/ Technology

Help us decide the future of the Which? community


At a time when many are closing their communities or seeing discussions descend into name-calling, Which? Conversation stands out as a beacon of what’s possible in a civilized debate. However, this also presents an interesting challenge – and we need your help to solve it.

In the past 12 years, my company, FeverBee, has been lucky enough to help some incredible organisations develop their communities. And none of these have come closer to the astonishingly high level of informed contributions consistent here at Which? Conversation. But herein lies the challenge.

The high standards expected in a Which? community can intimidate newcomers who don’t feel they have time and expertise to air their opinions at a similar level. How can we accommodate everyone, from seasoned consumer champions to novices, without lowering the quality of discussion?

The mission on Which? Conversation has always been to nurture a community that questions the problems consumers face every day – and then work with the community to take action. Whether that’s by putting pressure on companies, opening new investigations, or just providing practical answers.

But we can’t do these things if we’re overly reliant on a small group of terrific experts. A community can thrive only when its collective knowledge and skills – which in Which? Convo’s case are vast – are passed on to new members. How can we achieve that together?

Over to you

I now want to pass over to Patrick Steen, Head of Community Engagement at Which?, to hear from him:

“Over the past eight years, Which? Conversation has grown from strength to strength. We’ve questioned the big consumer problems of the day together, and our community has helped shape the conversation We’ve also been lucky to invite a number of guest authors, from MPs to celebrities, to join in too.

“Now I want to take the opportunity to step back and look at what the future of a Which? community should be. That’s why I’m working with Richard at Feverbee to shape where’s next in order to build a bigger, better and brighter community for you and future members too.”

So we have some questions for you:

  • How do we design a solution that will make newcomers feel welcomed and valued?
  • How do we keep the quality of discussions high as the community grows?
  • What should the overriding purpose of a Which? community be?
  • What does your perfect community look like?

We need your ideas to answer these questions.The more input we get from you, the better the solution will be. We don’t want to build a community for you, we want to build this community with you.

This is a guest post from Richard Millington, Founder and Managing Director at FeverBee, who is helping Patrick Steen and the Which? team develop a new Community Strategy. 


Another “useful” thought for you. Could Which create a personal page for everyone who registers? On that page each individual could extract the posts, links and information that is particularly relevant to them. This page could be private, but, since it is for writing that has already been published, it doesn’t have to be. Thus each individual has his own unique store of knowledge, personal to him/her. This would save Patrick from the problem of sorting out posts and save individuals from complaining that important stuff is buried in the mix. Of course someone’s page would reveal a great deal about what was important to them.

You can keep links to “Favourite Convos” – (“Latest Conversations – Favourites”) on your existing personal page. I’ve suggested this could be extended to include “Favourite comments”. I agree Vynor.

“Another “useful” thought for you. Could Which create a personal page for everyone who registers? On that page each individual could extract the posts, links and information that is particularly relevant to them. This page could be private, but, since it is for writing that has already been published, it doesn’t have to be. Thus each individual has his own unique store of knowledge, personal to him/her.”
I know, let’s call it “myname@homepages.which.net”… 😉

Creating personal pages is a relatively simple job – for registered users, and it might help in a sort of mini-curating role.

In the lobby, Malcolm wrote: “Several posts again recently from what seem to be new visitors, asking a question, or “can you explain”, and when people answer or ask for a bit more info, no response. While I think Convos should be open to all it might make them more useful if, as has been suggested before, contributors simply had to register ( a minor commitment, I’d have thought).”

To which I replied:
I agree Malcolm – enforced registration – and unless explicitly unchecked, an email with a helpful link to anyone whose post receives a reply.

@rogerjp @malcolm-r Hi both, apologies for my own late response here, but I just wanted to say that replies from authors is definitely something I want to see more of – especially when a question has been asked. Everyone is busy of course, but if you do spot a question that hasn’t been picked up on, then do feel free to @ me and I’ll happily help get a response.

Just had a quick speed read through the posts on this conversation. I am a long term which? member and occasional contributor over the years on the various forums. I ended up here to post about the loss of which.net. as more members and others have commented here than on the which? member community forums. I prefer to converse with other members particularly about issues relevant to which? I am advised that the which? member community forums will continue. They don’t seem very popular and my initial thought that apathy ruled was wrong. It is lack of information from which? and a poor login process which fails to identify an already signed in member. I am not against a public forum like this and I would contribute if appropriate but I would like an easy to access area for members only please with a priority response from which? to enquiries posted there. You could call it a VIP service for the people who fund it. I’m sure I will have more to say after due consideration but where will I say it?

davpar, I have said the same a number of times. The Which? Community forum is hardly used, badly constructed but should be one way Which? Members can communicate Which? issues directly, and receive informative responses. There are, as Members, topics that are best raised out of the public eye I believe. However they appear not to want Members to know about it.

I asked about this 6 months ago:

“Re: Which? Member Community
The community aim is “Welcome to the Which? Member Community. Got a question about anything to do with Which? You’re in the right place.” Clearly very few people use the community and yet you have a million members. Many contribute to Convos. That suggests the communitiy is not meeting a need, particularly when many questions asked of Which? in Convos go unanswered.

If Which? want to encourage engagement of their members then I suggest you need to encourage members to look at this forum by giving it publicity. Surely you would want this – or would you?

In Response to Re: Which? Member Community:

Hello Rick,
Thanks for your comment about the Member Community. We’re not currently planning to increase mentions or make changes to the model but we continue to monitor this and appreciate you registering your feedback.

Posted by DavidWhich”

Well I feel that the response you received is despicable. It clearly shows that they want to use conversation as merely a means of recruiting new members. Now if SKY ran which? they would be promoting their VIP PLATINUM FORUM MEMBERS ONLY SERVICE. Obviously they would raise the subscription. However as members, don’t we already pay for the members only service, even though it is a bit of a ghost town? Wouldn’t the easiest “model” to implement be to make use of the resources currently deployed for non members but incorporate a members only area. The publicity for that might actually generate interest in some of the anonymous visitors becoming members. Perhaps someone could explain the current charging also. I appear to pay which? £4.75 monthly for WHICHONLINE and £18.75 quarterly for WHICH MEMBERSHIP SUBSCRIPTION MAGAZINES. Grateful if a which? official person could tell me what I get for each of my two payments. Particularly interested to know what I get for my online subscription.

Hi davpar 🙂 I’ve checked your membership details and you’ve got the two memberships. So the first one, at £4.75 is for Which? Online and Legal Service – this is a reduce price and the legal service is now £9 a month. You get the full access to our Which? Legal team. The second membership, at £18.75 quarterly, is for the Which? Magazine. You do also get the online access with this as well.

If you’ve got any queries about the payments you can always call out member services team on 01992 822 800.

Well that was a prompt response. Excellent service. So my £18.75 is to cover membership of which?, receive a magazine and online access to all current services? The £4.75 is now a discounted payment to receive legal advice normally £9? Seems like a good deal. So the two amounts I pay were consolidated at some point with the addition of the full legal advice and discounted. New members pay £10.75 monthly but only receive legal advice about consumer law. They would pay £19.75 monthly to receive what I potentially can access? So that works out annually at £129 for new members – £186 for me – £237 for new members with full legal advice. I save £51 for the ability to receive full legal advice if I should desire. Seems pointless for me to receive legal advice with my home insurance therefore or is it pointless to receive legal advice from which that I may never use, actually have never used and I don’t remember ever having being told that this subscription consolidation was taking place. I may be wrong and you can provide evidence that I was made aware at some point in time. Meanwhile I am left wondering if I have overpaid you for advice I never wanted. Perhaps you could make enquiries on my behalf. A refund to cover the period following consolidation could be payable if I was knowingly unaware don’t you think. Any other forum members in the same position?

The £10.75 is for Which? and consumer rights advice. If a member wanted to have full access to the legal team then we would remove the legal consumer advice from their subscription – reducing the cost to £8.75 and open a new legal membership at £9 a month – paying a month total of £17.75. At the moment you pay £11 a month if you calculate the quarterly payment monthly (£18.75 divided by 3).

We no longer have the £4.75 membership available, but we’ve kept the access open to the members who still want it, with the option to cancel if they ever want to of course.

Definitely don’t understand. I pay you pro rata £15.50 monthly. I was never aware that I was paying you anything for full legal advice (discounted or otherwise). The quarterly subscription is paid to you via direct debit and the monthly subscription for online services by credit card. Distinctly separate amounts via two payment methods taken out at different times for specific services. I just want you to deal with me in a fair and transparent way. You are the Consumers Association and you have a legal and moral duty to look into this for me. Thanks I know you will and I won’t expect an immediate response. Seven days should be more than enough time for you to make the necessary enquiries and get back to me with your proposals.

Can I ask how you got the £15.50 monthly figure? (My maths is probably off).

I don’t have access to your membership details but I am in contact with our member services. If you are not needing the legal service then I would recommend you can call them to cancel, or let me know and I can arrange that.

The legal service that you have is for Which? Online + legal service at £4.75 a month.
The Which? magazine is for the magazine, and later we added in the online service with this as well. You’re paying £18.75 a quarter for it. There is the crossover for the online services, which happened in 2013. The membership was kept active still because of the additional legal service. Access to the legal service would have been mentioned when you signed up for that membership. If you didn’t want the legal service then I can offer you a refund for the £4.75 membership paid between September 2013 and today.


You are correct. Can I blame the heat and a small calculator for my maths. 18.75 x 4 =75 4.75 x 12 = 57 75+57 = 132 (Pro rata monthly = 11).

I definitely never needed full legal advice just the included consumer advice via which legal. I have always had legal advice from my Home Insurance Policy and some other sources as well. So a refund covering the period from the time it was introduced would be great. Also I would like to pay you only once quarterly via direct debit for membership please.

So a good day for me and a fast response from you. Everyone should be happy.


Ha! Well, it just makes a nice difference that it wasn’t my maths. I’ll arrange this for you and update you tomorrow. Have a lovely evening 🙂

Do you have an update for me yet Alex?

Hello 🙂 I emailed you directly last week, confirming all the details.

It was sent to the same email address which you use to log in to Convo. Did you want me to resend?

I have checked and did not receive your email sent to my new address at BT which I was forced to set up following the impending loss of which.net. Maybe as well as sending to my new email address you could send a copy to my old which.net ones as well. Surely one of them will get through via auto-forwarding???

Sorry Alex I have just realised that I still log into which using my old which email address not my new BT one.

Further investigations reveal that although my username is the existing which.net email address I have advised you of my BT email address for communications and information as part of my account. I intend to retain my old which email address as my username/login because I am nostalgic for the good old days.

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Duncan I am too old to understand a word of what you just said in response to an issue that which? apparently now have in communicating with me via email (old or new).

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Sorry Davpar, if you have an alternative email address attached to your main Which? account that would be for marketing information (if we’re letting you know about one of our services, sending you a newsletter etc).

I don’t have access to this unless requested. When contacting people about Convo queries, we generally use the email address they log in with. If this is an issue, you can email me your alternative contact email address and I will keep note. Sorry for the confusion – my mistake.

As a start could you send the communication again to my which.net account please Alex before it closes. For the future you will wish to clarify if the username/login process now requires an active email address rather than a chosen username. Also it would no doubt be useful to you to have access to the email address that is registered on members accounts wouldn’t it? How do I now email you with the email address which is registered on my which? account?

You could, technically, have your Convo login as a which.net email address. However, if you needed to reset your password or set up Convo emails (when someone replies to you etc) then you would not receive this communication, which would be an issue.

The reason the Convo team do not have access to people’s membership details is for data protection. Only the membership teams need to access this information. If I needed any information about your membership, I contact them.

So I will have to use an active e-mail address as my “Conversation” login then if e-mail communications are to be possible. What about my main which.co.uk account? Presumably that is a user name of choice since the contact details are in the account. Did you send the original e-mail again. I haven’t seen anything arrive yet. What is the senders address so I can search?

Yes, we would definitely recommend you using an active email address.

The email I am sending you is coming from conversation.comments@which.co.uk

Alex I have sent you a couple of e-mails with details of my new e-mail address. One from my old address (due to end on Friday) and one from my new BT address. However my attempts to change my Conversation username/login details have failed because in settings my password is rejected. I am unable to change my password and start again without the current password as the system doesn’t appear to allow that. So advice on how to change my Conversation password and/or username now required.

I don’t believe this. I thought that my attempts to change my password had failed as the message I received on site was current password not recognised. Now I have received an e-mail confirming that my password was changed. However I don’t know which of my attempts succeeded and it still didn’t allow me to change the username and it stated each time “Your current password is invalid.
No changes were made to your password or email address.”

Alex. My second I don’t believe it message. My email address has now changed in settings but I am still none the wiser as to how this was achieved.

Hi Davpar, I’ve just emailed you directly. I’ve updated your email for you and would ask you kindly to try logging in with this one.

If you’re still having issues please let me know. I’m very sorry that you’re having issues logging in 🙁

Thank you Alex. So all is now well. I am back with my new identity. Fairly painless at the end of the day. Now what time is the memorial service for which.net on Friday?

I posted this on which.net as support for a previous commenter who said “comments and questions are collected and totally ignored by all staff unless seriously prompted to do so“.

“malcolm r says:Today 09:23
@awhittle, Morning Alex. The problem is that Which? very rarely answer questions. I could produce a list as long as Norfolk Street of straightforward questions I have asked over the years that have never received an acknowledgement, let alone an answer. I conclude that Which? have no interest in interacting with Members.”.

Quite rightly, it was suggested as off-topic.

Alex Whittle responded quickly, as usual (the team all do a great job 🙂 ) that included “However, for you not to be getting an answer at all to your questions is very concerning. Unfortunately, as you know we are a very small team at the moment, but we are growing in numbers and we are still hiring! ”

The point is, Which? have over 700 employees and I would have thought that the questions asked could simply be directed to the “right” person and an answer provided relatively quickly.

So if, for example, I ask “on What BSI committees are Which? active?”, “Will the Which?Switch energy comparison site continue to show all energy companies and their tariffs “( there is a new CMA/Ofgem ruling that allows such sites to restrict offerings to only those who pay commission) OR “does Which? have access to British standards on line” the answers should not be difficult to provide, should they. And I’ve only just got to the beginning of Norfolk St.

Incidentally, I wrote to Which? 3 weeks ago but, as yet, have had no acknowledgement let alone an answer. Maybe the letter (snail mail) went astray. I’ll check.

Thanks for moving this here, Malcolm!

What team/person did you send your letter to? I’ll see if I can track it down and what’s come from it.

I know I’ve said this a couple of times today (and I don’t want you to think I’m just repeating myself) but I would love to be able to improve how much and how quickly information is provided. With some issues, we need to speak to a couple of teams. Maybe consumer rights, to understand what your rights are, then campaigns team to see if we’re looking into this further, and also the researchers to see what additional information we can provide – for example. Each question may require a different process and sometimes it is about working out what information we can provide. I always like to try and get as much advice as possible before posting a response.

I’m not explaining this to change your mind, just hoping it might give you a bit of explanation for the delay.

Did you have any suggestions on how we could improve?


It is clear to me that your question “Did you have any suggestions on how we could improve?” was answered by many contributors to this forum already many times. The main one of course was to improve by providing a quicker response to enquiries. Maybe that question should be asked of your own technical department and those who developed the practices and procedures to enable you to answer specific questions asap. Perhaps you could explain the actual technical process you are required to go through to provide an answer to a question? For example do you e-mail (internal mail) the appropriate department or contact them by phone? How long do they have to answer an enquiry (deadline for response)? Do you have to provide a holding response to the forum member if an enquiry remains unanswered after a certain time? Are there any guidelines to staff requiring the provision of responses to you or is it that horrible contractual term “best endeavours”?


@awhittle, Thanks for the quick reply again Alex! The thread reminded me of the lack of a reply, so I’ve emailed Which? to ensure, firstly, that the letter was received. You never know!

You ask for suggestions. I’ve always (but perhaps incorrectly) regarded Convos as representing Which? as a whole, and not a standalone entity. So I expected that they could be used as a conduit into the organisation when questions seemed worth asking. Other routes are available, such as emailing, but slow, and the Member forum – hardly used. And the questions I’ve asked on Convos have, I think, been relevant to the Convos and, hopefully, of interest to some other contributors. So better asked in public,

My suggestion then is simply to direct questions to appropriate people in the Which? organisation to deal with them – dig out the right people to answer and/or do a bit of research if necessary and let them post a reply. We dealt with customer questions in my organisation very quickly – tried to do it the same day. I don’t necessarily expect that, but left too long and the topic may have moved on too far. So, for example, someone in Which? must know what, if any, BSI committee(s) they sit on and are active in? Someone will know about the Which?Switch policy. Someone will know if they subscribe to BS online (just to follow up my examples). The answers to those should be easy to elicit.

Not many questions are asked on Convos. Mine are not frequent. So I don’t see it as a real burden for Which? to handle.

Hi folks, most of you should have recieved an email with a survey to further help shape our community strategy (if we have email permissions for you!). If not, here it is – do fill it in as best you can 🙂


It was not necessary but it’s welcome to be able to go back to the previous page in surveys. Thanks Patrick.

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Would an InPrivate window from one of the mainstream browsers not overcome the tracking concerns you have?

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You need a well-configured outgoing firewall. Little Snitch is pretty good.

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I remember in the very early days of this game – 1996 when I first went on the web – there were a couple of files that I investigated on a BT modem disc that were thinly disguised snoopers. I wrote a stiff letter but… lost the will to follow it up after receiving platitudes I am ashamed to say.

Well, I’ve just taken the promoted survey by Facefacts on Which? and our expectations. It’s an easy survey to complete – very fast response time but at the same time somewhat flawed and a little clunky.

A great deal of the survey concerned itself with a choice of five responses to a single proposition: one example was

“Receive a Which? membership card etc.”

beneath which were the same five options:

Would make me feel
1. More involved
2. A bit more involved
3. Woldn’t change how I feel
4. A bit less involved
5. Much less involved

Curiously, the survey didn’t seem to know I already have a Which? membership card, despite my telling them in the first few questions that I;m a ordinary members, have voted for CA Council members and participate in Which? regularly.

But I suppose the inherent weakness of such surveys lies in their over-generalisation. One questions asked for a response to the proposition

I trust online reviews written by other users more than those written by companies/brands”

with the usual agree strongly, etc. options. But it’s insufficiently precise. Which? Ltd is a company, and is that on the same level as Unilever? And some users pen reviews that are barely intelligible, whereas some write cogent and discerning pieces. So the question was badly worded, to put it mildly. It cold have read something along the lines of

Do you trust online reviews without knowing their provenance or background?”

Survey writers often seem to think they have to word questions so they can be understood by a 10 year-old child, but I assumed Which? would aim somewhat higher.

Surveys must offer more places where prose can be employed, rather than the overly-simplistic approach of ‘choose a response’.

Constructing a meaningful survey, giving an adequate balanced background and reaching sufficient and diverse respondents is a challenge, and I have found this lacking in some past Which? surveys. A year or two ago this claim was made “In our survey of Which? campaign supporters over the weekend, 94% of nearly 30,000 people told us that car manufacturers are not being fair to UK consumers.“. Maybe it was true, but I found it more than just surprising and wondered quite what background was given and what questions were asked. I think Which? should give all this information rather than just publish a “result.”

A survey of all which.net customers might be good to see how happy they are and whether the closure was handled to their satisfaction, with all the background of course. 🙂

I believe that was one of the most egregious aspects of the which.net debacle: the complete lack of any user consultation. And exactly what Which? railed against when it involved the banks and ATMs. For sheer duplicity it takes the biscuit.

I was very disappointed by the design of the survey. Like Ian I found the multiple choice answers rather curious. How could interacting with Which? make anyone much less involved? Anyway, I look forward to developments.

A member of the W? membership survey team just responded:

We’re glad that you found it an easy survey to complete, and thank you for taking the time to do that.

You’re right about some survey questions feeling general. In this case, the survey is being asked not only of Ordinary Members, but also of members, supporters and non-members. This is so that we can understand the views of consumers in how we might increase participation in the organisation – and how these views differ among groups.

On your point about the wording of the questions, these are written in consultation with both research and insight experts. In many cases, they are written so that they don’t lead to any bias and so that they deliver scales of answer that can then be used to aid analysis.

We realise there were very few open-ended questions in this survey for you to tell us in your own words. We take that on board.

Thanks again for taking part.

Thanks for letting us know, Oscar. I had assumed that the survey was for subscribers and now knowing that it was offered to non-members and supporters I can see more sense in the questions.

I mourn the loss of which.net but as a result I have discovered that in 2013 my monthly £4.75 payment for access to which? online changed to a reduced subscription for full access to the legal service. On-line access and consumer legal advice was included in the quarterly subscription. I was unaware of this change. Since I receive legal advice as part of my Home Insurance policy I would never have required the additional services from which?. As a consequence which? is refunding all payments made by me since 2013. If all current members of which.net were in a similar position that would cost which? over a million pounds. So please check you own personal circumstances and if necessary make the case for a refund to which? After all this organisation is transparent, fair, considerate and above all a champion of the consumer and it’s members. Isn’t it?

Like davpar I too did not realise that the reason for the monthly £4.75 payment had changed in 2013 and I had continued paying this fee believing it was to provide access to the online services and specifically my which.net email address. I have been paying the various Home Insurance companies that I have used for legal services since this date (well before that actually!), and I would not have required the additional service from Which? had I known.

Therefore I would similarly request a refund of my £4.75 payments since 2013, and would ask Alex to kindly organise this for me as well please?

I did drop an email to Patrick on this topic, but I see from the automated reply that he’s probably still away at the moment, no doubt taking a well earned rest from handling all the which.net issues! So if Alex could kindly handle my request in his absence please?

Thanks also to davpar for publishing the outcome of his discussions!

Obviously I have used my new email address below, rather than my old which.net one! Should you require further details such as membership no etc. please use that address!

Hi Andy, really sorry you’ve been charged for this. Could you email me your membership number and the first line of address and postcode (to make sure I’ve got the right account) and I will get in touch with our Member Services team asap. My email address is alexandra.whittle@which.co.uk

Alternatively, you can call our Member Services team directly on 01992 822 800 (if that is easier for you)

Thank you

Alex, thanks for the prompt email reply the requested details have been forwarded to you!

I remember a few years ago contacting Which? about the £4.75 and was told then it had changed. I thought it was for email hosting. Which? need to investigate quickly and start refunding.

Hi Stephen, the £4.75 membership refers to Which? Online and legal service. We stopped this back in 2013, but if anyone is still subscribing to this and doesn’t want it then they should call 01992 822 800 to discuss options. Alternatively, you can email me your membership number and address and I will take a look for you. My email is alexandra.whittle@which.co.uk Thanks.

@awhittle, When you say you stopped it, what do you mean? Do you no longer charge for Which? online? What about Legal Service?

Hi Malcolm, we no longer offer Which? online and Which? Legal as one subscription. There is an option to subscribe to these services separately.

Good morning Alex. Thanks for replying. Since I posted I learned that Which? magazine is not available as a separate electronic subscription. I would have thought that this might appeal to younger members but no doubt the marketing team will have done their research.

The page you have given a link to shows the cost of subscription to Which? magazine after the free trial. In the case of the Which? Money this is not shown and with other magazines it’s necessary to phone to enquire. If goods are in a shop I would not bother to enquire unless it was a product I was in urgent need of.

Are things happening behind the scenes on this following the research?

I am a little disconcerted that an elected Trustee , who of course represents subscribers aswell as being a Director of the Consumers’ Association, is not kept in a loop as to what Which? is intending to do and what the aim is on this membership survey and the timescale.

Don’t be Patrick. This level of detail falls significantly within the realms of delegated authority – but of course being a Dilloer through and through I am interested in the way it’s shaping up.

Roger, this update will also answer your question.

This post is in response to a conversation in The Lobby which fits very nicely here – and I have a feeling we might continue talking so I hope you don’t mind I redirect the conversation here.

Since joining Which? a few weeks ago, I’ve picked up the research and strategy development that Richard spoke to you all about here in the Future Which? Community discussion. We are currently processing all the information from the research and setting out our path forward. We’re very much at the beginning stages of this. So your feedback is really helpful for me to know how to drive the strategic development.

…Also very helpful is my time here talking with you all this week so far, and I’ll be here every day next week too. I’m grateful for anything you say, so please don’t hold back. You know Convo best.

This may seem a bit disjointed but I’m going to pick up on some of your points from the other thread below.

I’m glad that @VynorHill likes the current framework! And the rest of you are asking the same questions we are, about what it means to host a discussion space in 2018, what type of community Which? Conversation can become, what’s needed to support it with expertise, and where people see Which?s role in these conversations.

I’m also a huge fan of the Apple Forums, with ‘Helpful’ posts clearly marked, and ‘Solutions’ plainly visible. The exchange of detailed questions and advice in these peer-to-peer communities are backed up by a network of ‘superusers’ (community members who are experts in specific topics), and intricate strategies and tools to ensure Apple staff and technical experts step in at the right time to correct erroneous advice, glean insight to make product improvements, and to bring clarity to lengthy conversations where people are going round and round. And likewise, there are many (many!) staff monitoring comments and issues, bringing consumer insight back into their business so they can drive business value from the important feedback people are giving.

Think you might all enjoy having a look at this overview of how the Apple support community works.

One thing I love about Apple’s forums is how you can easily scan down a page and see what posts were marked as ‘Helpful’. A ‘Solution’ may only help the original poster after all – very often our specific technical issue is unique. So, when the community members curate the best answers by marking them as ‘Helpful’ this helps the rest of us skim over all the other conversation (because we all know things meander and go off-topic), and identify the answers that may help. This definitely helped me with an iPhone issue where the Solution was not for me, but after scanning a few pages one of the Helpful answers was just the ticket.

What these forums don’t have is something like Which? Conversation. But many other support communities have more ‘editorial’ style posts in another section that functions like a blog (similar to Which? Conversation). This editorial/conversational area sits alongside the forums and the navigation is clear – so that people can find the right place to read and debate, or to ask for help with a specific situation.

Do you think that the future Which? Community would benefit of some aspects of a ‘support community’? If so, how?

@johnward said there are fewer than ten ‘help’ enquiries in a week in Convo, and this is probably for the reason he highlighted – the site isn’t organised to make them accessible to those who may be able to help. Equally, people can’t readily identify where they can ask about issues they need detailed help. And also, as John said, there isn’t robust support from Which? staff to monitor and assist – many people in need just don’t get response for the reasons he stated.

The ‘regulars’ of any community can grow tired of sharing the same answers over and over – so I loved John’s idea of a Which? Conversation FAQ / booklet. Sometimes communities have repositories of knowledge (‘knowledge base’) like this – where a great answer is converted into a piece of content in a knowledge base, easily searchable and accessible to all. What do others think about this idea?

@wavechange, You’re right, people do like to talk about their challenges – this is the very nature of the existence of communities at all, and I thought this comment of yours was really insightful about how to help those newcomers (or infrequent posters) feel at home: “Let’s take a common scenario when someone posts a question but omits to give some key information. The most helpful approach would probably be a prompt response asking for the missing information, but some enquiries are used by regulars to have a discussion, often in depth. Often we never hear any more from the person who made the enquiry and perhaps they feel overwhelmed or embarrassed.”

@malcolm-r You hit the nail on the head: “perhaps they are not being lazy, but bringing examples to our attention where they feel the “regulations” (and regulators) are wrong, in the hope that Which? might try to instigate some changes.” …I haven’t been here long, but I’ve been reading and noticing that people do seem to come to Convo for this very reason – to impact Which?’s work, in the process of finding help from others.

John also said: “Some of us might have better things to do with our time than to continue feeding this situation which is so different from the early period.” I’d love to hear what you all think about what a future Which? Community can retain the feeling of ‘the early period’ and resolve some of the issues above? What is the early period? Please describe this time to me in detail so I can be sure we keep the culture of Convo alive and well.


Thanks to you all for for your advice on how we can better serve you, and the whole the community. This journey with you is going to take some time while we get the necessary community product tools in place, and our processes and operations up and running.

We’re looking at new community platforms to resolve many of these issues, and we’ll be setting up the internal processes to support a new community. Not just how the community is organised into discussion areas, but also tools to help us monitor and manage comments – and be able to reply to them.

I’ve made lots of notes, and will continue doing so. In all honesty, we are limited by the current platform we’re using, but know that I’m also looking at how we can push the platform further while we’re awaiting a shiny new community. One relevant example here is that our platform now doesn’t let me move your comments from one area to another. 🙂

Several of you mentioned things you were promised that you haven’t seen. That may be something I can help with. Would you also get back to me about this? My notepad is ready!

Looking forward to talking more with you about this!

Thanks very much for the feedback, Elena. I am aware of the Apple support community but so rarely have I had problems I’m not sure how it works. Maybe there are other sites we can learn from too.

One concern that is shared by regulars is issues that are raised in Conversations by Which? resulting in many comments being posted supporting the need for action and apparently no further action being taken. Amazon selling goods with two-pin plugs, third-party ink cartridges being rejected by printers, and retailers failing to take responsibility for handling claims for faulty goods are some examples. In these and other cases it is clear that Trading Standards should be taking action. Since these issues have been raised by Which? it seems reasonable to assume that they are within its remit to pursue and it concerns us that little appears to happen.

Thanks again Elena. My question about Convos is a fundamental one. Are they intended just as a platform for Which? members and others to have entertaining and instructive chats, as you might in the pub? Or is the material discussed and the arguments and propositions put forwarded intended as material that Which? will use in its strategy and in its publications? Frankly, I see very little evidence of the latter, both through the lack of use seemingly made of material, and the distinct lack of contributions made by Which? “specialists” to Convos (I exclude those who run the Convos!).

We’ve discussed at length about whether Which? has any intention of constructively engaging with, and working with, its members (and other contributors). There is little sign that it really wants to do this.

Its a pleasantly cool but overcast day and I’m in the middle of a pile of ironing, so sorry to appear a little critical. It would be good, though, if Which? came clean.

@wavechange – This is another excellent comment. I feel your frustration, and I admire you championing these issues which very much need a resolution for consumers. I’m looking into some information on this and will come back to you.

The idea of curating FAQs was first proposed in 1998, Elena. We suggested the “idea of a Which? (forum as it was then) FAQ / booklet, the idea being that – as you noted – “sometimes communities have repositories of knowledge (‘knowledge base’) like this – where a great answer is converted into a piece of content in a knowledge base, easily searchable and accessible to all”, and we’ve continued suggesting it on an irregular basis for the past five years at least.

The importation point, really, is that we’ve also offered to assist with the curation, but Which? seems curiously distant about using volunteers.

Should we perhaps assume this is going to change?

I’m not quite clear on what you’re saying, Ian.

Some community platforms have a knowledge base built into them – so that people who Google information can easily find what they need. This knowledge base would be populated with content from the community – all those frequently asked questions. If not a ‘knowledge base’ specifically (as a function), any community member would be able to create a ‘topic’ and they could gather all this information there.

These questions are very similar to the ones others have mentioned, and to which I replied to say we’re also asking of ourselves – and you all. ‘What is the Which? community’ is what we’re working on now. And around that we’ll set up all the necessary processes, staffing and training that would make such a space successful. To do this we’re analysing all the information from our research, survey and interviews, and your ongoing feedback.

We’re not there yet – and won’t be for a while – so your insight is what’s helping us improve. The current community is experiencing ‘growing pains’ – it needs to be something more than it is. And having been here with you these last four days, I see these same shortcomings, and I also feel the frustration.

Don’t know how we can come any cleaner than this!

Elena G. says: Today 15:20

I’m not quite clear on what you’re saying, Ian.

I suppose the point I’m making is that those of us who started with the Which? online forum in 1995/6 saw its signficant potential and were eager (and younger) to see it succeed. To that end we saw the problems that were starting to emerge and in particular the issue of repeated questions, so we proposed the idea of a knowledge base.

We offered to undertake duties, such as moderation, curation and organisation but none of these offers was ever taken up.

Fast forward 22 years (!) and similar suggestions are still being made, with similar encouragement by Which? staffers. The question I’m asking is ‘has anything changed?”. Is Which? about to depart from 22 years of not using volunteers to help its online offering and actually harness the power of its membership or not?

In more practical terms, the Apple help site is divided into two quite distinct areas: direct specialist advice and help and a social aspect, frequented by those who’ve acquired the appropriate status.

This place has enormous potential, especially as some still have faith that Which? represents something special, but for it to fulfil a fraction of that potential it will have to harness the membership.

Moderation should only be in the hands of the Which? staff who look after Convos.

Those of us who are there in the evenings and at weekends can and do help by reporting comments that are clearly offensive, promotional, etc. It is one useful role we have been invited to do and I’m happy that the actual moderation is done by Which? staff.

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malcolm r said Today 16:58
Moderation should only be in the hands of the Which? staff who look after Convos.

There are options, Malcolm, and in fact many systems, such as the acclaimed Apple one, do use volunteers to moderate.

They don’t take people who simply offer, however; the moderation rights have to be gained by repeated and effective contributions and a long track record of positive, helpful and creative postings.

Why should volunteers be allowed to moderate? It comes down to logistics. Apple’s system works so well precisely because they use volunteers with a proven track record over a significant period of time and specifically because it reduces the burden on the staff.

Think of the staff in several tiers: tier 2 are those with whom we interact in here, tier 3 the likes of Patrick, Tier 4 the directors and so on. Tier 1 status could be earned by regulars who have demonstrated a positive committent to the place over time.

It is, of course, only a suggestion, but it’s a suggestion based on years of working with forums and discussion groups and also the experience of world leaders such as Apple who clearly find it works to their benefit.

I agree. Continuing the existing reporting option is the best way of maintaining a friendly and courteous Convo – apart from contributors thinking before posting, or using edit, about how remarks they make can be taken badly or misinterpreted.

The existing reporting option was introduced by Patrick as a part of an overall strategy to make W?Cs more accessible and ease the load on the staff.

And this is another point: forums and blogs such as this involve people and, as such, can be regarded as living entities. My experience over the years has been that generally – in the initial stages – its the forum / blog owners that set the tone, what is acceptable and unacceptable.

Over time, a good forum will acquire a group of regular participants. In the main this tends to be those with a fair bit of time to spare – retirees, the uber-wealthy and those whose families have left the nest, to employ a thoroughly flogged cliche.

If stage one has been successful, then the core group members start to assume more responsibilities of their own accord. This is what happened in the original 1995/6 forum here.

Stage three is when some of those regulars have proved themselves to be trustworthy and willing to relive the full time staff of some of the load. The usual strategy is to extend some moderation privs: in the first instance that would be little more than the ability to enter an off-board topic. Apple calls it ‘The lounge’, a topic only accessible to those who’ve proved their value in the main forum.

It could also include at a higher stage the ability to create new topics.

Moderation in the sense of post-editing and removal would always have to remain with the site administrators for legal reasons. Which? remains legally liable for anything posted in here and the insurers alone almost certainly wouldn’t permit non-salaried staff to have such powers.

But I agree of course with your point about “remarks (we) make (that) can be taken badly or misinterpreted.” Lacking aural and visual cues knwing when someone’s making a joke can be very, very difficult.

I think I understand now, thank you. If you wish to create an FAQ now, please do! We can then review it and format it onto a page to post here in the community – hearing from the community’s regular members about their advice on the questions which come up regularly would be great. We can organise it into sections and make a little list at the top with links, so people can drop down to the relevant section for them. And from there any question that becomes frequent again can go into this area.

The only thing is… We have an FAQ already. So maybe one of you has an idea on what this can be called? Alternatively we could rename the FAQ to ‘How to use Which? Conversation’.

We will be looking at volunteer programmes as part of the strategy development for the Which? Community – for example ‘champions’ or ‘topic experts’. Letting a community moderate itself can make things uncomfortable between members – so we’ll use [our staff] moderators to keep the culture positive. But in the new community there will be an ability to assign permissions to people who might like to help us move posts to the right place, for example, and help with community housekeeping.

I couldn’t agree more that we’ll need to harness the membership, and the community members themselves who may not be members. That’s how communities work! Thank you for your thoughts.

Edit: To make this comment more clear I added the words ‘our staff’ before ‘moderators’ above.

Thanks for that. Okay, I will talk to at least two others I suspect might be willing to help (one an original forum member from the mid-90s…) and we’ll make a start.

Hello Elena – I am glad you are picking up and exploring openly the points that have been made recently in respect of the functionality of Which? Conversation.

When I suggested that we identify and composite the many pieces of advice that have been offered over the years to common consumer and domestic issues I deliberately avoided calling it FAQ’s because I don’t think that is an adequate title for the content. I gave it a sort of working title of ‘Frequently Given Answers’ because I wanted to provide instant help to enquirers on a wide range of topics and avoid having to keep repeating ourselves because the original answer had been buried. A problem with both titles is that if FAQ’s [or FGA’s] works and people no longer have to ask the questions [because the answers are readily available] then the frequency of the questions will fall away and they will drop off the list. In practice, ‘FAQ’s’ is a widely discredited term because in essence they are the questions which the promoters want to short-cut rather than the ones enquirers are actually asking and the list of FAQ’s bears no relationship to frequency of asking at all! This is a long way round of saying that I therefore like your idea of giving it a more comprehensive title such as ‘How to Use Which? Conversation’. My own suggestion would be something snappy like “What Do We Know?”.

I think such content would have to build up over time and require a substantial amount of editing to first pull together out of the Conversation comments all those that addressed a particular problem, then check them to see which answers were the best and technically accurate, and then consolidate them to eliminate duplications and to incorporate additional relevant points suggested by different contributors. This process would obviously remove any personal attachment to the answers. I have not thought how it might deal with second opinions that differ from a more commonly held one but could still be a workable solution.

At the end of the exercise for each item there would be a de-personalised ‘work sheet’ that would probably be little different from what is already available on a more relevant website – at least in the case of parking questions, energy prices, and some of the other important topics that recur. Does that nullify the idea? I would hope not.

I find this to be one of the most purposeful discussions we have had for a very long time on where we are going with Which? Conversation and I am very grateful for the example you are setting in terms of positive engagement, dialogue, and deliberation of a number of parallel or conflicting ideas. I hope this will not be dismissed on high as excessive navel-gazing and that it is a portent of our future relationship as contributors with the drivers of a useful public function and not just a hot waffle shop. Well done.

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Yes, everyone, please continue to report. And where you see others getting heated, encourage them to report as well. We will pick it up.

There are times when your reports cannot be actioned because they don’t cross the line, but your eagle eye helps us spot members who we need to keep an eye on in case they do become problematic. And also your reports (the type of comments they are) are helping us shape the future of moderation here in the community. The world is a different place now than it was a few years ago – with fake news and Cambridge Analytica and the like. It has become difficult for hosts of a conversational platform to manage some of the ‘hate speech’ and erroneous information, and everyone is adapting their processes and guidelines to this.

You’re absolutely right that moderation the sense of removing content, warning members with repeated offences and so on, would need to be conducted by Which?. In some part for the reason you stated, but also because we want all of you to have good relationships with each other – and let us be the ‘bad guys’ when we have to (which isn’t all that frequent here, fortunately!).

You are speaking my language Ian: “forums and blogs such as this involve people and, as such, can be regarded as living entities” Communities are living, breathing organisms. And you’re right that the founding culture sets the tone of what’s to come.

I come from a long history of communities (longer than I care to remember!) and both personally and professionally, they have shaped my life. I’ve worked with many groups of ‘regulars’ like your good selves and I see this as a partnership. The Which? community needs you. I must say again, I feel the same frustrations that you’ve all expressed, and wish we had all the necessary tools and processes in place right now to be able to make the changes that would end your frustrations (or allow new ones to emerge which will take the community forward once again!).

I’ll definitely be thinking on ways to support you all – a private area to talk to each other, and us, is something I think would be a good start. What do you think?

Oh, one more thing: I couldn’t agree more – the text-based nature of the conversation leads to misunderstanding. I plan to update our guidelines in the next couple months to set out a few key points like this which will be guidelines for positive interactions.

It would be great to have the opportunity to communicate with one or more members, especially over off-topic matters that are unlikely to interest anyone else. It is very rewarding to have discussions with those who have a common interest.

What we normally understand as trolling is obviously unacceptable but there are numerous other ways that are used occasionally to alienate others on this and other forums. Examples include deliberately misunderstanding information that is clear when read in context of the post, and contributors being dismissive of constructive suggestions by others.

We are not going to agree over everything and the fact that different points of view are expressed is an essential part of the appeal of any forum.

I’ll include “putting down” constructive comments where they may not coincide with another’s view. However there is always time to edit a comment – 30 minutes I think – so second thoughts can be applied.

Nevertheless, we are all subject to human frailties and reaction to a response that seems less than polite will happen. In many cases reporting is unnecessary as other readers will see the point and take it in their stride, as long as the dispute is not perpetuated, I’d suggest.

When there are contentious topics – Brexit as a current example – we should be presenting perceived facts, opinions, views from all different perspectives without them being derided. We may be right in what we say, we may be wrong, or it may not be a right or wrong, but shooting the messenger is not the way.

You’ll be happy to know I have private messages on my list of future improvements @wavechange. This is an essential feature we need in our future community.

I have to agree – I love varying opinions and views. This is also essential, and people should feel comfortable to express theirs and be respected. 🙂

You’ve taught me something new Malcolm – and I can confirm that everyone can edit their posts for 30 minutes. This helps with those second thoughts you mentioned, and with typos! And having 30 minutes is fairly standard.

Malcolm – I have not paid much attention to the Brexit debate because many of the comments simply relate to the subject we have been invited to discuss. Obviously there are likely to be benefits and disadvantages of leaving the EU, but few of the comments that I have read acknowledge this. I wonder what use the debate has served except to display prejudice.

Elena – The 30 minute period has many uses. For example, I have edited this post to show that it is a response to Malcolm, now that you have inserted two posts. It’s obvious in this example but sometimes it would not be clear without the change. We did have to push to be allowed to edit posts in the early days because it was frustrating posting a comment, spotting a typo and not being able to do anything about it. Now we just have the frustration of looking back after 31 minutes and spotting a mistake. 🙂

I think it’s worth being aware that some improvements that have been requested in the past but not made have been down to the limitations of the existing software rather than any unwillingness to introduce changes.

@wavechange, I have seen your comment and am looking into some information for you. It may be next week, but I will be sure I get a reply for you. 🙂

@wavechange – I have not forgotten you. I’ll hopefully have some information soon.

This seems as good as anywhere to report a bug (which it may or may not be worth fixing)..

Ordinarily I remain logged in to Convo. However, overnight I seem to have been thrown out, probably local cookie expiration. Not a problem I think – will fill in my comment and then sign in as I post. Done it several times over the years. However, this time, it tells me my email address is invalid!

I was able to log in at the top of the page using “Sign in” – but not the short-up field, thanks to an overzealous field checker – not allowing my new email address. Paradoxically, had I used a fictitious email address (with only three characters after the last period) I’d have been fine.

Same happened to me this morning.

I occasionally find that Conversation locks up and although I am signed in it is impossible to post a comment and my avatar does not appear alongside the comment box. I find that if I reopen in a new tab it clears but today it was necessary to do that twice before it cleared. I don’t know whether that is exactly the same as Roger and Ian are experiencing but it is strange that it is occurring when there is relatively little traffic on the site.

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I have occasionally had a problem in the past but it’s working fine at the moment.

The locking-up that I experience is intermittent so there is no obvious explanation.

The other odd thing is that sometimes I remain signed-in for weeks on end [I never sign out, I just exit] and sometimes I have to re-sign in after a few days.

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Hi Roger, and everyone else reading – Thank you for mentioning this. We haven’t done any maintenance on the site today so I’m not sure what could’ve caused this other than expiring cookies, as has already been discussed. Did you get your email address updated ok? If you need any help let me know.

Edit: After showing your comments to one of my colleagues we think there may be a technical issue which we’re going to investigate further. If we need any further information, I’ll come back here to ask. 🙂

Update: If you encounter this problem again please use the top sign-in menu for now.

John Ward said:August 2018

I occasionally find that Conversation locks up and although I am signed in it is impossible to post a comment and my avatar does not appear alongside the comment box..

Ah. Yes; that started happening at around the same time, but I didn’t link the two in my mind. I simply refresh the page, at which point it decided to work.

Funny; Which? has always had these sort of odd little issues.

Wow – I blink and after a deafening silence the world moves forward 25 posts!

Thanks Elena for your post – which due to time pressure I have only very scantily skimmed. I will be back in the fray more fully engaged later today (including of course a full study of the above).

I’m very encouraged by Elena’s posts. Patrick Steen did give us considerable encouragement during the creation of the ‘new’ Which? Conversation which despite the occasional gremlins is greatly superior to what went before. For a long time, some of us have been keen to offer our help in various other ways.

Dear Elena, I note my name in several of your contributions and I haven’t responded directly because I have come across them by accident, when browsing, and didn’t have time, at that point, to think about what was being said.
Looking at this debate as a whole, I have already said that the direction of the site, with the exception of The Lobby, is in your hands. You produce the initial topic and write the introduction. From there, those who wish, contribute to what has been written. Simple. The Lobby directs itself and is driven by contributors who have something they want others to read. That’s the framework. As a sub branch of this, there are three sets of people who inhabit the site. The first are those who, in previous incarnations, have seen Which sites like these come and go in the past. They have a heritage and a background which makes their knowledge of Which and its structure a part of their continued interest in how things work here. Among these are also (somewhat vague and undefined) members of Which with connections to the inner workings and management of the organisation. A kind of sub-management group.
The second tranche, in which I include myself, are those who like to make comments and observations, and keep -more or less – in the daily life of the site as regular contributors. I am perhaps at the far edge of this group since my comments are sporadic and, as you have seen, I don’t always keep up to date with what’s been happening.
The third set are those who drop in when something grabs their attention or they have a question. They might or might not come back again.
So that’s the demographic that you are working with. Within these groups -especially the first – are those with an encyclopaedic knowledge of specialist subjects, largely because they have spent their working careers within these areas. You also have those who have a wide background of general knowledge which they bring to bear on the topics you give us and to The Lobby.
The site seems to bring its own logic with it. So, partly thanks to your moderation, partly to the subject matter and partly to the lack of public awareness that the site exists, the tone is “conservative” with a small c and avoids the excesses of some forums where people are insulted and ignorant comments, full of invective plaster the pages.
You do not shape the site to make it one, like the Apple forum you mention, so there is no accent on trouble shooting and fixes for technical issues. This is logical, because, unlike Apple, you are not concerned with a particular product range, its marketing and owner base. This site majors on consumer issues that concern us all, though it generalises very nicely so that most things that interest contributors can be discussed. As I’ve said elsewhere, this eclectic mix give most of the regulars a reason to continue to inhabit the site.
The site is very much an adjunct to Which and, as others have said, is kept at arms length from the main Which organisation. With the knowledge base here that is a great shame. Your introductory topics could, so easily, contain those asking for “help” background, common sense -you name it – for items that will appear later in the magazine. While staff obviously need to do the research and testing that we can not provide, the data base here is worth tapping into.
I question the need for a diverse, disparate knowledge FAQ. By its very nature, it will be difficult to catalogue, since advice will be about answers to random questions over a wide range of problems. If notes were kept about what has been asked and what answers had been provided during the daily run of conversations, then similar questioners could simply be referred to the correct conversations elsewhere, in a one line reply.
I also question the need to out-source moderation for the site. Apart from the time needed by volunteers your judgements are official. We can, and occasionally do, complain about them, but vigilantes within our own ranks are another matter. We have the option to report things to you, and we expect you to take swift action to arbitrate. This might be an area where you can improve, though not having reported much, myself, I have yet to test you out here.

As to future progress. There are gremlins now and then, there are restrictions on content, – picture -symbol (musical notation) and other ways of enlivening the look of the page. These will no doubt evolve as new editions and software come into play. The actual ethos of the site is more difficult. What is wrong with what we’ve got in terms of a forum? Not what it is used for, as discussed above, but why it’s here. The public are invited to contribute, Which members are invited to contribute, so access is clear and unrestricted. We have space to say pretty much what we want and you have the space to direct in any way you choose. The occasional flood, might be better managed by extracting comments and dumping them directly into their home base. “For any comment on **** please go to *** where the latest debate is taking place” thus uncluttering the main pages.
I am certainly content to have a place to chat to others and others have space to give of their knowledge and “spread the word” according to their particular interests. If you want to change things here, this is the fundamental question to answer, everything else will follow from that.

Hello @vynorhill, and thanks for your thoughtful and very helpful comment!

You describe the different groups of members well, and this overview (and everyone’s thoughts on this so far) are really bringing me up-to-speed with all things Convo.

I will also need time to think about and respond to all of your posts – so no issues at all. 🙂

My goal is to 100% connect Which? Conversation to the organisation – and this is not easy in any business. This requires an organisation-wide understanding of communities, of social media, and of the value a two-way conversation between organisations and people can bring. Success, for me, would be to hear you say (once the work is done and dusted…and that won’t be for a while unfortunately), “I think the community is no longer kept at arms’ length from the organisation.”

I love your idea on feeding back ideas for the magazine into the business. As part of our community strategy development we’ll create processes to capture such feedback and for bringing that into the relevant areas of the business. We do a lot of this now, but it is not enough.

I’m curious what others think about an FAQ. FAQs are becoming outdated for the reason you describe. There are some great articles about it if you Google whether FAQs are still relevant – these articles really challenge me to think differently – but I haven’t yet found that perfect alternative solution. I tend to group the questions into an index people can browse quickly.

I LOVE your suggestion of referring people to an answer that’s already been posted. That won’t be perfect for every single time, but what you’re describing is ‘curation’ of helpful content – something community regulars like yourselves, and staff managing the community, can do. It can also be helpful to connect people to people (experts on a specific topic).

Our moderators are both in-house and out-sourced. This is standard practice for communities, and ensures there is a watchful eye, should anything happen (you never know!).

And yes, we will change the look and feel and the functionality of the entire site. Around that many processes will be put in place to support all the processes you describe.

I have always been very cross with FAQs. Firstly they smack of laziness on the part of the organisation which can not be bothered to talk to its customers or wishes to hide behind the questions and not have a direct means of communication. The number of times I’ve searched page after page for a contact number or E.mail address!…. Secondly when ever I actually look for my answer, it is never there. My particular question may require up to date information or a “what if” reply and no FAQ can be personalised to give these. Chat boxes with supposed staff are almost as bad in this respect with writers misunderstanding the simplest of questions. I realise that a Which FAQ would not serve the same purpose but I believe there are better ways of being helpful.
Thank you for your reply and good luck in your quests, all of which seem worth pursuing.

Thanks for your reply! We must be able to find a way to do it well. Have a lovely weekend @vynorhill

To repeat what has been said often in the past, a great deal of useful information is contributed to Convos, and very useful links provided, but once out of sight the disappear into the mists of time. A great shame such a valuable resource is lost.

This has been an interesting few days in comments and people’s views on Conversations. I appreciated the significant efforts. Unfortunately I have a concern that a basic analysis of what Which? – has or lacks needs to be part of the discussion.

The Conversations could carry on us now and even have various tweaks to make it more usable friendly. However it is not really Which?-centric and being open to the world might been seen more as a sampling tool of the publics concers. Justified concern or simply stirred by misleading stories the public can vent forth in numbers.

In that light the non-action on points raised by subscribers can make some sense. The alternative is that the organisation is not that interested in subscribers opinions but more the flurry of activity and important looking numbers.

The organisation may make the argument that the Forum is for subscribers and members where we should talk freely about our concerns . And given we have the ability to start subjects could be very useful.
With 700,000 subscribers one might well wonder why the Member Community is not buzzing with information and the cross-fertilisation of ideas.

The fact that it has no index feature, it is difficult to access, it is unadvertised, and that in fact not all subscribers are allowed to access it seems interesting. You will all appreciate that if the Community forum were lively and a significant number of members were calling for action on say Amazon plugs policy that the Executive would be pressured to actively respond.

I suggest that the Community Forum has been maimed at birth quite deliberately so that members or subscribers have no method of making their voices heard on matters as simple as readily available information on subscriptions or as complex 100% of salary bonus cap.

More damagingly all the useful bits of information and experience that subscribers have on many matters, products and methods, is simply not there to be appreciated or added to.

This has become more and more accute as Which? employs more and more media trained people such as journalists, IT specialists etc who have narrow life experience. Which? employs 700 people and serves 700,000 people who , mathematically and practically have vast amounts of knowledge which is not being tapped efficiently or otherwise.

So what is wrong with Conversations – is not Conversations per se – it is the way the Executive grimly hold to a centralised structure reminiscent of a publisher where they hold the cards and decide what we are going to get.

Elena – I hesitate to add to your work heap or distract you from responding so frequently to our comments, but I feel we need to continue to explore ways in which Which? Conversation can help people who write in with an enquiry. It is probably best to illustrate this with a current example.

Mr Les Hill wrote in with some important questions about his local government pension and the disappearance of his funds from an Equitable Life AVC scheme that he was recommended to invest in after being made redundant. His comment was posted on 2 August but no one had responded to it until today after I spotted it by chance while looking at a more recent post. It would not be surprising if Mr Hill returned to the site once or twice but gave up hope of getting any advice or useful information and that he will come to the conclusion that Which? Conversation is a waste of time.

Mr Hill’s query was a tricky one and, realistically, outside the realms of Which? Conversation. I am no expert in this area; I have a little knowledge and could only generalise since I do not have the time for detailed research. Other regular contributors no doubt felt inhibited from getting involved because ‘pensions’ is a minefield and very few people are competent to advise and then only after a detailed fact-find. But advice costs money and wherever possible I feel that we should be able between us, including Which? professionals, to help people get started and offer non-personalised guidance.

You have said a number of times that all the Which? Conversation comments are being read by Which? staffers, including, presumably, by the authors of the articles – so how does it come to be that a request for assistance can sit unanswered for two weeks without any intervention from the office? Is there no way such comments can be flagged up for attention after three days if there has been no further comment? – the regulars [or the right ones] are not permanently on stand-by to jump in and deal with questions [unless it involves telephones, motor cars, or computer problems apparently!] so there needs to be a backstop.

We have touched on the question of helping enquirers in our recent discussions about how Which? Conversation could either (a) be a more useful resource for consumers with specific problems, or (b) abandon any pretence of being able to assist other than as using the enquiries as debating points. This was possibly just before you joined us – and I have no idea where you will find these deliberations – but it started from a sense of frustration that people were submitting enquiries and then apparently being ignored because there was no response.

[Wavechange might be able to recall where the previous discussion on the ‘help function’ took place [it might be in several places as we digressed and piggy-backed onto different running Conversations] and it could appear in The Lobby No.1. I don’t expect the indexing to throw it up and I cannot think of any key words that won’t generate a thousand locations. The discussions were inconclusive and somewhat circular but could be useful to get an idea of our thinking at the time. I will search my own comments history to see if I can find any leads.]

I do not know the best way of dealing with this, but if after three days the question has not been addressed by one of our community then at the very least I feel that a polite reply should be posted by the topic author or a member of the editorial team to explain that the problem is outside our experience or competence, or that it is not possible to deal with it because there is not enough information, or some other reasonable explanation and, if possible, post a link to another resource that might be able to assist: after all, we have to assume that everyone posting on this website has internet access and is capable of elementary research once pointed in the right direction. It is disappointing that any comments made after a long interval are unlikely to be read because the enquirer has lost interest in the site and will not return.

Would it be worth exploring the possibility of setting up a workshop involving some of the regular contributors to thrash out some of the suggestions for developing the value of the site? This could be on-line [but not public] or around a table.

Update Some of the previous conversation about how we can help with peoples’ problems started with this by Wavechange –

That was in the current Lobby 2 on 1 August but I think there was more somewhere else a month or two previously.

Another related thread started here in the cooker complaints Conversation –
I am sure there was more and I am still looking.

In the same vein, John, three of us are actively working on compiling a spreadsheet of common questions and their answers. If you’d care to become involved please ask Patrick S to pass your email on to me or Roger and we will fill you in on the details. I’m happy for Patrick S to pass on my email to you.

I think this question is best asked of Patrick, who is currently looking at community development.

My understanding is that at present, Which? Conversation provides a friendly environment for discussing a variety of topics published at intervals. We have the opportunity to make brief contributions or put in considerable effort. I do not know whether it was envisaged that contributors would help each other solve problems, but to some extent this has happened. Regular visitors will learn more about topics as a result of interaction, much as they would from speaking to people in a pub.

From looking at contributions to Convos by their team, these tend to focus on providing relevant information covered on the website, giving more information about what is covered in a Convo introduction or pointing out earlier discussions (which might have usefully been appended to the current Convo introduction). Sometimes a question or discussion prompts the team to add useful links, for example to new and relevant reports.

You propose that Which? should provide a reply to questions that go unanswered for a couple of weeks. I doubt that Which? has the resources to take this on because if we knew that we were going to get authoritative answers for questions posted here I’m sure that many of us could come up with plenty of good but challenging questions.

What might be possible would be for Convos written by Which? staff to be visited by the author on a regular basis to provide some answers and relevant advice, and updating the introduction where appropriate, for example to provide useful links. Perhaps my greatest dislike of Which? Convo is topics that never have any further input from the author, though to be fair, some of them have resulted in some useful discussion.

One of the problems with answering questions is that we are often not provided with sufficient information to provide an answer. If a contributor is not a registered user they may never find answers to their question.

I am not sure we will ever see the remit of Which? explained in detail but am more confident about finding out where we are going with Which? Convo.

I have said before the W?Cs has something of an identity crisis. I believe than when it was started it may well have had an entirely different remit compared with today.

That’s completely understandable, as any forum changes as it becomes an online community with a core group who then, through interaction and contribution, change the nature of the forum itself.

That’s good, since an online community can be viewed as a living entity, and things which are alive change constantly. Over time, in fact, they will go one of two ways: they’ll expand and diversify as they harness the power of their component parts, or they’ll wither and die or – as in the case of the original forum – be deliberately starved of interaction and eventually destroyed.

As am I – indeed to anyone here. roger at pittock dot space…. spelt in full to avoid auto-collecting spam bots.

Ian – Thank you for suggesting that I join you and Roger in some extra-mural work on Q & A’s. I won’t offer to participate at the moment if you don’t mind. I am more interested in seeing where Elena is leading us and what Patrick [S] is developing.

This has been an interesting discussion and it does not appear to be polarised so there is some fluidity and room for different approaches to be considered.

I am fairly indifferent to which way we deal with enquiries so long as the chosen policy is clear to people. Which? sets up topics for discussion and also wishes to extend the community and its value to consumers and one way of doing that is to help people with problems rather than embark on interminable discussion of technical minutiae [which have been criticised for turning people off]. In setting up topics for discussion Which? must accept that this will provoke some questions from correspondents who want some advice or information on a specific issue that they have or can relate to. At present it seems to me that Which? is not accepting that it has any responsibility to assist such enquirers as it leaves it entirely to chance whether or not another community member will step in and help . . . eventually. All I am currently suggesting is that this is not good enough, that where an answer is not forthcoming there should be a polite one-line comment to thank the person for their enquiry but regret “Which? and its community cannot respond but here is a link to somewhere else that might help”. If that is too much trouble then I feel it should be made clear that there is no obligation to answer specific enquiries and that people should not wait for an answer more than three [or five or seven] days.

This couples with the structural problems of (a) people who do not register and therefore cannot be traced or who cannot find their original question, and (b) people who raise an interesting question during one of the periodic avalanches so it then gets buried. and only comes to light a few weeks later.

I have expressed my frustrations before on behalf of those of us who do routinely respond to help questions that it saps our commitment to find that we put some effort into offering a helpful response, on many occasions with valuable technical or procedural guidance, but the person concerned has gone away for good because it looked to them as though no answer would be forthcoming. For some questions we do need additional information and this should be requested promptly but for most queries I suggest the information given is adequate for a ‘starter’ response to give the person some reassurance that they are in the right place and a dialogue can begin.

I expect Ian and Roger et al are on the right track with the “Frequently Asked”. I am trying to address the “Never Before”s. As I said, I do not mind which way we go on this but I feel Which? should be clear and then make the policy clear. So I leave this for Elena, Patrick and the team to chew over with the suggestion – no more – that there be some input from the community.

Which? don’t have the time is no good reason. They start these Convos and not that many questions are asked of Which?. However, most never get a reply and I think this is one of the big deficiencies of Convos – Which? lack of involvement and interest. We give them a great deal of material through research, knowledge and providing links; the least they could do is join in in a constructive and knowledgeable way.

When was the last time anyone from Which? legal help out when legal questions were asked?

I have badgered Patrick and others about this for years. but nothing improves. They mist be as frustrated as us. It all comes back to the basic question: do Which? provide Convos simply as a platform for our entertainment, or do they actually want to make any use of the valuable content they are given and engage with us?

Frankly, if we didn’t have some questions from consumers to look into and offer a comment on, this website would be as dry as dust and probably a complete waste of time. Some of the facile topics show the desperation that is evident in keeping this going and which have virtually no bearing on the bulk of Which?’s output. There is also an element of the ‘what I did in my holidays’ sort of essay that is used to launch a pointless discussion.

If we are not going to deal with people’s enquiries about their parking tickets, mail order deliveries, telephone scams, overdrafts, flight delays, ticket rip-offs, light bulb moments, and whatever else is irking them, then let’s say so and move on rather than leave the questions to fester for weeks without so much as a polite acknowledgment. OK, most queries get picked up promptly – sometimes immediately – if good people are on-line and willing to help but quite a few get left to languish. Some of the enquiries are deadly serious like care home treatment, pension plans, fraud and theft, eye surgery, and appliance fires. Don’t we owe it to people to respond in a competent and consistent manner but, if we cannot do so in a timely fashion, let them know and apologise?

As I see it, Which? Convo is there for us to discuss a wide variety of topics of interest to consumers and I have not seen anything to suggest that it is there for Which? to provide answers to whatever questions are posted. Where answers or additional information is provided by Which? staff, this is often in the form of clarification of what has been posted in the introduction to a Convo, links to articles on the website, etc. and occasionally offers to pass on comments to the relevant team. I may be wrong but I don’t recall any indication that it is the intention to answer general questions, irrespective of how useful these answers could be. It would be useful if the remit was explained but until I am told otherwise we are here to offer answers and comments as we see fit.

What I am VERY unhappy about is Convos such as the ones on two-pin plugs, where a serious problem is identified by Which?, it is debated ad nauseam, and there is not much action. OK, we have been told that Which? has been in touch with Amazon twice at least and that customers can obtain a refund, but it seems that Which? has not reported the problem they identified to Trading Standards, the body responsible for dealing with companies that do not comply with the law. When we read articles in the magazine, we generally get to know which organisations have been informed.

With some Convos such as the one on favourite products that are no longer available it’s fair enough to write an introduction and leave the topic to be chewed over and resurrected from time to time, but on serious issues identified by Which? and presented for discussion we do deserve to have input from Which? Like Malcolm I think that Which? Legal could make a useful input and maybe follow up some of the comments posted on Convo.

I don’t really want to spend much time chatting about topics without any point – no resolution, no outcome, no purpose. Many people I suspect (although I may be alone) thought Which? Convos would be a valuable contribution to Which?’s knowledge and help with consumer problems and their resolution. They certainly should. If Which? ignore the constructive contributions many make then they are not acting as a consumers’ representative should. I sincerely hope this is not their attitude toward contributors and, particularly, their own Members.

I don’t think this is the case, but would like to see more evidence from Which? to demonstrate that.

Which? puts up a Conversation on cooker faults; people write in and say they have a problem with some part of their oven and ask what they should do. Are we to ignore that because it is not part of Which’s remit “to answer whatever questions are posted”? I am not talking about Which?’s failure to answer questions we pose, or about Which? providing the answers to questions from enquirers entering Which? Conversation, but about filling the gap with a polite acknowledgment if a question that has come in at random has gone unanswered because nobody else in the community has responded. I don’t like to see people’s comments left in the lurch with them not knowing whether or not they will get a response because it all depends on chance. I cannot see why it is so difficult to manage this more helpfully [with the requisite amount of empathy, of course].

Which? has not said that it will answer questions about cookers etc. In the early days of Convo I received two or three phone calls about what I had posted and assumed that Which? was collecting examples of contributors’ problems to support its work. Since then I have not seen much to support this assumption. There have been examples when Convo staff have shown empathy when contributors have mentioned some fairly horrible experience but I have no idea if there has been any private correspondence.

We all hope that Which? Convo will deliver much more but that has never been promised.

It is not rhe unsaid promise that matters but what is expected of a “Consumers’ Association” that is funded almost totally by its members through their subscriptions. I think it quite reasonable for Which? to answer questions asked of it where it has the necessary knowledge. Why shouldn’t it?

If it came to a choice, I’d rather have fewer Convos, particularly the less serious ones, and divert the effort into dealing better with those it does then host.

I agree that there should be the opportunity to ask questions of our organisation but it has never as far as I am aware been said that Which? Convo has been provided for this purpose. We could do with clear information about what to expect and an explanation of how information contributed in our posts is used.

I think it was a reasonable expectation for Which? to join in something they started. At the very least I’d expect Convo authors to respond to questions. Some have the courtesy to do that. There are notable exceptions.

Some of us here bother to respond to other commenters who query comments. It helps develop a topic.

I made that point above, particularly in relation to the more serious topics.

Let’s hope that our new CEO does not introduce a Convo and then disappear, as has been done before.

I don’t expect Which? [the management and organisation] to answer questions, but to the outsider who lands on this site we are all “Which?” and rightly or wrongly the practice has developed that people come here with problems. Indeed, some of the Conversation headlines positively ask people to describe the faults and problems that they have experienced. It is therefore a natural by-product that anyone within the community can respond to those problems and suggest solutions. There is nothing compulsory about it or even necessary; but I just feel that since it has become an expectation we could collectively manage it better. Ian & Co are organising a Q&A database which should deal with the frequent questions where a stock answer might suffice and that should relieve the problem considerably in the most popular areas.

I do feel strongly, however, that Which? should cease putting up Conversations which directly invite responses describing problems [and which end by asking “What should I do?”] and leaving no facility in place beyond the goodwill of the handful of ‘regulars’ who usually offer a remedy.

Given that it has been said repeatedly that Which? personnel read every one of the comments that come into Conversation I don’t think it is too much to expect that someone in the team will look after any questions that Which? has invited that have lain unanswered for a protracted period. Goodness me, if a commercial company behaved in this slack and sloppy way towards its customers Which? would raise a stink about it. Let’s see what Elena, Patrick or others in the editorial team have to say about it.

malcolm r said: Today 00:33

It is not rhe unsaid promise that matters but what is expected of a “Consumers’ Association” that is funded almost totally by its members through their subscriptions.

But Which? has a long track record (14 years) of putting the raising of finance above the interests of its members.

Patrick and his team have never as far as I can recall said that Which? Convo is a service that will provide answers for visitors. It’s not mentioned in the terms & conditions or community guidelines. It simply provides the opportunity for us all to discuss topics. There are plenty of forums that provide similar opportunities, but none as far as I know focus on a wide range of consumer interests.

A commercial company can be expected to provide answers if they want our business and must provide customer support if we have paid for a service.

That’s my take, John, and I agree that it would be good to ask the team.

As I have said before I am very unhappy that Which? sometimes identifies problems, invites us to provide examples and then seemingly does nothing. The two pin plugs Convo and one where manufacturers appear to be preventing use of third party ink cartridges are certainly ones that should have been taken to Trading Standards and hopefully pursued to a successful conclusion.

Oh, and I’m also a bit miffed that our offers of help have neither been take up or even politely declined.

That is right, Wavechange – they have never said expressly that answers , help or information would be offered via Which? Conversation. But it has evolved in that direction and equally they have never said people could not expect answers, help or information. There might be legal reasons for this situation. However, given that Which? condones the practice of helping consumers with their queries, I think it would be nicer if we did it properly. Whether it would enhance Which?’s reputation, or add value to its member, subscriber or correspondent relationships, to develop this role is a matter of judgment but my inclination is to test it and see.

@johnward and @wavechange – I want to share a thought with you here in my last comment before I leave the Convo team. And I want to update you on your feedback.

To me and anyone else who encounters you here in Convo, you are volunteering every time you help someone – the care and effort you go to when you give a great response is the very definition of altruism. Sometimes people are so frustrated by their situations by the time they discover Convo….and you conscientiously try to help them every time, over and over, treating each individual with respect as you endeavour to lend a hand. I salute you and all of the regular readers who go the extra mile to help other people.

And not only that, but you also somehow find a way to give even more time sharing feedback on Which?’s work, challenging us, and ‘campaigning’ on behalf of community members (and the wider world) for Which? to look into specific issues that keep coming up.

I wonder if you’ve ever thought about the amount of time you give here in Convo? 🙂 Everything you say and do is wholly from the heart of helping people right here and now – but also helping to make the world a better and more fair place overall.

More concretely: We’ve been working on some volunteering options for community members to get more involved in Convo, thanks to your requests to have these opportunities. …And not just you two, but also because of the others who are saying the same thing.

I share your frustration on learning your offers to volunteer have not been responded to, and hope the above reassures you that we have heard you. And I hope it gives you some confidence that more opportunity will emerge. I’m so glad I spotted your comments, and please forgive my oversight previously for missing them. I think you will be pleased by the options coming your way – it just may take a while to get them up and running.

Thank you for your kind comments, Elena. We are not going to give up trying. Take care.