View Full Version : Want to give back? Some tips on helping others on the forums...

November 10th, 2006, 09:52 PM
Contrary to what some people may think, I'm neither a god nor the major reason desktop Linux isn't used by "the average person"--though I've been accused of being one or the other a few times...

I'm just a Ubuntu user who was helped on the forums and wanted to help others. There are many people I've pissed off for whatever reason. There are many more people (I hope) that I've been able to help.

I'm a firm believer in "pay it forward." Yes, the movie Pay It Forward wasn't that great, but it did feature a worthy philosophy to adopt. If you were helped on the forums and want to give back, this thread is for you. I'm going to start off giving my tips, but if others have their own tips, they should feel free to add on theirs as well.

Know your limitations
Don't know anything about wireless? Don't answer threads about wireless! Do you think you know the answer, but you're not sure? Admit it, then. "I'm not sure this is the answer. You may want to try it, though..."

Search for answers
Yes, I know a lot of the RTFM and "Google it" crowd don't think we should be enablers, but I search for two reasons:

1. People in a panic because they don't have a GUI or because their internet connection doesn't work on Ubuntu are less in a state of mind to search properly than you (who have your Ubuntu machine working perfectly) are.

2. If you are familiar with Ubuntu already, you're more likely to find proper solutions because you know what to search for. You can also filter out bad results ("Oh, God! Why did that person recommend that method for fixing the problem?") better.

If you really want to help someone out but are afraid of enabling, you can say, "Hey, I did this Google search on your error [link to the Google search] and the answer appears to be in the third link. Let us know if you have trouble with that solution."

Feel free to post links
FAQs and guides are made for a reason, so you don't have to type out the instructions for mounting windows partitions or fixing sudo every time someone posts about those things. Of course, if the OP later has problems following those instructions, you can help her along the way with more explicit instructions, but don't be afraid to start with a link.

Don't tackle it alone
A disturbing trend that I've seen is OPs latching on to a particular helper instead of asking the community for help. If you see this happen, please jump in. Don't leave the solving of a problem to one person. The whole point of forum threads is for the solution and problem to be public and available for anyone to view or help out with.

Never assume too much
I feel a lot better about telling someone where the terminal is and having them reply, "Oh, I know where the terminal is. I just didn't know where to put the commands" than to just give commands and have someone reply, "What? What is this? What do I do? Where do I type that?"

Assurance is always better than panic.

Anyone have any other tips to add?

November 10th, 2006, 10:03 PM
Great thread! I shall attempt to follow all the advice in it from now on. :)

I'd like to add one more thing though:

Just like a brand new user in a state of panic will not be able to search for a solution effectively, they may not be capable of being their usual polite selves either. As soon as they are no longer in a state of panic they tend to realise that, and I have noticed that if you politely point this out to them they apologise and mend their ways. But no one is really at their best when they think their new OS install has eaten all the family photos.


November 10th, 2006, 10:34 PM
Yet another great post aysiu you god! :)

Always start simple
Most of the time the problem will be solved with the easiest method, getting them to check the gui settings before you send them to the cli to edit config files for example. You don't want to hack through a load of files on their box and end up with it even worse when all that was needed was to mark a checkbox in gnome. It may not always work but worth a try.

Get the OP to expand on their original post.
If you're at all unsure as to what they're trying to say, ask for more information, try to understand their exact configuration if it has a bearing on the situation, whether it be 6.06 or 6.10, intel or graphics card etc.

Btw don't talk to me about patience (http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=277264) ;)

Steve S.
November 10th, 2006, 10:50 PM
Yet another great post aysiu you god! :)[B]


Shay Stephens
November 10th, 2006, 10:54 PM
Answering questions (or trying to hehehe)is a great way to learn. It makes you do research, and experiment, and just think about stuff. I am getting to the point where I am able to help out more in that regard thanks to the many who have followed the advice in this thread and others like it.

Thank you for posting it.

November 10th, 2006, 10:57 PM
When someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES!!! Unfortunately, I don't take advice from Ghostbusters.

Try to get to the root of the problem
Sometimes people post questions about what they think is the best way to solve their problems, but they don't actually present what they're really trying to do.

For example, someone may post a thread entitled "Make: Command not Found?" asking for help with installing a .tar.gz. The .tar.gz is XMMS. Instead of telling this person to install build-essential and compile from source, you may want to propose she install using the package manager because the ultimate goal isn't installing make--it's installing XMMS.

Lord Illidan
November 10th, 2006, 11:06 PM
Sometimes it's also good to ask for more information from the OP, especially when you don't know how to help him in specific hardware cases.

And yes, patience.

November 10th, 2006, 11:09 PM
Btw don't talk to me about patience (http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=277264) ;)


Clearly, my advice on patience was meant for mere mortal, flawed, human beings. ;)


The strain of having to deal with a person like that several times a day was what got me out of my customer service job and back to college. They do fill a purpose. ;)

November 10th, 2006, 11:13 PM
If something recently broke...
Don't settle for "it just broke"... make sure they realise that things don't just break and that they should recount exactly what they've done on the pc in between it working and not.