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We can do better

July 20th, 2012 by

Maybe it is just me, but lately it appears that there is a lot brewing on our lists. Generally I try to stay out of the fray, but of course we, as members of our community, are all in the middle of it in one way or another. With a very recent endless thread on the opensuse list fresh in memory, not that I read all or even most of the messages it generated, and the follow on thread of the original poster bidding his farewell to the list, supposedly because the poster didn’t like the responses, I feel compelled to share some of my own thoughts on the topic.

My feeling is that a good number of people that complain about the noise on our lists are also those that contribute to that noise at a good rate. Thus, I can only say that sometimes it is nice to exercise some restraint and not hit that “Send” button; who hasn’t had the “I shouldn’t have sent this” thought? The bottom line is, that it is almost impossible to write anything that does not step on somebody’s toes somewhere along the way and if everyone that feels the least bit uneasy about some comment would respond all the time we would really be in an endless loop. I am certain, this post will make someone uneasy, upset, angry or worse. If that’s the way you feel right now, I am sorry, I am not trying to make you angry or upset on purpose. Please accept my apology.

That said, who hasn’t been frustrated out of their mind by some perceived dumb software problem or other issue? Even worse when it is our own hurdle we cannot cross. In the end we just wanted to yell and scream and the result is too often a message with: pick your “Emotional state appropriate inflamatory subject…” and rant your question to the list. Everyone gets emotional, and frustration happens to be a very strong reaction. However, the question that should come to mind before hitting that “Send” button to a list of volunteers is this, “Will an emotional reaction with moaning, groaning, whining, and complaining, that hides the real problem, give me the feedback needed to resolve my issue?” The answer is simple; No it will not. A post charged with negative energy will, and there is plenty of proof on our lists, solicit emotional, mostly negative, responses. These do not contribute to resolving the problem at hand. However, once this storm is set in motion there is, for better or worse no stopping it and it just has to run its course, i.e. eventually people will be tired of feeding the storm that should have never happened and things will go back to “normal”, whatever that may be.

I believe that the people, volunteers, on the opensuse mailing lists are generally willing to help solve problems others encounter. Yes, there will be the occasional cynical remark here and there, but I do not believe these remarks are ushered in a mean spirited way, and in the end we do not really have to nit-pick everything to death. It is one thing to yell at someone because the product or service you purchased from them does not meet your expectations, it is another thing to go bananas on a list where answers are provided by people with generally good intentions that volunteer their time. As posters of questions we all have a responsibility to keep this in mind before we go down the emotionally charged road to the abyss of not getting our questions answered.

However, putting the onus completely on the question poster is a bit too easy, isn’t it. While we as helpers would all love to get the “perfect” problem description, that is completely factual and contains no mistakes in description and actions to reproduce the problem, we have to realize that this is just not going to happen. By the time an issue hits the list the person posting probably is charged up in one way or another and ready to get rid of some of that stored energy, some more than others. Thus, as helpers we have to develop a bit more tolerance and let things roll off our backs a bit more. As potential helper we can just ignore the ranting posters. If you have it within you to provide the answer to the hidden problem and can rise above the fray, fantastic! help and do a good deed. However, if you know the answer to the hidden problem but feel the urge to feed the emotional storm it may be best to just ignore the message and not respond. In the end a raging answer hides the kind deed of help just as the raging question hides the problem.

No we do not have to have boring and no fun lists, but in the end flame wars or endless bickering threads are not fun and having people leave the lists or even not using openSUSE because of silly things is just not helpful to anyone. If we as posters, seekers of answers and providers thereof can just tone it down a bit things will probably work better for everyone.

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2 Responses to “We can do better”

  1. John Kilgour

    Well Said!!

  2. That was an absolutely EXCELLENT write up! As a first year user of openSUSE and only 3 years into using open source, I know how difficult it can be to find answers to daily problems and concerns we run into. Usually turning to friends or family is not possible since we are “Lone Rangers” in our decision to run Linux. “Noobs” really depend heavily on forums for answers to our problems. Yes, we would ultimately like to solve those problems ourselves if possible, but sometimes, when we have reached our wits end (if you will) we turn to the forums where we hope for a friendly “HI!, how can I help you today?” Sometimes we get “Why are you messing with something you don’t understand!” answers which are not helpful at all.

    Taking the time to help someone with whatever their question is as a volunteer is a great responsibility which has to come from not only “wanting” to help others, but being willing to be helpful instead of demeaning or sarcastic in response. I completely agree with everything you just said and I support your efforts in “I think we can do better” comes from both sides, especially from the volunteers willing to take the time to help answer those questions.

    I believe one of the strongest potentials we have at openSUSE is the ability to work together to help make our forums a “fun and informative” place where people can feel very comfortable turning to for help transitioning from a Windows or OSx platform to an openSUSE platform. The success of SUSE is not solely on the deployment of the Enterprise edition to major corporations, but to all the people involved at all levels from top to bottom respecting each other and showing to the world that openSUSE is a team sport where we welcomely invite new participants to join in and offer support to make sure that their experience with openSUSE or SUSE Enterprise is the very best computing experience they have ever had. It’s not only about getting new users on board, but keeping the ones who do get on and spreading the word that “Those people over at openSUSE ROCK!”