Saturday, June 17, 2006

Questions and Answers

I've noticed a trend in discussion databases. Someone posts a question. The first few responses are often of the form: you should have asked the question in this other place, you should have searched this database because the answer is here already, or you really should be asking this other question instead.

Most of these responses are from those who know the answer, but instead of just answering, they don't include the answer, in seeming punishment for asking the question. Those who answer with the you should have searched this database response must have actually done the search to be able to say that - yet all too often the link to the answer is not included.

This is creating a culture where it isn't safe to ask questions.... Whatever happened to the "there are no dumb questions" attitude?


Ned Batchelder said...

You shouldn't be asking that question here... :-)

It's a fine line: often, people do ask silly questions that could have been answered with Google, which would reduce the noise in the forum. But on the other hand, people like that will probably not change their ways by people scolding them, so what's the point?

Dan Sickles said...

The cultural roots of this are here:

Some communities are more accepting of 'newbie' behavior than others. I've genrally found the Notes folks more tolerant of this than say the python folks, but if you observe the protocol described at the url, they are very helpful.

btw Ned, I like the python folks. I'm one of them.

Dan Sickles said...

To make that a little easier:

How To Ask Questions The Smart Way

Neil Wainwright said...

Long-time forum participants get upset over answering the same questions over and over again, and then they (unfairly but understandably) jump on the newbie who posts a question.

A few things:

1. I believe that just about any question I have has already been asked and answered online.

2. Most people don't know about #1 for their own questions, nor do they necessarily know how to find it.

3. Most of this could be solved by better UIs for the forums in question. How about a little Ajax to run specialized forum and Google queries after a user exist the "subject" field and is still typing in the body field? Have the results return in a useful way somewhere in the UI.

I can think of a lot more that could be done on #3. :-)


Neil Wainwright said...

Sorry, should have said "exits the subject field".


Maureen said...

I guess a lot of it comes down to tone. If the response doesn't sound irritated, then my radar doesn't get triggered. An answer with a tone like "here is the answer, you can find it in this place, too" feels fine. An answer with a tone like "the answer is here, you should have looked for it before daring to ask" includes an implicit putdown.

I'm currently trying very hard to get my kids to be less sarcastic all the time. I think this sarcasm is something they hear way too much all around them - hence my current sensitivity to all this!