SC19 Proceedings

The International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis

Ask.CI, the Q&A Platform for Research Computing - Recent Developments

Authors: Julie Ma (Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC)), Aaron Culich (University of California, Berkeley), Torey Battelle (Colorado School of Mines), John Goodhue (Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC)), Katia Oleinik (Boston University), Jacob Pessin (Boston University), Vanessa Sochat (Stanford University), Dana Brunson (Internet2), Chris Hill (Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)), Thomas Cheatham III (University of Utah), Zoe Braiterman (Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP))

Abstract: Launched in 2018, Ask.CI aggregates answers to a broad spectrum of questions that are commonly asked by the research computing community, creating a shared, archived, publicly-searchable knowledge base.

Establishing a Q&A site of this nature requires some tenacity. While Ask.CI has gained traction in the year since its launch, attracting nearly 150,000 page views, hundreds of contributors, and worldwide participation, we are always seeking ways to grow our audience. We recently introduced "locales", institution-specific subcategories where institutions/communities of practice can post FAQs relevant to their constituents. Participants in the Locales pilot will share experiences and future plans at the BoF.

Long Description: The project to build (Ask.CI), a Q&A platform for the research computing community, was created by the Northeast Cyberteam Initiative in September 2017 and rapidly drew the enthusiastic support of the Campus Champions leadership team. We have collaborated since December 2017 to build the site and launched it together in July, 2018.

Throughout the development process, we have been thinking seriously about what defines "research computing" in relation to other computing disciplines. We believe that it is of great benefit to the community to work on this definition as it relates to career development, and the emergence of research computing as a distinct sub-discipline. The hope is that not only will Ask.CI become a great resource for the community, but that it will also provide public testimony of the importance of research computing and how it exists in relation to enterprise IT, computer science, and domain research.

Since launching at PEARC18, we have nurtured Ask.CI into an active, growing site, managed by a dedicated group of volunteer moderators from Harvard, Stanford, Colorado Mines, Albert Einstein Medical College, Boston University, UC Berkeley, and MGHPCC, that meets weekly via zoom. While Ask.CI has shown steady growth in both contributions and audience, it is still in its infancy. Finding ways to continue to grow audience participation is an ongoing focus of attention.

Earlier this year, one of the Ask.CI moderators observed that there could be significant benefits to having institution-specific content on the site. We started a pilot program to allow institutions to create subcategories on Ask.CI, dubbed "locales", where they can experiment with posting institution-specific FAQs and using the site as a component of their user support strategy. The hope is that by sending users with FAQs to Ask.CI via the locales, it will encourage users to start down a path of self-service learning, simultaneously encouraging user-to-user collaboration both within the institution’s own community as well as across the research computing community as a whole. One of the key benefits of having this exploration occur under the umbrella of Ask.CI is the simplicity of migrating content from the main site to a locale and vice versa.

As of July, 2019, Stanford University, Harvard University, Colorado School of Mines, Brown University, the ResearchSOC Cybersecurity community of practice and Northeastern University all have operational locales; MIT, Tufts, Yale are in the process of starting theirs up; and several other institutions have expressed interest. Locale moderators join our moderators' call one a month to check in, and exchange ideas. The pilot will run through the end of 2019, with Ask.CI moderators checking in periodically to assess the sustainability and effectiveness of the strategy, and make course corrections as needed.

Representatives from some of the Locale program pilot institutions will be at the BoF to provide first hand reporting on their experiences and to discuss collaborative opportunities. Locale participation for to up to 5 additional institutions will be offered at the BoF.


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