viernes, 11 de febrero de 2011

New to Linux? Here's Your Hitchhiker's Guide to Linux Forum Galaxy!


As a relatively new migrant to Tuxland, I've come to learn that Linux forums are a rich source of advice, useful information and help. They have also let me find wonderful people. Some of them are very knowledgeable of the penguin's intricacies and others are not so seasoned, but their will to help is indeed contagious. However, some people have had negative experiences when entering a Linux forum and asking for help. These disgruntled new migrants get a bitter flavor of Linux and a number of them leave never to return.

So, I decided to put up a small Linux forum guide for newbies in an attempt to explain some important cultural differences that may affect a new user's success rate when asking for help on a Linux Forum. For convenience, this guide is divided into 3 sections: Before Asking, When Asking, and After Asking. It also comes with practical exercises to tune yourself up!


A. BEFORE ASKING:


1. Understand that Linux is made up by communities.
For users of proprietary OSs, the magic word is market. They love to use that word for everything: My OS has the greatest market share, for example. However, that word loses most of its magic when reaching Linux Land. On Linux, the magic word is community. Communities are made up of different individuals with different backgrounds and different goals. Understand that you are likely to encounter all kinds of people on a forum; you will like some and you will dislike others.

Exercise: Take a walk around your neighborhood and check if all the individuals there dress the same and do the same.

2. Remember that Linux communities vary among themselves.
This is very important. When joining a specific forum, you are joining a specific community with a specific culture. While some forums are more tolerant, some others are less patient; others are big and very structured while others don't have a formal structure because its community is small. Knowing where you are helps you shape your questions up.

Exercise: Carefully read the rules of the Linux forum you chose.


3. Dip yourself into Linux culture before asking.
It doesn't matter if the Linux distribution you chose is intended for power-users, super-users, almighty users, Linux gurus, or if it is intended for regular users, computer-challenged users, or computer-proof users, you must understand that unlike other OSs' cultures, Linux greatly values learning and solving problems on one's own. You ask for help when you tried the standard methods and they didn't work. Please, notice that standard refers to Linux standards. If you post something like "where's the Windows Registry on this distro?" you are not following Linux standards because you didn't care to learn that you won't find a Windows Registry on Linux, no matter what distro you use.

Exercise: Read your distro's introduction, manual, and browse its homepage, forum, and wiki.


B. WHEN ASKING:

1. Choose carefully the section in which you will post.
See? That's why you needed to read the forum rules and also get familiar with the forum. You will very unlikely get help with your sound if you post on "Scanners" unless you have a very rare kind of multi-functional scanner that is highly multimedia capable. You don't go to a hospital to get your car fixed, do you? Likewise, each question belongs to a specific section on a forum. If you think your problem does not fit any category or section, then act according to what you learned from the rules of your forum. Also, it is important to check if someone else asked the same question before. That will save you time.

Exercise: Make a list of your computer devices and capabilities and try to match each one with the sections of your distro's forum.

2. Choose an appropriate topic for your post.
Remember that other people don't spend their entire lives on a Linux forum. Many of them have very limited time to read and post, so if you want your cry for help to be read by the right individuals, then choose an appropriate topic. Topics like "Help meeee!!!", "I'm doomed!", "This sucks!" will be read even by the Trolls, so you will get little help. Instead, mention your specific problem in your topic: "Printer Brand X Model Y prints garbled characters" is a topic that somehow gives a clearer idea of the problem than "Gosh! My funny printer!!"

Exercise: Call any custumer support line you decide and once you get someone on the other end, start crying and say "I'm doomed! Help meeee! This is my phone number...please contact me:" Then, give them your phone number. If you are embarrassed to do the exercise, then refrain yourself from using the same terms for posting on a forum.

3. Offer a detailed picture of the problem and the solutions you tried.
This is very important because it refers directly to Linux culture (A-3 from this guide). Being new does not mean you are dumb. Remember: you are smart enough to try one or two solutions on your own before looking for help. Thus, when you post, offer as many details of the problem as you can. When you go to the mechanic, you refer to specific problems, don't you? If you don't know anything about cars, you sort of describe what went on when the problem happened. Well, it's the same in a forum. What? You don't have time to try any solution on your own? But then you expect other people to invest their time and try it for you? Does that sound fair?

Exercise: Look for previous posts related to your hardware and check the structure of the questions.

4. Offer all the details you can about your system.
Again, how do you expect people to help you successfully if they are not there with you to see the problem with their own eyes? When asking for help on a forum, offer all the details of your CPU, processor, printer, monitor, graphics card, etc. Also, do not forget to mention the specific edition of the Linux distro you are using. That will be of great help to those who will offer you possible solutions.

Exercise: Create a text file with all your computer specs and add to it the details of your distro. Make several back-ups and keep one at hand in case you need it in the future.

5. Be polite.
Remember point A-1 of this guide? You won't get far if you start insulting people or distros. Actually, you will likely be banned because some communities are very nationalistic and do not tolerate any kind of negative statements towards them. Also, keep in mind that those working in forums are for the most part volunteers, so they won't bear your insults. If you feel the incontrollable need to insult someone, bite your fingers with all your strength! That will render you unable to type for a while and will give you time to rephrase your ideas.
Threatening does not help, either. Nobody gets paid in forums, so nobody gets fired. If you threaten with not giving donations, your threat is directed to the wrong place because most Linux forums are quite independent from the developers, being the latter either individuals or institutions. Even if you told the developers that you are not donating anything, that will have little effect for donations are not what moves Linux. Remember: communities are not the same as markets. You are in no position to demand anything because those at the forums do not work for you but are doing you a favor instead. Thus, change your approach and ask nicely. Also, include a heartfelt word of thanks in advance for an extra touch.

Exercise: Choose 5 people. Ask them very nicely to do something for you and thank them even if they don't do it. That will build the habit of thanking on you if you don't have it.

C. AFTER ASKING:

1. Be patient.
Although help is often quick, sometimes arriving to a solution may take some time, especially if your hardware is either very new, very old or your configuration is rather hard to find. Some computer stores sell literal Frankensteins that only they know how these configurations are working. If you are one of the unlucky cases, then you will have to wait more.

Exercise: Browse your distro's forum and see how many problems got solved.

2. Do not judge others hastily.
Sometimes, people will not react very politely to your question. Some could even direct quite insulting remarks at you. If that's the case, you are entitled to ask for respect (always politely) but keep in mind that you may have insulted them without knowing. True, you may find true jerks out there, but usually, people at the forums mean well. Before jumping to conclusions, read the replies carefully. If you do detect disrespect, ask for some respect and if you don't receive it, unfortunately you joined an unfriendly, negative group (remember...community values vary).

Exercise: Look for a friendlier, more civil place to be.

3. If possible, thank again.
It would be great if you could make a donation to show your appreciation, but all the people at the forum will feel more than satisfied if you report success and then thank for the help received. Remember, that's all they get in reward for helping you, so don't be stingy: thank them in the same way you posted your question. They will feel happy and you will get the true feeling of what a community is.

This concludes my Hitchhiker's Guide to Linux Forum Galaxy. From my personal perspective, Linux is a different world...it's not perfect, but it is certainly more rewarding intellectually and personally. I am truly satisfied with my Linux experience, so if you are new to Linux, no matter what distro you chose, let me say:

WELCOME TO THE COMMUNITY!

2 comentarios:

  1. Excellent post. The community chat in Mandriva recently went to through a situation that is well illustrated in your guide.

    I think that it is a very nice reference for newbies. Thanks for writing it!

    ResponderEliminar
  2. Thanks. Actually, what has happened at Mandriva, Mepis, and other distros' forums helped me see the need for writing this quick guide. :P

    ResponderEliminar