[conspire] I get mail

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Wed Oct 8 16:10:53 PDT 2008

Quoting Ruben Safir (ruben at mrbrklyn.com):

> I suggest putting in large letters in the middle of the message.

The user in question would walk away thinking "The _BitPim guy_ told me
'no tech support'."  (Because typically they're _sure_ that they _must_ 
be talking to BitPim, because they went to www.bitpim.org, "Help,
Support..." clicky clicky, "take time to read..." clicky clicky, "Ah, at
last, 'Rick Moen <respond-auto at linuxmafia.com>'."  Lob, wait, expect
consumer gratification.)

Saying "NO TECH SUPPORT" would leave the user with a problem (which,
mutatis mutandis, I'd rather not happen), the BitPim developers with a
problem, and *I* might even also have a problem after the user decided
that "This is an outrage!  How dare they refuse to support their
product?  I'm going to immediately complain to..." (check all that

[ ] that cheeky BitPim guy, who just now dared to say he refuses to help
[ ] the ASCPA
[ ] Interpol
[ ] the whole damned planet

For perspective, it's important to realise _who_ are the natural
userbase community of BitPim users.  Basically, it's anyone who's ever 
had a cellular telephone, had an address book on it, wishes to back
up that data, and estimates (correctly or not) himself/herself able to
figure out which end of a USB cable to plug into the 'phone.  And the
ones who end up writing to me are the very least competent, out of those.

In other words, the bar's really, _really_ low on required technical
competence, here.  Take that total candidate BitPim user population,
assumed to be drawn from the cellular-using population of the entirety
of Terra.  Subtract the large fraction for whom that apparently fairly
cut-and-dried, polished, simple software tool (BitPim) simply works.
Subtract those capable of, and willing to, read really basic
instructions.  Subtract from the remainder those willing to belatedly
get a clue after reading my autoresponder text.

What's left are the very few aspiring BitPim users who decide to lob
illiterate, misspelled, all-lower-case, borderline incomprehensible 
help requests at me -- requests that pretty much all turn out to equate
to "I can't figure out what cable to use with my bizarre, non-standard
cellular telephone.  Do my purchasing homework for me."  (It's not my
problem, but basically the users are overwhelmingly demanding that the
BitPim developers solve the users' non-BitPim cable-compatibility

Quite a few years ago, I had a conversation with Eric Raymond about an
epiphany I'd had about certain patterns of online conversation:
Sometimes, you decide you're going to post a definitive answer to some
previously contentious question, put in time doing homework, and post
it.  There's a vast figurative silence for a noticeable span of time --
and then three or four people leap straight into the hush with
objections that make _no_ sense whatsoever.

Having been through that a few times, previously I'd thought "Well, I
guess my answer was a failure, since it utterly failed to get through to
several people."  My epiphany was:  To the contrary, on those rare
occasions when you answer a question _so_ thoroughly that all sensible 
people read your answer, nod, and move on, and the silence is filled
only by loons and the unteachable, it _might_ just prove that you've
done really well.

So:  No answer, no matter how clear, correct, and concise, is ever going
to prevent the bottom 0.1% from failing the Turing Test on it.

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