March 11, 2008

Getting the most from support forums

Nowadays almost every developer makes use of third party libraries and frameworks, especially when developing Web Applications.
So we’ve all spent a fair amount of time in support forums for these libraries.

Attitudes to posting

Some ideas and attitudes that need to prevail, and some need to be discouraged, in order for these forums to effectively minimise the noise to signal ratio, and provide true value for all members of the community.

The worst case attitude is a borderline parasitic / vampiric one, with people posting impolite, vague and demanding questions, expecting to do no independent thought, and have some magic code snippet dropped in front of them.

How to Respond to a post

Don’t insult, berate, or chide needy posters – at least not immediately!
You’re an ambassador for the project, and if you want it to become more and more popular and hence more understood, documented, extended and supported, then don’t discourage people from posting! You’re creating a barrier to entry for the ‘market’.

Instead, encourage good posting practices, and discourage bad ones.

Do this by encouraging independent learning.

Don’t spell out something for the sake of providing immediate help – instead, point to fairly specific articles or documentation that applies to their problem.

This will encourage them to use these resources more throughly, rather than expect magic fairies to drop solutions on their laps via forums.