November 25, 2009

Tips for participating in community support

 

Requestors
First off let me welcome you to the community, I give you credit for the decision that you have made to attempt new things and I hope you learn a lot during your time within the community.  Below is a list of recommendations that will serve you well when attempting to fix a problem or attempt a goal with community support.

  1. The people assisting you are volunteers; show some respect, they are taking time out from their own lives to attempt to assist you without compensation.
  2. Do some research on your own prior to contacting the community for help. As I stated before the support groups are volunteers, they enjoy helping you but refuse to do all of the work for you, tell them what you have tried and were you got the information from so they can use that information to exclude possible sources.
  3. Explain your issue(s) in the clearest possible way. As an example do not go asking for help saying that your audio is not working on your system unless you have confirm that no audio is playing, if only a specific application is effected then tell them what program is having the problems.  Failure to do this may lead to you breaking something by trying to fix a problem that didn’t originally exist.
  4. No question is too dumb or simple; when you avoid asking a question because you are afraid of the response you are limiting the resources available which may make a very large impact on the success of your goal.
  5. Be patient; the people assisting you do not have access to make the changes to your system themselves, they require your follow through to get required information and accomplish necessary tasks.  In most cases I have seen it is the inability of the user (including myself when I ask for help) that makes the process take so long. Once the goal has been completed ask yourself what you could have done to make it faster or easier and learn from your own mistakes.
  6. Do not go into a project assuming the resolution is very complicated. Assuming and seeking a complicated resolution often over-complicates your project. It is a good idea to think of things in the simplest sense, starting by assuming the resolution is simple; this thought pattern will enable you to look at the items that directly affect your project rather than assuming that the issue is deeper.
  7. Many people may tell you to Google search for specific information. If you have attempting to search for the information yourself and couldn’t find it, then tell them, they may be able to offer you tips and keywords for your searches that will help you in the future.
  8. If you feel that documentation or explanations are too complicated, then upon resolving your issue please document the steps in a way that you understand on a wiki, blog, forum, the project website, etc...  The community documentation was put together by users that accomplished their goals by working through them, rather than complaining about bad documentation do something to improve the documentation, this is how you can give back to the community and help others that have the same problem in the future.
  9. If you really like an app or distro that you are using then contribute back to the development team or community, this can be accomplished by donations or volunteering to help with documentation, support or whatever that the specific groups need.
  10. If you still think that the issues are too hard or the tools don’t work right you are always free to purchase paid support, high a technician to fix the problems for you or use another operations system or application.  I am all for spreading Linux Based Distros and free software, but at the end of the day you must use the tool that best fits your needs. I would like to say that Linux Based Distros are ready for everyone, but some people have already proven to me that they are not ready for Linux.
  11. If you decide to quit using Linux or open source software, please revisit it in the future. The evolution rate for open source software is very fast, the tools you didn’t like 6 months ago may already have evolved into the tools that you cannot live without today.

Supporting Users
I would like to thank you for your continued support and development of the various projects that are used by the community, without your contributions there would be no community today. My tips for you correspond directly with the questions listed above for the new users, please read them and apply some of the advice in your practices.

  1. Show some respect and patience to the new users.  Each of us has been in the shoes of the new user and have asked some of the same questions that you are being presented with, do not jump to an elitist attitude, please show the same level of patience and understanding to the new users that was shown to you and helped you to evolve into your current level.
  2. Do not be afraid to tell a user to do additional research, but I recommend that when you give them that task to give them some guidance to find the required information or use the stated tools.
  3. If a request is vague promptly request clarification, this will assist both you and the requester by reducing time spent attempting to resolve an issue that never really existed.
  4. No question is too dumb or simple; you may see some questions that you feel are below you, remember that you too have asked questions of the same level (and in many cases still do), the sequesters have turned to you for assistance with their issue because they have been unable to find an adequate answer elsewhere, do your best to be patient and to help them learn.
  5. Be patient; the users that you are assisting may not yet be at your level of proficiency, they are the ones making the changes and getting the information, during their slow period it is best if you give them pointers and tips to help them to accomplish the same task in less time in the future.
  6. *This is the same for both lists - Do not go into a project assuming the resolution is very complicated. Assuming and seeking a complicated resolution often over-complicates your project. It is a good idea to think of things in the simplest sense, starting by assuming the resolution is simple; this thought pattern will enable you to look at the items that directly affect your project rather than assuming that the issue is deeper.
  7. Rather than jumping the gun and telling people to search Google for specific information understand that they may not be as comfortable with search engines as you are. It is best to help them by recommending search criteria and offering other hints to increase their level of comfort with search engines and the resulting plethora or results.
  8. If you have found a guide that is too vague to properly assist new users please do you best to update the guide to fit the needs of all users, this small effort on your part will reduce the repetition of questions for many others.
  9. Please encourage the sequesters to contribute to projects, depending on their choice of contributions they may be able to assist in ways that can greatly increase the value of the particular projects.
  10. If you feel that someone is not quite ready to use the application or distro that you have been attempting to assist them with, please politely recommend for them to try a similar product that better fits their needs as you have assessed them.  If the user refuses to use another tool and still does not seem to be up-to-par for the specified tool you can always recommend for them to try paid support.
  11. As you may know the evolution of open source software can be quite fast, if you are asked for questions about something that you have not used in some time, please let them know the last version that you used and advise them that you will help to the best of you capabilities but the tool may have changed since you last used it.

I hope that my advice is well received and followed. As always, feel free to comment about points that I may have missed.

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