how best to answer questions (was: RE: [mythtv-users] ringbuf1.nuv)

Ray Olszewski ray at
Mon Mar 24 17:36:42 UTC 2003

At 11:51 AM 3/24/2003 -0500, Joseph A. Caputo wrote:

>I realize we all have different personal threshholds regarding how 'basic' a
>question can be before we fire off a standard 'RTFM' response, but I
>personally wouldn't want anyone to give up on Myth or Linux in general
>because they felt the community was not supportive towards newbies.  I
>thought the whole point of having a separate 'mythtv-users' list was to
>provide a forum that was more tolerant of basic setup questions.

You raise a good basic question here, Joe, but I think you also attack a 
straw man.

Providing someone with a link to a specific, applicable section of a HowTo, 
as Robert did, is not "a standard 'RTFM' response". When I first arrived 
here, I posted a question that got a similar response (I don't recall from 
whom, though Robert is surely a likely candidate), and it was to the point 
and helpful. Since the information was located in an unlikely place in the 
HowTo, directing me to it gave me the opportunity to suggest that it be 
relocated (or referenced) in the place I *had* checked, the section that 
appeared from its name to be the relevant one (instead of its actual 
location in a "Miscellaneous Problems" appendix, or something like that). 
Referencing existing sections of a HowTo saves the writer time, encourages 
use of the HowTo by everyone here, and offers a way to promote steady 
improvement of the HowTo.

For a beginner to get a direct answer here to a question that is answered 
in the HowTo, someone who knows the answer needs to be willing to take the 
time to compose a reply with the details, ideally a reply that is as 
accurate and clear as the HowTo itself. You did offer a reply in this case, 
but only in response to an earlier reply you did not care for. Perhaps this 
was just timing ... you did not see the original message until after Robert 
had posted his reply. Or perhaps you, like me and everyone else here, saw 
the message and decided to let someone else take care of it, posting only 
when you decided you didn't like the answer the "someone else " actually 
gave. In either case, I'd urge you to support your view by actually writing 
the sorts of reply you would like to see, so that people who prefer not to 
write one-by-one answers to recurring questions can refrain from replying 
but draw on these list answers to improve the HowTo and other documentation 
(or, in the case at hand, fix what I too see as a design flaw).

To my eye, this list is extremely "tolerant" of "basic setup questions". No 
one castigated the user for posting his question ... most of us ignored it, 
and you and Robert answered it in different fashions. A considerably 
touchier example is Jay's thread from yesterday, where he got responses he 
found unhelpful, and responded insultingly (both to the person who had 
posted the brief response -AND- to the person who had taken the time to 
post a more extensive, in-line set of comments and responses to his 
original post).

Even here, I felt that the original poster got about what he deserved ... 
being rude to people from whom you seek free tech support for free software 
just isn't smart, even if you do not understand a particular reply. I even 
started to write a more extensive reply explaining to Jay what he was 
missing, but as the thread continued while I was writing, he got annoying 
enough that I discarded the reply unposted. I notice that no one else 
stepped in to help him out either, perhaps indicating the limits on what we 
as a group (including you, presumably, since you didn't step in either) 
will tolerate from beginners asking questions.

In closing ... as MythTV moves from an app suited only for tinkerers to one 
ready for a mass audience, a lot of things have to improve. Documentation 
is one of them. That it is not currently good enough to handle all 
questions by beginners (even beginners to Unix/Linux) is unfortunate but 
not surprising ... free development takes you only so far, and up to now 
I'd say both the app and its docs have developed pretty well. And, just to 
be very clear, I think Robert is quite right to reference his HowTo when 
answering questrions, leaving it to others to write immediate replies if we 
are willing to make the effort (since he's already *made* his effort by 
writing and maintaining the HowTo in the first place).

More information about the mythtv-users mailing list