[sf-lug] On participating in the community

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Wed Sep 5 11:45:07 PDT 2012

----- Forwarded message from Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> -----

Date: Wed, 5 Sep 2012 11:31:45 -0700
From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
To: [name omitted]
Subject: Re: /network/what_the_fuck

Quoting [name and e-mail address omitted]:

> *# i have put this to some others leaving them>>*
> *# bewildered...*
[rest of a long and only semi-coherently explained technical problem omitted]

You really need to post things like this to Linux community mailing
lists, rather than sending them to individuals via private mail.

Yes, it's really convenient (to you) to get (or at least seek)
free-of-charge private help from strangers and near-strangers.  There
are really good reasons why you should avoid doing so:

1.  If you do it in public, many, many people may be helped by the
asking and answering of your question.  This includes people who find
the discussion in months and years to come, through Web-searching.
By contrast, asking in private mail means at most one person -- you --
can ever benefit.

2.  If you ask in public, you benefit by reaching many people who might
be able to help you, instead of only one.

3.  If you ask in public, everyone else you ask benefits from your
courtesy, in that they are then able to choose to participate if they
have time and energy, rather than being buttonholed by you personally
and dragged into dealing with you.

This next item is the difficult one, because people in your position
tend to get their backs up and start defending themselves (talking about
what good people they are, and about the purity of their motives, etc.),
which is unfortunate because that means they _stop listening_.  And yet
it's the most important bit:

4.  If you ask in public, you show basic politeness to those of us who
are technology professionals, i.e., who deal with other people's
software and hardware problems for a living.  We choose to participate
in the _public_ Linux and open source community, and never ask for a
penny... why?  Have you ever bothered to consider that question?  If
not, you should.  Typically, we do it to help build the general strength
of Linux and open source at the expense of our (often) extremely limited
free time, something that really happens only via public discussion.
And we do it to repay the debt of gratitude we owe to the people who had
taught us the same way, back in the day.  

By contrast, if you bother us for private help, there is a traditional,
established word for it: 'consulting'.  Which you are somehow expecting
us to do for free of charge for the benefit of someone we don't know or
barely know, someone who has gone out of the way to ignore the norms of
how the community works by cutting out of public discussion and grabbing
our attention privately.  Even though we're typically really busy and
paid very well for our time, you're grabbing us privately and saying
'Help me for free at my convenience, right now, because I'm a supremely
important person and I also think _your_ time and effort and
professional skill has no value.'

And yes, after seeing about thirty years of this clueless bullshit
behaviour from thoughtless strangers, I am a little cranky about it.
Anyway, _that_:  Don't do that.

Ask in public.  Politely.  Concisely.  Clearly.  Then wait.

If you still don't get help, maybe you need to figure it out for
yourself.  Or hire a consultant.

P.S.:  One of the reasons this pattern of behaviour is so galling is
that I busted my butt explaining how to ask help _fruitfully_, and for
my trouble keep getting ignored.

----- End forwarded message -----

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