WTF ... IS WTF!?
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I am a newbie, I have a problem, so you must help me!



Many people from various Open Source communities wave their hands and shout "Switch to Linux, switch to Free software". But when Windows users invite Tux to their computers, they face various problems with installation and configuration. They look for help, but they can hear nothing but "RTFM" or "Google it". Let's think about us - experienced users and them - newbies. They need help and we know the answer. We try to teach them not to ask stupid questions. However, our answers are stupid as well. Where's the golden mean? Let's try to find it.

If you work at technical customer support, you are paid to be nice and being helpful is your duty. You have to solve typical problems many times a day and you can't point users to the manual. But let's assume that you're a computer geek - you know everything and you are eager to share your knowledge. However, when somebody asks you for the sixth time in a week how to turn on a mouse wheel in Linux you lose your temper and explode.

Your answer probably looks like this one: "Don't waste my time! You haven't read the documentation, have you? Are you banned on Google?" instead of simple Option "ZAxisMapping" "4 5" in a certain place in your xorg.conf. The second answer is very accurate: it gives a direct solution to this problem. It seems strange, but the first answer is good as well. This user will find the solution in less than 3 minutes and will get new experience - a feeling of success. A hunter returns with his prey: a single line in a configuration file. The more complex the problem is, more time is needed to find the answer. The reward is unproportionally bigger.

Let's take a closer look at the world full of animated paper clips that give us useless hints, instant messengers, forums, blogs, etc. All the necessary information is accessible by any means. And now think about the computer world of the past. Access to the network was a priviledge, documentation was only printed on the paper. Users were on their own. Without any external help they had to solve problems by themselves. When the Internet became more popular it was used to solve extraordinary problems. There were no stupid questions posted on the Usenet, and people there were helping as much as they could. Nowadays, the situation haven't changed that much - difficult or interesting problems are still solved by helpful geeks. I know some people that could spend all day and night looking for solutions for others' problems (if they find them interesting, of course).

But what about newbies? From ethical point of view they have got the same right to get the answer. "You've helped someone, I'm a newbie, I have a problem, so you must help me, too!". Sure, you don't have to do it if you don't want to. But try to explain that to a newbie. This is a person, who has no experience at all. A newbie doesn't know that Google is a good place start from. A newbie doesn't know how to ask questions. The last thing that newbie doesn't know is that he or she is doing wrong.

It looks like we have a problem. They don't know about existence of manuals, and we forget about their lack of experience. Both sides of this confict try to explain it by means of laziness. We're too lazy to help them, and they're too lazy to check the manual. Right? No. Nobody is lazy, so please don't use it as an argument. It's of no use.

Maybe it's quite late, but let me reveal myself a bit. I run one of the biggest unofficial discussion boards in my country devoted to one of Linux's distributions. It doesn't matter what the country and the distribution are, what's relevant is that I have to deal with problems such as those mentioned above several times a day. With help from my friends we've managed to create a very nice community. One of our goals was to find a method for preventing an open war between newbies and advanced users. I have to admit that this method works for most of the cases. Please, read it carefully.
  1. Don't give the full solution. Instead, limit yourself to the half of the standard answer.
  2. Try to explain the beginning in as many details as you can.
  3. Give a general description of objectives that must be completed to solve the problem.
  4. Try to encourage the user to check the manual or the Internet. I used a word "encourage" instead of "redirect". Keep that in mind, please.
  5. If necessary, give some keywords (but not the search phrase!) or hints.
For example: when user wants to perform some task, don't tell him what to do, but tell him what tools he should use. If there are any traps, warn him.

Believe me, this method works. If you are not rude and your hints are good it will be enough. I'm sure the newbie will thank you. After some time (when he'll get some experience) he will use this method on other users instead of redirecting them to the f...riendly manual. Isn't it beautiful?


drunk with a jeep problem
Hey jung, this is true for more than computers. I have told many people many things many time over and over again from cars, to aircraft. There is no better knowledge than experince. I just spent 2 months looking for information on overclocking my cpu.

You said you have to explain over and over again how to set the mouse wheel, I have spent hours of my life explaining where a drain plug is. I have gotten to the point where I will only help someone, if they are there to learn. I think the big thing is to prevent some newbi from doing damage to there computer, or car, or what ever.


Theoretical Realist
leehype said:
I have gotten to the point where I will only help someone, if they are there to learn. I think the big thing is to prevent some newbi from doing damage to there computer, or car, or what ever.
Leehype hits it TDC i think. I'm always happy to share my (limited) knowledge on various subjects, but what burns me is the lazy people who just want you to "do it for them." There are some people who will ask the same computer or car related question repeatedly over a period of time, like it went in one ear and out the other. Someone who will take your advice or knowledge and use it to develop a better understanding of the topic, that's the person I'm more than happy to help. And the lazy fucks make it harder on a willing newb who will take it upon himself to go as far as he can, then feels the need to ask for guidance. I have been helped by many smarter people than myself, and feel I should help others in return, but only if they will put some effort and not just say "what do I do next?"