As far as building our product – Quandora Question & Answer – is concerned, there’s a couple of guiding principles we follow pretty strictly. And the most important of them is probably this one: Keep it simple.
Our product is so powerful precisely because it provides a very clear and simple experience for the end user: ask, answer, vote, comment. Period. The complicated stuff is happening behind the stage, where the various services (indexing, notifications, profiling…) are working together to add structure and relationships to content and users.
The central mechanism for structuring the knowledge bases is the tagging system. We let people add free form tags to questions to increase their discoverability. It’s easy, non restrictive, and efficient.
However, there are cases when teams may want to add more specific information (metadata) to the questions, and to be able to name it. For instance, in a Customer Support knowledge base, you may want to add a “Product Version” tag.
To respond to this need, while staying faithful to our keep-it-simple mantra, we’ve decided to add a mechanism of categorizing the tags, and using them as custom fields if desired. It’s a done thing since the release of our product version 3.8.1 two days ago.
Here’s how it works.
Suppose you’re part of a team of developers and consultants using Quandora for sharing technical know-how in a Knowledge Base (KB) called “Tech support”. Let’s suppose further you’re a manager for this particular Knowledge Base.
Most of the questions revolve around your company’s products, and you’d like to add a custom field called Product where people can choose among the 3 company products. Also, sometimes answers become invalid because the product changed, and you’d like to be able to add an “Obsolete” flag.
Create the custom field
Go to the KB management page by clicking on the Edit icon next to the KB’s title (it is shown to Managers only).
Click on the Custom Fields tab. This is where you add and manage your custom fields. You’ll see an item exists already on the list: it’s the free tags that come with the product by default. They cannot be removed or edited.
Click on the Add Field button to create a custom field. In the popup window that is opening, type “Product” and validate creating the category, then click on the button Add Field. Note, you can also choose among existing tag categories.
Don’t forget to click on the button Save Changes after you add the new field.
You can add as many custom fields as you like. Be careful in using this feature though: you don’t want to make posting questions too time consuming or annoying. Ideally you shouldn’t add more than 2.
Also in this screen, you can set the custom fields to be:
- Unique: only one value permitted.
For instance, an “Up to date status” field should have a unique value (“up to date” or “obsolete”). But a field like Request Type could have multiple values among: Sales, Support, Dev.
- Managed: only managers and editors can add new values in this category.
For a list of company products, for instance, you’d probably want to avoid users being able to change the values (on purpose or inadvertently). On the other hand, you may want to leave a field like Customers un-managed, since your customers lists probably changes pretty often.
- Required. Use it only when really necessary for your use case, since it adds friction to content creation. In a KB with sensitive information, you could for instance add a field “Confidentiality level” (with values like Public, Confidential, Secret) and make it required.
Add values to be used in the custom field
Now that you’ve defined your custom fields, it’s time to define the list of predefined values. This is especially important for managed fields, since end users won’t be able to add values themselves. To manage a custom field’s values, click on the field’s name: you’ll get to the management page for the Tag Category that’s associated with your custom field.
Add the desired tags and save. Note, you can also associate a color to a tag category / custom field. If you do that, the tags belonging to that category will be displayed with the specified color. Again, use this option cautiously and test that the chosen color looks OK in the question. If you don’t specify a color, the theme’s regular tag color will be used instead.
You’re done! Now people can start using the custom fields.
Using the custom fields
Now the Ask Question form from your KB includes the fields you defined. People can fill them in (or not, if not required) accordingly with the rules you set for the fields.
And here is how the custom fields are displayed in a question’s view.
A final word on Tag Categories versus Custom Fields
I keep talking about Custom Fields but I’ve also mentioned the Tag Categories. Are they the same thing?
Well, not exactly, but they are very related. Actually, a Custom Field is chosen among the Tag Categories, so any Custom Field is a Category (the other way around is not true though). A Custom Field is a Category that is displayed separately in the post/edit question forms.
You can use Categories without making them Custom Fields to simply organize your tags and make it easier for users to browse through them.
To finish, I’ll add that any user who is a KB Editor can edit a tag category, while you are required to be a KB Manager to define and manage custom fields.
Happy Knowledge Sharing!