Christian Heilmann

Blogs, Lists, Mags, Forums, Feeds? Where do you get your webdev juice from?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005 at 1:53 pm

I remember finding A List Apart and very early in my career and it helped me heaps, and I learnt a lot from the Forums on and really way back at experts exchange. I’ve also been a regular on the list and CSS-Discuss for some years and on IRCnet in since almost 1997.

And lately I must say I am getting the feeling that we are grinding down to a halt. It is not a matter of content in most cases, it is a matter of style and etiquette in asking and answering.

CSS-Discuss is a wonderful example:

  • There is a Wiki where a lot of people spent time collecting, collating and sorting best practises which seems to remain unread.
  • There is a searchable archive that could be used to find out if a solution has been found already before sending another request to several thousand subscribers, but hardly anybody bothers to.
  • Instead, and in breach of the sensible list policies a lot of emails don’t even get a subject or a funny/witty one that has no bearing whatsoever on the email content. A searchable archive is only helpful when you can find what you are looking for.
  • When answering to a problem, there is another rather annoying trend these days: People don’t read the whole thread before adding their own thoughts, which means that one problem gets answered 20 times without adding anything useful to the problem or – even worse – repeating mistakes that had been flagged up 4 emails earlier and declare them as “good practice”.
  • It also seems to be general practice to add one line of text on the top of the email when answering and leaving another 500 trailing lines. Trimming the post and answering directly after the quote makes it a lot easier to keep track as to who commented on what. Actually, I realised that by its very design Gmail does seem to invite to top-post.

All of this makes me ponder unsubscribing and not waste my time any longer. Which is a shame, as there are a lot of clever people out there providing great help and you find one or the other intriguing problem and solution there.

I published two articles on evolt in 2004 dealing with that problem: How to help and get help and survival in the online trenches and they are still up-to-date and describe a lot of issues that are happening on lists, forums and chat channels.

It is tricky to deal with repeating requests, as it can be very frustrating for an already frustrated new developer to ask a question and just get a bunch of links as an answer, but for the overall quality of the list or the forum as a repository, this might be the only option.

Mark Pilgrim advocated the right to say no in 2003 in his Why we won’t help you post, explaining that without validation of your page you shouldn’t really bother asking for help. A good idea and a step forward, but mentioning it will give you the “arrogant developer diva” sticker.

  • What are your thoughts on rude or very basic questions on lists and forums?
  • Is it time to add a google and “I feel lucky” redirect or is there a better way?
  • What can be done to help enthusiastic developers with an urge to help others to do it in a helpful and up-to-date way?
  • What do you think of “one link and a ‘read this’ ” answers on mailinglists?

Share on Mastodon (needs instance)

Share on Twitter

My other work: