Asking questions, getting answers

One of the best parts — arguably the best part — about being a CrunchBang user are the answers that are readily available in the CrunchBang forums, whether they’re already there (a search usually brings up a question you might have that has been discussed and answered already) or whether you’re asking it for the first time to an enthused group of forum folks ready and willing to answer your unasked question.

And now you’re expecting me to say, “But,” or “However . . . .” Surprise: I’m not. The reason I bring up the CrunchBang forums and how well they work is to raise one of my personal quests in the FOSS realm that, if I were to succeed, I think it would make things a lot easier for everyone on several levels.

You could ask, “What might that be?” And I would answer, “asking questions better and answering them more civilly.”

Eric Raymond and Rick Moen wrote a treatise about this many years ago that’s required reading at Felton LUG. It’s called “How to Ask Questions the Smart Way” and it is a remarkable guide regarding how to ask questions that will outline your problem efficiently for those who have to answer it. At the same time, it also has a guide for those who have been around the FOSS/Linux block — OK, for some, around the FOSS/Linux world — a few times regarding how to answer questions as well.

Bear in mind that I don’t bring this up because I think there’s a problem in this regard in the CrunchBang forums. Far from it; I think that questions and answers are handled quite well there. In fact, I’ll go one step further: I think the way the CrunchBang community works, as shown in the forums, is a textbook case of how FOSS communities should work.

I bring it up only as a reminder that I think everyone should give “How to Ask Questions the Smart Way” a read — from the newest Linux user to the most seasoned veteran — because there’s something in it for everyone.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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7 responses to “Asking questions, getting answers

      • It is a question worth asking, but look where you’re asking it: In the comments section of a blog item on a topic that has absolutely nothing to do with the question you’re asking.

        But you want an answer? Of course I don’t think that code is the only important contribution to open source. I’ve said that many, many times, both in the Larry the Free Software Guy blog and elsewhere. In addition, I have always praised Canonical/Ubuntu for the marketing and promotional contributions they have made to FOSS and Linux, at least until they stopped calling themselves a Linux distribution.

        That’s not the question in our current difference of opinion.

        Historically, Canonical/Ubuntu has not been carrying its weight in the FOSS realm in contributing back to FOSS. This is well documented. If you look back a few years to their (lack of) contributions to GNOME back when they had that desktop as their default, or look at their (lack of) contributions to the Linux kernel and now even in cloud software, they’re ready to claim the mantle of leadership without doing what it takes to be a leader.

        Despite our differences on this issue, I still think very highly of you, Grant. Don’t give me a reason to change my mind.

  1. It is maybe worth a read but I could remember this text about “smart” questions is used as an excuse e.g. in the Debian Forums to finally never give answers to newcomers. I am in general no fan of “stupid” theories how to eat, answer/ask questions or whatever.
    The CrunchBang Forums should be a reference for some communities out there how it works the best way. You are really talking with humans and persons there instead of some self declared egocentric super smart geeks. And our community is full of geeks.

    • Well, I’ve never heard of the instance where this might have been used in the Debian forums to NOT give answers to newcomers, but I would be surprised. There’s a remarkable and profound difference in “Why doesn’t my mouse work?” and “I’ve checked the Web, tried $SOLUTION-A to $SOLUTION-Q, but my mouse still isn’t working. Can someone help?” I know most people are prone to asking the former moreso than the latter, but still if they know how to ask questions, it’s half the battle.

      The CrunchBang forums are outstanding, as you’ve heard me say before, and the forums are full of very helpful people. I particularly like it when a question comes up and someone like xaos52 will say, “Post the results of $COMMAND-ON-COMMAND-LINE” because it gets people’s hands dirty, so to speak, in the code. Rather than giving them a fish and feeding them for a day, you’re teaching them to fish to feed them for a lifetime. That’s important, and it’s one of the CrunchBang community’s many strengths.

  2. Pingback: Throwing off the training wheels | Larry the CrunchBang Guy

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