Issue #18 April 2006

Opening Red Hat Knowledgebase: A talk with Jason Hibbets and Athene Chan


The Red Hat Knowledgebase is a repository for tech hints, help files, and instructive articles used by Red Hat's support engineers, developers, and technical gurus. It has always been available to the general public via login, but now the service has opened up further--no registration required. Two of the maintainers of this space, Jason Hibbets and Athene Chan, talk with us about the Knowledgebase's changes, purpose, and plans.

Red Hat Magazine (RHM): How and why did you decide to open up the Red Hat Knowledgebase?

Jason Hibbets (JH): The decision to "open" Red Hat Knowledgebase was easy. To clarify, when we say open, we are talking about removing the login component. This is the first step to democratizing the content in Red Hat Knowledgebase. Many people found the login to be an obstacle to good technical data, annoying, and even confusing. We listened. We acted. We made a business case and got the job done. We opened a door, got some fresh air, and want folks that felt annoyed or confused to walk through the door.

Athene Chan (AC): I think that doing so also strengthens Red Hat's stand on helping the community. We are an open source company dedicated to give value not only to our customers but to the community in general.

Red Hat Magazine (RHM): When did you first implement the Knowledgebase?

JH: There have been many different versions of the Red Hat Knowledgebase. I've been at Red Hat a little over 3 years, and the current version was launched in October 2003.

RHM: How much content do you add on the average within a month?

JH: On average, I would say we add over 100 articles a month. As we continue tool and process improvement, I expect the number to increase over time.

AC: As Knowledgebase refines the tools we use, we will endeavor to bring in community involvement and contributions. :) Optimistically speaking, it should dramatically increase content.

RHM: Can you describe the content of the KB for those new users?

JH: We say that all content in the Knowledgebase is an "article." I tend to use the word article interchangeably with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), but I like article better because it sounds more formal. After reviewing recent surveys, we found that users would like to see more comprehensive pieces. We are investigating adding HOW-TO's, in-depth technical articles, and more screenshots. The content in our Knowledgebase should not be regurgitated documentation.

I think that the Knowledgebase content adds value because it provides additional information, step-by-step instructions, and that "how do I..." part that sometimes documentation overlooks (but not on purpose). Red Hat strives to get technically accurate and tested material in the Knowledgebase without leaving additional questions for the user.

AC: I visualize Knowledgebase articles as unique quality articles that deal with troubleshooting, add value to our standard manuals and documentation, and offer strong support to real-life problems faced by system administrators. This information is the product of capable technical experts and engineers at Red Hat.

RHM: How many hits (per month) did it get before you opened it up? How many hits is the site getting now?

JH: We saw a dramatic (thousands/day) increase in usage after removing the login.

AC: On the first week that Knowledgebase was democratized we saw a dramatic increase of--get ready for it, drum roll please: +30,000 hits from the previous week. It has since normalized at a rate that is 10,000 more than what we had prior to the democratization. We are also seeing activity in our Knowledgebase inbox with a variety of interesting suggestions.

RHM: How does the Knowledgebase generate the top solutions category?

JH: There is a script that calculates the number of hits per article over the last seven days. The top ten rise to the top.

RHM: What are the plans for the future development of the Red Hat Knowledgebase?

JH: We want to take additional steps to democratize content and we are investigating additional content management solutions so that we can start to accept content from the community. Additionally, we are looking at different data types to include in Red Hat Knowledgebase to include more Flash tutorials & audio commentary. We also want to make content more digestible with technology like RSS feeds.

RHM: Tell us about the demographics of the users of the Knowledgebase.

JH: That's a great question and a tough one to answer. The users of Red Hat Knowledgebase range from Red Hat Customers to users in the community. I would say the majority of our users are system administrators of some flavor.

AC: From the Customer Feedback survey we are currently running, a vast majority seem to be system/network administrators. This result isn't cast in stone but I think Jason's answer is fairly accurate.

RHM: How has your support roles changed since the opening of the Knowledgebase? Has the email, phone calls, etc. decreased? Do the emails and phone calls you are answering require more one-on-one involvement, more intellectually challenging?

AC: I do know on the offhand that the EMEA technical engineers refer their customers to Knowledgebase articles to reduce their call time. One of them once said that it is sometimes easier to give the customer the Knowledgebase article and have them ask their questions afterwards.

RHM: Will you ever make us a Knowledgebase MUD to play around in?

JH: I don't know what a MUD is...

RHM: a MUD is a Multi User Dungeon/Dimension where these kind of folk play.

No login required. Want to see your comments in print? Send a letter to the editor.

AC: Multi-user dungeons are much more complex now :) I played in an online one which offered automatic GMs unlike the video and roleplay possibilities.

lol. Thou shalt not pass this point until thou doth glean the knowledge to configure this cluster failover correctly. For the system's High Availability doth rest in thou hands, brave system administrator.

Maybe in our spare time ;)