Damaged Gears

Evolve your Gears

Splash Damage: RTFM, or the “n00b” Dilemma

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First, we'll start by reading this: http://www.reallylinux.com/docs/snobsoped.shtml
Then this: http://www.libervis.com/blogs/15/Jastiv/eric_raymond_and_the_rtfm_jerks

Where am I going with this? Particularly, nowhere and everywhere.

In order for a community to attract new users, it has to be inviting to the new users, accomodating them much like a business might (The customer is always right, and in the rare case that the customer's wrong, refer back to the original rule is how In-N-Out burgers run).  As the members of a said community starts spreading the word, new users will take interest, be it an OS, a DAP, a topic of interest, etc.  And, as the community starts growing, it's expected that the new members will expectedly have questions (stupid or otherwise) to veteran members of the community.  In turn, the vets will answer, or at least attempt to answer, the question and welcome the newbies into the community as best as they can.  After all, we were all newbies at one point or another, pissed off an expert here or there, and took our lumps to become an outstanding member of the community.  Or, at least, that's the ideal scenario.

However, not everything is simple as black and white, or as what I've outlined above. Once a community grows to a certain extent, questions will get repeated, answered, asked again, goes unanswered, and feelings get hurt.  Once a feeling gets hurt, it will invariably (and eventually, perhaps) erupt into a flame war where the newbies will outline his frustrations in subtle (or not so) ways, taking jabs at certain members.  Eventually, unless those that are in charge are upto the snuff, this will involve the entire community into a large scale insult laden clusterfuck.  Things gets messy, it gets ugly, it ends up destroying the community built up; it gets splintered into faction that starts off anew elsewhere, where the old vanguards will either leave or takes a less proactive step and becomes almost hostile, and vice versa.

Ugly scenario, and it's happened several times to couple of forums I used to frequent a long while back.  After about twice of this, you sort of get the feeling that the said community ain't mature regardless of the age of the membership.  

And there are communities that are downright hostile to new members (because of something that happened in the past, or the annoyances just builds to a point where the old vanguards/foagies tends to ignore it).  

So, where am I going with this?  

Linux may be one of those communities that has the reputation of the community where the new members are no longer welcomed.  And that's putting it lightly.  And, as it now attempts to step into the mainstream, that grognard culture is hurting its image more than helping it.  When a new user asks a question, what are the chances that he will receive a hostile reaction?   Remember, this is the user that's taken the initiative to find a forum where he thinks he'll receive some sort of help with his problems.

With DAP and other audio related forums, this is less of a concern since the companies that offer the products bear quite a bit of support related issues.  However, at the forums I visit (look to the right–>), there are still some questions that went unanswered by the companies.  The next best thing is to ask those who've used the products themselves to a degree, ask their opinions, and go on from there.  By and large, the process is fairly painless in these communities vs. elsewhere, where the average users themselves may cause the problem (computers and average users seem not to mix too well like oil and water).

The best thing for a community to help out the newbies is to have extensive resources ready at disposal.  Having that resource ready takes effort on the part of members, both old and new.  While it is expected that the new users have read all the rules set by those in charge, it is expected that they'll actually not have read anything and automatically clicked through.  When was the last time you've read the damned rules and guideline?  Are you answering honestly?

It is also upto those in charge to have things ready for the new users, make things as easy for them to find information.  Make the search bar bigger and larger perhaps, and don't limit the search to default last 20 days or what not.  Have the entire archives ready at disposal, Google does a good job of that if you don't want to bear that burden.  Gather and organize information up front, and have them easy to access.  On top of the page, right below the logo but before the actual content.  Divide your discussion areas logically.  Likewise, maintain an air of decorum that all your members (old and new) must follow.  Don't be afraid to discipline that old vanguard who's been there since day one.  

The newbies have every right to ask a question that they deem is necessary, but not have the right to have that question answered.  Have you looked through the information available?  How about the Google?   Put in some effort before you ask that question, or at the very least, pretend that you did.  Bit of (presumed) diligence does a lot for your first impression.  Even on the internet, you only get one chance to make one.  Make it a good one.

In short, all of these nastiness can be avoided with a bit of effort on both side of the field.  The question is, are your members ready to put in that effort, sincere or otherwise?

Finally, remember, there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers. 

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Written by Damage

04/20/06 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Et Cetera, Soapbox

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