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The decline and fall of the Linux forum - Episode II : Initiation rights in the Linux dojo...

Posted 11-03-2015 at 09:21 AM by cynwulf
Updated 07-02-2018 at 04:26 PM by cynwulf

Foreword

Yet another opinion piece, so be warned. This is what happens when someone has spare time in between the usual chaotic stupidity known as "the working day".

Introduction

I have read - and I expect most have - threads of the sort where the user just throws in the towel and reverts back to whatever OS they were using before their failed foray into Linux.

It always takes me right back to the 80's in that it reminded me of Daniel waxing on and waxing off. Daniel as you may recall was frustrated at carrying out a seemingly pointless task - but in the end it all turned out well... I think...?

Although Daniel never stopped whining and getting beaten up for the duration of the movie, he never really gave up, he confronted his tormentor and in that one infamous kick, it was all over (I remember desperately wanting to see that blonde kid getting a fearful beating in the shape of two or three sho-ryu-kens and a ha-do-ken, so that was a huge let down).

Unfortunately (fortunately?) not every new Linux user is a Daniel and not all of the long term members here are Miyagis.

Many Daniels will throw down the bucket and walk away for good. This is because what they have to do to get things functioning, is not always obvious as a means to an end.

Many Myagis will tell the Daniels where to go...

How to be a better Miyagi

You've heard it often: "Patience is a virtue". Actually that phrase annoys me because I'm impatient...

The problem is of course that it's very true. I can get annoyed about some thread and raise my blood pressure over it, but is it actually worth it? The answer is an obvious no. A whingeing, ungrateful Daniel will just leave anyway and be replaced by another in due course. You can pontificate endlessly and snap at new users and put down and lecture, but it probably won't help.

The real trick is to be able to separate signal from noise. The noise should go unheeded and the signal should get your ear. If you're focusing on shouting down the noise, the signal is walking on by - unimpressed.

There are users on some other forums, not long term experienced users per se, but those who perhaps like to think of themselves in this way, who quite often post (to paraphrase) "added to ignore list" as if this is some terrible loss to the user in question- or that other users should emulate this choice (as a recommendation/suggestion).

It's worth remembering that if you use the ignore list - no one really cares except you if you added someone to it. Not the target, not others, so it's highly unwise and quite tasteless in fact to announce it publicly.

I use my ignore list seldom and for people who wasted my time and whom I have no intention of wasting time on again. It's contents are private to myself (and those among the staff with the necessary privileges). If you're on it, you won't know it and that's how it should be - ultimately you do not and should not, care. (I'll admit that in the heat of he moment, during the last several years, I've slipped up once or twice and said "you're on my ignore list" to someone who I felt was simply just trolling his arse off, but that's spur of the moment stuff and not my "system"...).

How to be a better Daniel

Daniel isn't here yet, isn't part of the forum, doesn't know the rules, probably won't read them - so it's very difficult to "educate" a new user to be the "ideal" new user... In fact it's an impossible goal and completely and utterly pointless to pursue. A lot of forum administrations waste time and effort on this and always have. It's sad, but just a fact of life.

If I join a forum like linuxquestions.org, I'm going to see if I like the place before wasting time reading rules and guidelines. Even then I might still not read the rules. I'm certainly not, ever, going to read some crap about the correct form of post construction or 'how to ask a question'.

$NEW_USER could be the next epic troll or the next "guru", we don't know yet. And we will never know if the baby is continually throw out with the bathwater.

The "try to convince me that Linux is better than my existing OS" types

This is like Miyagi pulling off Mortal Kombat style moves and saying "see I told you karate was the best".

If someone needs that much convincing, it's likely that you won't be able to convince them. Sometimes people just want to draw artificial lines and place things in neat pigeon holes.

People often seek to affirm and reaffirm. i.e:

1. "My use of windows and being stuck using windows is justified because the alternatives are not up to scratch. Close the chapter."

2. "It's not just me that's struggling with Linux, it's too difficult for everyone. Case closed.".

In these situations, many probably want to see negative responses. Some more probably just haven't thought things through before posting something like that. Once the thread has concluded however, the 3rd point will probably be something like:

3. "And Linux users are elitist a-holes."

Not much you can do about it, but my philosophy is to be less emotional and defensive when replying to such threads - ultimately though "it's up to you".

A given Linux forum's role is not really to attract new users to Linux, first and foremost a forum needs to ensure that the userbase is maintained and healthy with a lot of long term users passing on what they know, mid term up and coming users keeping the traditions going and maintaining the standard and new users asking questions, learning and developing. When this process breaks down the forum goes into decline. Decline is usually slow and most users will deny it, until it's too late, then it will spiral and get to the stage where users are bemoaning the lack of knowledgeable members.

Where it all starts to come apart at the seams is where new members become short-term or mostly 'one post wonders' or turn into mid term members in the shape of fanbois and frauds who post nothing much technical and mostly ideology, scolding and RTFM/STFW answers (see previous instalment). These people survived the "initiation" - it doesn't mean they're the kind of member a forum wants in large numbers.

The lack of large numbers of experienced mid term members results in more pressure on the long term members to take the strain and deal with the high volumes of the newest users and their often, ill researched basic questions. This causes burnout.

I've had enough, I'm going back to $OPERATING_SYSTEM

At this point the best approach is "good luck", rather than any snide comments or pleas to try again.

If someone decides that their current OS is better for them, it probably is. Your current OS, job, habits, TV schedule and choice of beer can be a "rut". A rut is something you easily slip into. All of the drama on a Linux forum makes little difference. If they will be back, they will be back, if not they won't - it's irrelevant.

In the thread referred to at the start of this blog, it occurred to me that, even though this was clearly not the case, the OP seemed to be under the impression that he was surrounded by many evangelists imploring him not to abandon Linux.

This is a common misconception - that Linux users are 'missionaries' preaching for converts and for the sinners to abandon windows. This is not the case for most users, but is a myth, perpetuated by certain web forums, which tend to attract the younger and/or more zealous end users. Because of this myth, new users often assume that attempts will be made to 'convert' them.

Conclusions

I suggest we all need to cast our minds back to when we started out and ask ourselves whether our our first forum post was a perfectly worded masterpiece and the product of thorough research?

I happen to think that some people do deserve short sharp shrift - but most of those have been members for more than a few weeks/months/years so one can pretty much work out what they're all about. New users should get more benefit of the doubt.

Appendages...

So some members at general Linux and sitribution specific forums often want new users to have their first X number of posts moderator approved. This means that the member will post their thread/post and then get a message saying that their post needs to be approved before it can be seen publicly. Obviously the members proposing this idea are the (well intentioned) long term members who will not have had to go through this "initiation".

What is discussed, more often that not are the mechanics of this - i.e. how it would work, whether staff would be able to cope and how it will benefit existing members having to answer the same annoying repeat questions over and over again. While all of this is indeed valid, I think it's worth considering the majority of new members who do ask legitimate questions, are not being lazy or in any way malicious and are just seeking help with an operating system family which actually is poorly documented in many cases.

There also seems to a belief among some that this will solve long standing problems. It might solve one specific problem, but at the same time - as I said earlier - be a "baby thrown out with bathwater" issue. Some people just don't like moderator intervention, or they like it to be minimal. This approach would possibly mean more moderators and more moderator activity, with tighter controls.

Also it would seem that some are expecting moderators to be able to analyse each and every one of these posts and decide if they fit the required criteria - that will either take forever and cause a massive backlog or it will be a case of posts being skimmed and either let through without meeting the criteria or too readily dismissed. In short - this may work for some sites, but it would be a messy solution for a high traffic site. It would also cause burnout among staff.

In my opinion this is a case of signal to noise - you will never get 100% signal and the noise is just going to have to be dealt with by members in a calm manner. Jumping on every 'noise' thread with chastisement and put downs (posting corrections is ok, posting information or pointing out errors is ok - outright "you didn't post that properly" responses which set out only to correct posting style or point out STFW/RTFM possibilities from the start), or posting as if you've taken personal offence, is just going start a flaming match). At the end of the day, if you hadn't logged that day you might have missed it anyway - you're just not obliged to respond - but you can and that's a conscious decision.

I don't think signal will increase to acceptable levels and noise decrease until Linux fora users in general stop spoon feeding the freeloaders - and this is what I don't get. Les grognards should really be directing all of their vitriol at those who are readily spoonfeeding these types of members and encouraging a "something for nothing"/help parasite culture - sadly it appears that applies even to themselves. You reap what you sow.

I believe the reputation system in use at some sites plays a big part in the "answer every and any question" culture. I've even seen some members on certain fora with "click here if you liked the answer" or some such wording in their forum signature - so pretty much "queue up here for the free volunteer help desk".
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Comments

  1. Old Comment
    That is a lot of spare time during the work day!

    Quote:
    This is a common misconception - that Linux users are 'missionaries' preaching for converts and for the sinners to abandon windows. This is not the case for most users, but is a myth perpetuated by certain web forums, which tends to attract the younger and/or more zealous end users. Because of this myth, new users often assume that attempts will be made to 'convert' them.
    One of the unfortunate rules of life is the squeaky wheel gets the grease. The zealous missionaries are the people that get noticed.
    Posted 11-03-2015 at 03:24 PM by Randicus Draco Albus Randicus Draco Albus is offline
  2. Old Comment
    I don't think the 'missionaries' are all bad, in fact it's often just the enthusiasm of youth and I miss the naive 'Stallmanite' types who have since been replaced by the "just use what works [also owns an Android(R) because it's Linux(tm)!], you don't need the terminal! [because he does everything productive in windows]", OMGWTFBUNTU! generation...

    Times have changed but those of us who turned to the "dark side" knew this was coming quite some time ago...
    Posted 11-03-2015 at 03:47 PM by cynwulf cynwulf is offline
    Updated 11-03-2015 at 03:54 PM by cynwulf
  3. Old Comment
    Love them or hate them, the Stallmanites were good for Linux. A philosophy based on principles that says use <this> because you believe in it or go somewhere else and do not bother us, was much better for Linux development than the current attitude of "pragmatism"; I do not care if it is free or proprietary. The only thing that matters is it works. That is not how I define pragmatism, but ...
    Posted 11-03-2015 at 03:55 PM by Randicus Draco Albus Randicus Draco Albus is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Quote:
    This is a common misconception - that Linux users are 'missionaries' preaching for converts and for the sinners to abandon windows. This is not the case for most users, but is a myth perpetuated by certain web forums, which tends to attract the younger and/or more zealous end users. Because of this myth, new users often assume that attempts will be made to 'convert' them.
    I don't know whether I would consider myself a missionary, but I do wish to represent Linux well when the occasion presents (and only when the occasion permits).

    I think how one attempts to represent Linux is important. Arguing and persuading are not the same thing. Some of the persons to whom you refer think that they can argue someone into using Linux. They also assume that what they find obvious will appear equally obvious to everyone else if they can just find the right argument. In actuality, the opposite is normally the result--if you argue with someone, he or she will argue back and resist more strenuously.

    Being obnoxious is seldom a good sales technique.

    (Later)

    Here is a quotation from the mystery story I'm currently reading. The story is set in the 1920s and our heroine is considering a restaurant:

    Quote:
    She would appreciate temperance movements more if they weren't so shrill, declamatory and arrogant.
    Could be pretty much a blanket statement, could it not?
    Posted 11-03-2015 at 09:18 PM by frankbell frankbell is offline
    Updated 11-03-2015 at 09:50 PM by frankbell
  5. Old Comment
    "These are the reasons I use System X. If it sounds good to you, try it if you wish."
    When someone asks, explain what one believes are the good and bad points and leave it to the person asking to decide whether or not to try it. That is a good approach. Proselytising makes the users of a system, and hence the system, look bad.
    Quote:
    the "just use what works [also owns an Android(R) because it's Linux(tm)!], you don't need the terminal! [because he does everything productive in windows]", OMGWTFBUNTU! generation...
    In addition to those "pragmatic" people, the ones that bother me are the ones who hates Windows because it is a proprietary system made by an evil company, but gleefully use the proprietary software of other shady companies; use Skype, which is owned by the evil company they hate; and love Google, which is much more evil than Microsoft.
    Posted 11-04-2015 at 04:33 AM by Randicus Draco Albus Randicus Draco Albus is offline
    Updated 11-04-2015 at 04:34 AM by Randicus Draco Albus
  6. Old Comment
    Quote:
    love Google, which is much more evil than Microsoft.
    I wouldn't say that Google is more evil than Microsoft--Google at least writes its TOS in plain language--but, if Google is the more evil, Microsoft is working industriously to catch up.
    Posted 11-04-2015 at 09:32 PM by frankbell frankbell is offline
  7. Old Comment
    But Google is so effective in their evilness.
    Posted 11-06-2015 at 08:45 AM by vmccord vmccord is offline
 

  



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