyway, I'm not part of Duolingo staff, but managed to at least identify (and guess) a couple of things that are retrieved when one searches for something, e.g. "immersion", shown in this sample result:


The results are almost random, and seemingly start from the closest match, and then are sorted from oldest to newest. Things such as forum name (topic_name), thread id, date last modified, and the date it was created are also retrieved, but Duolingo simply disregards some of this information. My guess is that only admins can see it.

A good explanation of search parameters is shown here.

July 8, 2015

Thank you for the link and the information.

I feel like changing the culture of the place is something that isn't going to happen just because some of the moderators decide to take a firmer line - though I agree that there are some cases where that might help. If DL is serious about its discussion stream being used as an educational community tool and not a social networking site, I think there are a percentage of posts pretty much every day (a small percentage, but they add up over time) that could be gently stopped. The ones that just say 'Hi' in the subject heading and have no text, for instance.

But those aren't interfering with the searches.

The biggest thing is, I feel like moderators and the rest of us could do a lot more to hold the discussion stream to a more focused, active, positive, and useful shape if we had a good alternative to offer to people. I think a large number of us would be willing to redirect people and get people using resources more if, for instance, every time someone posted, "When are we going to get Japanese for English???" it was possible to easily link them to the three most useful posts that have been made in the last six months or so on the difficulties that have made Japanese for English speakers impossible for the time being.

I still believe that a more functional search function is the single thing DL could institute which would promote long-term positive change in the discussions - and the discussions are a crucial part of the service DL offers.

Edited to add: I do really like that the DL search offers boolean searching. I wish more search engines did, and I'm really glad it does. I definitely want to keep that. It's just, with the volume generated, it's not enough.

July 8, 2015

Well, I don't think Duolingo aims to use the discussion stream as a community tool. The only element of it that serves its purposes is the sentence discussion considering that it is available in some mobile devices, and that is where there is room for improvement.

It also has specific forum for Educators and incubator contributors which aren't as spammed as the general discussion is.

As far as general discussion is concerned. I think the solution is making the search engine include results from the help/support page, disallowing complete novices from posting anywhere aside from troubleshooting, and auto-searching the forum while typing the topic for a new thread.

But all that will be unhelpful unless the forum culture changes.

July 8, 2015
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