What help forum would you recommend, and why?

One of the key premises of my book is that Excel has many passionate online user communities. And on that subject, I say:

If you don’t utilize them, you are missing out. If you tap into them, your work isn’t just based on what you know, but on what the collective we know. Which is pretty much everything, between collective us.

One of the things I cover in the book is how to get great results out of a help forum. Ah, but which one?

In the past, I’ve spent some time hanging out at Ken Puls’ ExcelGuru forum – although not too much for the last couple of years. More recently, I’ve been hanging out on the Chandoo forum, although not for the last 6 months due to spending more and more time on the book.

I guess why I started hanging out on the Chandoo forum more and more was that the volumes of questions were good but not overwhelming, meaning you could not only keep an eye on all the questions, but all the answers. Which really fostered a great little community among the regular respondants, I thought.

Of course, I always end up on the Mr Excel forum when Googling – and when I still had my VLOOKUP training wheels on, I learnt some incredible things there from the likes of Fazza and Aladin Akyurek (who has taken part in 68k posts, would you believe). But I’ve never spent much time monitoring content there, largely because of the overwhelming volume of it.

Increasingly I find Google directing me to Stack Overflow. For some reason I don’t really ‘get’ SO. I find it kind of scary looking, from a newbie’s perspective. Anyone feel the same? (Obviously not Dick – he’s been hanging out there for 6 years 6 months, and was last seen there 10 hours ago. Not that I’m stalking.)

Anyways, what forum would you recommend, Hive Mind, and why? I haven’t finished this part of the book yet, and would appreciate your inspiration and wisdom, if you have some to contribute.

6. Doug

20 thoughts on “What help forum would you recommend, and why?

  1. The Answers forums by Microsoft aren’t bad: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/office/forum/excel

    I like Eileens lounge a lot: http://eileenslounge.com/portal.php

    And then there is VBAExpress.com for your VBA questions which I like: http://www.vbaexpress.com/forum/forum.php

    For the Dutch speaking community we have the Dutch Answers forums: http://answers.microsoft.com/nl-nl/office/forum/excel
    and there is the very popular “worksheet.nl”: https://www.worksheet.nl/forumexcel/forumdisplay.php?f=15

    I picked up most of what I know now at the old Compuserve forums, which have “evolved” to this: http://forums.compuserve.com/discussions/Biz_Computing/ws-bizcomputing

    but there is harldy any traffic there.

  2. StackOverflow has some issues with courtesy and the quality of answers varies: but the good ones are very good, and the sheer size of the accumulated database of answers puts everyone else in the shade. It is very rare to search for a question and find no answers.

    The vast majority of ‘Expert’ community Q&A sites are ‘scrapes of pages on the Stack.

    Honourable exceptions are Chandoo and Eileen’s Lounge… Which is, if I recall, a successor to WOPR lounge.

    VBA express has recently been taken off the ‘block’ list by the major banks’ web admins, so I can now see that it’s quite a good site – thanks for the recommendation, JK.

  3. I know that it’s not a forum, but as soon as I Google some stuff and I get a hit on Pearsons site I instantly click the link. Maybe you will have a list of ‘other usefull sites’. http://www.cpearson.com is just a great place to start.

  4. I guess I’d better respond to this.

    Not a forum, but Daily Dose of Excel is a pretty good source of good advice on just about anything Excel related.

    Since I started getting into Python I’ve usually ended up at Stackoverflow more often than not. There seem to be a lot of people with an attitude problem there, but you can usually find an answer eventually.

    Tek-tips has some good VBA stuff. (I also spend a lot of time at Eng-tips, but not much Excel there).

    I must give Chandoo and Eileen a proper check out.

  5. I agree about SO. It’s strives to be an excellent source of good answers and it generally is. I does, however, let you know that there are stupid questions that you shouldn’t have asked. That’s nothing new, however. Have you visited the Internet lately? SO does encourage me to ask myself an important question before posting: “What have you tried?”

    Fortunately, I’ve been lucky for the most part. If Google doesn’t reveal somebody else’s journey in solving my problem then I probably haven’t phrased my query the right way.

    I generally come here to have my Daily Dose of (deer-in-the-headlights-look-seeing-what-other-people-can-do-with) Excel. Sometimes I look at the alternative solutions posted to formula issues and wonder if I’m looking at some sort of Haskell code golf competition. But I do keep coming back. :-)

  6. I do like StackOverflow. I’ve never had courtesy issues there, but maybe that means I’m being the asshole and can’t see it. I like the SO interface. It’s really a programming site, so Excel UI related questions are more appropriate for SuperUser, where I spend far less time.

    There are several good forums out there and I don’t visit any of them. It’s the same everywhere I go and StackOverflow is no exception. It’s the same as nntp was back in the day. When it’s new and there are only a few people answering questions, it works for me. As it grows in popularity, more people answer questions and by the time I get there, the only unanswered questions are too hard or too poorly written. There’s always someone out there that has more time or more knowledge or both. Back in nnpt, Tom Ogilvy and Dave Peterson were so quick to answer a question, easy or hard, that you had to pretty much get lucky to beat them to the punch. In my past attempts to answer questions on Mr Excel, it’s the same – there are awesome people already answering all the questions faster and better than I could. Now SO is turning that way, although it’s not there yet.

    That’s good for those sites, just not good for me. All of this is irrelevant to your book as you are addressing askers, not answerers.

  7. Mention of “courtesy” issues has made me think of a great subtitle for my chapter: Don’t be an askhole

    Dick: re your comment ” by the time I get there, the only unanswered questions are too hard or too poorly written

    I’d also add …and too-often poorly answered, with a real risk that a sub-optimal approach is now so firmly entrenched in a spreadsheet that there’s little likelihood that the time I spend outlining a more simple/elegant solution will shake it loose from the minds of questioners or answerers “.

    That’s one of the drivers between me writing the book, really. As I write it, I keep thinking “What would help questioners and answerers understand this application – and alternate options – better?” I hope I’ve succeeded: Excel – and programming – is such a big canvas that you can only paint in a small part of it in a couple of hundred page, and so I’ve had to make some pretty stark choices as to what’s in or out.

    Tell you what: writing a book from scratch has given me a whole new perspective on the sweat that’s undoubtedly gone into long-lasting assets such as Walkenbach and Jelen have created with their books. And it strikes me that even though you can’t possibly match that level of ‘completeness’ on book 1, you’ve got to strive to produce something that competes with that thoroughness in the places where they’ve gone that you elect to go – and that exceeds it in some way in the places that they don’t go. Particularly if you want to give your version 1 some chance of making it to an even more comprehensive version x down the track. In writing the book, I’m constantly struck by the image of weaving a basket …The trick is remembering which bit of the basket needs to be practically watertight, and which bit need just to give readers something to grasp.

    Anyway, I digress. And procrastinate. Back to the grindstone. Thanks for your insights gents…this stuff is going into the book. With my name on it. Mwah ha ha haaa.

  8. D Dunn: I know how you feel. There are posts here on DDOE that I’m just not technically ready to absorb yet. (And I wrote some of them).

    In fact, much of the content of blogs at the level of DDOE and above is pretty much beyond me. But I subscribe anyway, because one day, I’ll be ready for the content. And when that time comes, I’ll likely know just where I’ll find the answer.

    A case in point is Charles Williams’ excellent series on writing efficient UDFs: at the time it was published, I didn’t have the time or the explicit need to take it all in. But when it came time to write some UDFs in the book, that series was the first thing I looked up. It took me just three hours or so to catch up on the 11 articles that Charles had published in his “Writing Efficient UDFs” series over the course of a year and a half. (Half of one of those hours was spent tracking down all the links). And it was there waiting for me when I finally had the need for it.

    Not that I’m covering how to write UDFs in the book…I just needed to write some myself and present them to the user, and my usual approach was in need of some best practice. In fact, Charles’ content on UDFs is so far-out that I had to use my Occulus Rift to fully absorb it:
    (That’s not really me…I can’t afford an Occulus. Although sometimes I strap an iron to my face while it’s plugged in, set it to “Steam”, then don my chainsaw ear-protection, close my eyes, and think of a tropical holiday away from the family. In no time at all I’m like practically there).

    At the other end of the extreme, I often only briefly scan articles covering stuff that I consider I know inside out. For some blogs, this might mean that I hardly ever fully read posts. But every so often, one of those posts will have something in it that I didn’t know and could really use. Could really have used over the last 5 years. A classic case was Mike Alexanders’ groundbreaking Outta my way, formula thingy

    And in case someone reading this hasn’t come across Charles’ series on UDFS, here are the links.

  9. Thanks for the link to Mike Alexander’s formula thing thread Jeff. For some reason I’ve never found it annoying, but I enjoyed the post and the comments anyway (even the couple of grumps who thought they needed to tell him that everyone knew that when he’d already said that it was something that everyone knew (other than those who didn’t)).

    And the hyperlink comment from the other Doug was something new, and really helpful.

    So the next question is, how do we get UDFs to do that?

  10. Doug: yeah, that hyperlink one is good, and I’ve covered that in the book. I sent a draft chapter to Jan Karel, who said it was a new one on him, too.

    That’s why books and blogs are so useful…no matter how advanced you are, you will have missed something basic in an application as fully features as Excel.

  11. I am expressly on Eileen’s Lounge (at: http://www.eileenslounge.com/ )
    The forum is one of the best locations for assistance and community banter I have come across.

    I have used The Excel Forum before and frequently find search returns from MrExcel and Ozgrid as well, but my allegiance is with Eileen’s; even though there are some excellent forums for Excel, many of which are valuable resources for all topics of this app. I have to mention the Power BI Tools forums that are coming more and more to the fore nowadays too…


  12. The question was about help forums, so that’s what I’ll answer about.

    I’m surprised it hasn’t been mentioned yet, but Mr Excel (mrexcel.com) is the best Excel-specific forum I’ve seen. It’s very active, with one or two hundred new threads a day. The experts are very knowledgeable, people are courteous, and there is a vast history of knowledge in the archives.

    The Excel Help Forum (excelforum.com) and Oz grid (ozgrid.com) have been around for quite a while, and the quality isn’t too bad, but their traffic seems to be declining.

    The Microsoft forums are really not very good. Some of the supposed experts aren’t so knowledgeable, and often questions get sidetracked by the paid “moderators” who suggest ridiculous things and mark everything as answered. The interface is also very hard to navigate.

    The StackOverflow family of forums is good. The interface is the best, the experts are pretty good, and the questions are usually also very good, because I don’t think the total newbs know about SO and because people with minimum reputation can edit the questions. I have not noticed the courtesy issues others have mentioned, I think they’re just direct about their “rules”.

    If you’re looking for something specific, of course, Google is the best place to start (not Bing, which can’t find relevant content even on the Microsoft site with a flashlight and both hands). Often these searches point you to one or more of the forums, to a blog post that describes your issue and its solution in detail, or to the MSDN site (Microsoft Developer’s Network, the quality of which is unfortunately in decline).

  13. Like Dick, I enjoy answering questions on Stack Overflow. I even wrote a post about my addiction to doing so: http://yoursumbuddy.com/my-stack-overflow-habit/. I like its layout and features way better than other ones I’ve looked at.

    When asking questions I also go to SO, but I’ve only asked three questions there in five years, and none were about VBA. That’s not just because I know a lot about VBA, in fact hardly a day goes by when I don’t do a VBA-related search. Sometimes I end up here, sometimes at Chip Pearson’s site and often at Mr. Excel. Very often I end up at SO (every so often the answer is one I wrote myself, always a goofy surprise).

    My point is almost all the VBA questions have been answered already, so I don’t need to ask a forum. As I used to say before we they got a little too friendly, GIYF.

    For similar reasons my interest in answering questions has gone way down in the last year. Some days it seems like every third Excel-VBA question on SO wants to know how to match columns between two sheets and copy them to a new workbook. Or else, like Dick said, they’re too complex, wanting to know how to scrape a web page into Selenium using a java servlet, or some such.

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