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The decline and fall of the Linux forum - Episode V : You can't "educate" people, so just give up...

Posted 07-02-2018 at 10:56 AM by cynwulf
Updated 06-13-2019 at 01:07 PM by cynwulf

The decline and fall of the Linux forum - Episode V : You can't "educate" people, so just give up...


This was broken off from Episode IV and spun off into it's own episode. Episode IV had accumulated lots of addendum sections and become far to sprawling as a result, plus Episode IV had a "theme" and the below content wasn't it. The first piece was written some time late last year and the last parts earlier this year, I have only tidied up some wording and fixed a few typos (though some will remain).


This is what I would call "yet another opinion piece". This is not about indisputable truths, this is not about attacking anyone. Some of you who read this may feel it's targeted at you. That's untrue - as while I do observe this behaviour from some, I don't necessarily keep a "mental log" as to who when and where...

As with episode I, "this is a blog, you may find some comments offensive. If this is indeed the case, then I would strongly advise against reading blogs - or grow a thicker skin".

I'm not a teacher, a college tutor, a social worker or police officer. If I were and if I felt some pressing need to educate or police or reform, I would choose another outlet for that. I would not choose a Linux forum, which when all is said and done, is just a source of free technical support. Veteran members may see it as something else - perhaps a "community" - but for new members it's often just a free bail out of a sticky situation or mess they've gotten themselves into. It's a learning curve and part of that is actually realising when it's your fault, not the OS or other software. Most, if not all, had to go through that process. Most people, given the chance, will work it out for themselves in time (without any "tough love" from certain forum veterans).

The first part, is my take on $PENETRATION_TESTING_LINUX and some people's attitudes towards it and it's users. The second, third and fourth parts are also about forum users overreaction to issues such as new users, trolling and thread necromancy.


It recently came up in a typical "feedback" thread, at a major Linux forum, that the threads relating to a certain Linux distribution - and its users - posting threads which are "annoying" some members. I'm not going to link to or name this distribution as I don't seek to give it exposure here or generate more search engine hits.

The focus for some forum users is to direct these lost souls toward the one true path to using a "real Linux distribution" and not one focused on penetration testing (where the user runs X as root and who knows what other blasphemies). This distribution's own developers have specifically stated on their website as to who the distribution is suited for and its intended purpose.

They have pretty much banned discussion of anything other than the penetration testing/tools bundled with the distribution on their official forums. Discussing the basics of the underlying distribution is specifically not allowed. This means that every user who lacks basic knowledge, but wants to run a "hacker" OS, comes to a general purpose Linux forum, or to the forum for the distribution on which the distribution in question is based for basic support.

At the general Linux forum, the answer to this "annoyance" for some is, as ever, a stickied bullet pointed list of advice/guidelines, which can be linked to on demand. And delivered as a throwaway, generic "auto-reply" style post.

I can't see the new users in question, reading even one sentence, let alone multiple paragraphs - I doubt they'll even click the link... these are people who didn't read the documentation in the first place, nor the information provided on this particular distribution's own website. Why would anyone assume they would actually take the time to read what amounts to some "forum rules"? (and in this case I have to sympathise - I wouldn't read it either). These are at best '3 posts wonders', they post, they're gone and they're back once or twice, then gone for good (which is absolutely fine). They won't find the hundreds of similar threads and take the hint, because they didn't read or search in the first place (that's why they're posting these threads...).

They already know what the distribution is for, they already know they lack the necessary skill or experience and they register at a "general purpose" forum, with the full intent to talk someone into holding their hand and walking them through using the system/bailing them out of trouble in their personal quest to use ready to go "hacking tools" with minimal effort on their part.

And the root of the problem is that "ready to go hacking tools" makes about much sense as "Servicing the Boeing 777 for dummies" or a DIY brain surgery starter kit. But I digress...

These "feedback" threads smack of futile attempts at "educating" new members. I would not be so presumptuous or pompous as to attempt to educate anyone on the WWW. But the OPs of these threads always feel that they're bringing progress or improvement - while of course boosting their own "profiles" and moving them closer to the front of the "potential moderator" queue.

When all is said and done, surely the best approach is to just ignore these threads if one finds them so annoying? The admins of the site don't want to ban the discussion (which would be a viable approach). This shows that the admins do not want to take action - however you look at it.

If the admin really do want to deal with this, they will certainly ban it's discussion (and again that's viable - it's happened elsewhere), or they just leave it alone - and those who make feedback threads because they're annoyed at reading those types of threads just learn to walk on by.

And why is a ban viable? Simply because certain subject matters can and will be banned on a web forum if deemed necessary. To be clear: I don't advocate banning discussion of a certain Linux distribution, but the admin could consider it and if needed put it into practice. If they have reasons for not doing so, it's because they're willing to tolerate it (and the "annoying" threads and annoyed members it will inevitably generate for years to come). The reality is that it's not serious enough to censor/ban/deal with... it's only serious for that vocal minority who are complaining about threads they do not even need to read in the first place.

Attempting to "educate" both the annoying and annoyed is a pointless exercise - but it's undeniably much more feasible and far easier to reach established, long term people who reply to these threads - including those upset by them. It's a far more pragmatic and sensible approach to just talk to 50 or so "seniors" and several "veterans" and just get them to examine and rethink their behaviour than it is to bombard every new user with a generic bullet pointed list of dos and don'ts... which just makes a site look conservative, elitist and boring.

Ignoring the threads (walking on by) is still the best approach. If you don't visit a site for a few weeks, you manage to "ignore" those threads anyway. If you become annoyed, it's because you're allowing yourself to become annoyed.

Finding a ton of unanswered threads, will deliver a stronger message than constant replies with "advice" which essentially states "the distribution is not for you". If you use a resource and don't get the responses or solutions you're looking for, you tend to just move on. That passive approach works best on the web. Sticky threads will just attract more attention (in terms of search engine hits) and probably more users, but not necessarily reading and heeding the warnings... personally, as a free thinking adult, if someone on a web forum says "this is not for you", I will tend to ignore them and do the exact opposite.

The problem you have is that for every two or three members positing the bullet pointed diatribe, you have equally as many posting helpful advice (possibly as a means to boost reputation score or post count or just to be helpful), this creates a typical "conflicting advice" scenario in the thread which wouldn't have occurred had the self appointed moderators just ignored it...

On any given technical forum, "this may not be for you" responses should not really be on the menu. It's obvious to me that other, more established members, should not be presuming to tell new members how or what to post, especially not in such a patronising fashion. If I've been registered at a forum since 2005, I have 1500 - 2000 or something posts. I don't assume that makes me more "qualified" than someone who just joined the forum. I would not presume to "educate" or to know what's best for anyone else. The "forum police" of self appointed moderator team, really need to get off their high horses and just stop pontificating about what is posted and how it's presented and look to their own conduct and how these "customer services" style "sorry but..." posts appear to the prospective member.

The newbies are upon us!

So, in more general terms, how do we stop those damned clueless newbies from asking the same stuff again and again? They want Linux distribution recommendations, they want to know which Linux distribution is 'the best'!?

And I thought the $PENETRATION_TESTING_LINUX horde were bad enough!?

We must deal with this new threat swiftly before our chosen way of life is swept away by a tide of banality and recklessness. Even now I expect the admins are prepping the new tablet friendly "Web 2.0" UI for your top favourite Linux forum... (a great big photo of some grinning fools huddled around a laptop with the forum itself occupying the remaining 10% of screen "real estate" at the bottom). Reputation will become "likes" and we'll be "following" "people" and putting "#" before every word!!??

The answer is, of course, a sticky thread (as with the scourge of $PENETRATION_TESTING_LINUX). A properly written sticky thread with bullet points and links will resolve this problem. This is an age old problem which has been around since at least the very first time I connected up the web over dial up in the late 90s.

Right after the final screech of the modem, I entered a search term into yahoo or lycos and came across a typically feckless oaf daring to ask a question which had been asked and answered before, no less than "100s of times"... It's about time we made the web read only: stop wasting everyone's time with questions!

Ahem.... anyway I very much look forward to more stickies and the eventual eradication of all questions for the betterment of the Linux forum and humankind in general.

Troll infiltration!

As the newbies continue to migrate inwards, despite the "hostile environment policy" and best efforts to make them feel as unwelcome as possible, it has been discovered that trolls may be hiding among their numbers. They have likely removed their troll gear, cast away their clubs and are now moving freely among the newbies under the guise of asking annoying questions. I recommend to admins that the threat level be raised from "somewhat annoying" to the rarely used "very annoying", which indicates that the probability of someone being annoyed is "highly likely".


The vile and heretical thread necromancers have returned. The arcane rituals have been performed and with a gasp, festering and rotting threads about Linux 2.6, three metre long xorg.conf files, gnome 2.x and KDE 3.5.x rise groaning from the forum and begin their slow shambling march toward forum active topic domination. You've seen it many times; some poor unsuspecting fool replies at length to the necro thread and then realises to their horror that some moderately difficult to install distribution with manual partitioning was being discussed... 10 years ago... This will of course get out of control quickly unless something is done - and fast!

But what is to be done? Well unbelievably, not a sticky thread... I had envisaged a sticky thread specifically for necro posters, advising them - in typical bullet pointed form - as to why their actions were so inconsiderate and annoying. I had a few ideas for the content, one started with "And you resurrected a 15 year old thread just to...". I thought that sounded quite original.

So what is the solution? You guessed it: Automated thread locking of course (what else?). That absolutely wonderful idea, which a proportion of admins inexplicably simply refuse to even acknowledge. It's oh so simple, the thread reaches a certain age and then it closes automatically, because no one, ever, has a legitimate reason to resurrect an old thread.

No one is ever put off from visiting a forum full of locked threads - no that doesn't put me off at all...

No one ever has anything to add to an old thread, never solves an unsolved problem from years before.

No, the far bigger and more pressing issue here is that random spammers resurrect old threads with the usual "thanks, that helped me tremendously!".

Locking these old threads will clearly kill this problem dead. The spammers will shrug and walk away, clearly defeated, they won't just switch to newer threads. Welcome to the spam free zone, but as I said, the admin won't go for it. Can't think why not...

Your reputation precedes you...

Every once in a while, the seemingly insecure green square counters tentatively collect in the feedback section to ensure the LQ "like" button is working correctly. Of course none of these green bar measurers really care about the "rep" system, they are simply checking to see if it's working as it should...

Is I've said, none really care that much about it, until someone dares to suggest that it's a useless feature which should be turned off... at that point you will be reminded that if you don't like it, you can turn it off (except you can't of course).

At that point some of the longest and greenest bars and some shorter but steadily growing bars, will begin to converge angrily...

It no doubt serves the egos or vanity of the "wearers", perhaps worn with pride like medals for war veterans. Many of the "old campaigners", i.e. the senior members and gurus, having survived some rather notable kali threads, perhaps feel that their reputation is their right - and I am ok with that, but it doesn't really change my opinion on the matter. It doesn't really mean that I should stop offering feedback in feedback threads - though I probably will at this point. If we don't have differing views, that's the point? I am very sure the admin won't heed one or two members call to scrap the reputation system... so it's anybody's guess as to why some of the resident green nugget miners feel so threatened. Could it be their reputation is that preciousssss...?

I recently used some reasonable logic, that the reputation awards don't necessarily reflect technical ability. As with social networks, the reputation system is a "like" system. It amounts to members with similar views giving each other a virtual "high five", or showering someone who praises up their top favourite distro with reputation points, or in some cases anonymous users backing their chosen "candidate" in a flame war / heated debate - usually the opponent of someone they have a grudge against or just don't get a long with. And that's a big difference between LQ's reputation and the similar functionality at say the FreeBSD forums - there is no anonymity for the "likes". If you click, you have to publicly face the music for that - you name is there and other users can see it was you. It would probably make one think twice before engaging in any "toxic" rep awarding...

It's also been obvious to me for years that many new users don't really use the system. Either they don't notice it, don't understand it or don't see it as that important. For many it's probably just optional - which it is. I suppose the whole reputation thing is really the most precious to the aforementioned gatherers of the small green squares - and not as a guide for new users to gauge as whether a member knows their stuff.

The "scales" are even more invisible in that many members who had been registered for years, didn't really notice them nor understand their purpose (I'm sure I didn't notice them for the first few years either).

But lets be honest about it... the members with more reputation automatically give more points when they "like" a post (you may find a reference to this in feedback if you care to look).

And those are the "gurus" who obviously won't need help so often and will more likely be clicking in the "I totally agree with this member" scenario.

Green bar measuring simply doesn't count for much... just as a hypothetical example:

Member A goes to the *BSD forum and asks a question.

Member B, with high reputation score, responds to the question, even though they have never used a *BSD and is e.g. a Red Hat user. They simply assume that they know and answer, in good faith, because they are familiar with the software (e.g. or a desktop or whatever).

Member C then responds, who has lower post count and hardly any reputation, but is a *BSD user and experienced in that particular area.

To put it another way, I seem to have a decent enough reputation, but if I were to go to the Red Hat forum and start giving advice, the results would probably be disastrous. We'd have to hope that they would all stick to their areas of expertise - unfortunately experience tells me that they don't.

But immediately you have a situation there where reputation points don't really count for much. And that's the whole point - they're a set of medals, a bit of an ego thing for some perhaps, certainly something which can be "gamed" and abused and used negatively to the point where their value is questionable.

Psychologically they may puff up the "wearer", but they may also present the new user with an intimidating and offputting mountain to climb, a level of expertise which might seem unattainable to them. Though that's not a reason in itself for getting rid of them.

I prefer a medium where I can judge based on actions and words, not on distracting and misleading "points" which, as I believe I have illustrated above, are of questionable benefit.

Thank you for reading.
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  1. Old Comment
    Thanks for posting.

    Can't imagine who would feel targeted...

    All I know is didn't want my anti-social "style" to become an annoyance to the Members of this Community.
    Or have the Leader of this board kick me out for not playing nice. And it made me an *sshole.

    I feel as if I have few "peers", so it became Important for me to not do that any more, as I will likely need help also, in due time. And it doesn't cost anything to "be nice".

    Like "now" with this AT&T "gig"...

    John J.
    Posted 07-03-2018 at 12:01 PM by Habitual Habitual is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Skim read sorry, but it's funny about the pentest distro, I see that all the time too.

    I think you forgot some of those high rep people who simply tell newbies, "go away and search it on google", as if the newbie is an idiot and as if it is always easy to find solutions to problems you don't even know how to ask, through a search engine.

    Mix that with the "newbie trolls" you speak about whom ask suspicious questions over and over again, especially on flamable topics.
    Posted 09-06-2019 at 06:03 AM by zeebra zeebra is offline


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