Asking Smart Questions

I think from now on, I’m not going to try to answer questions on mailing lists which don’t follow the guidelines of “How to Ask Questions the Smart Way“. I spend way too much time trying to extract information that’s needed to solve any
problems. Obviously, in some cases, it’s hard to know which information is important, but with two open source projects with growing user populations, it’s very hard for me to take the time to coax every person through getting the information that is important to solving problems.

I think it is a sign of the growth in popularity of the OpenLayers and TileCache projects that I’ve come to this stage — it’s only when projects reach a certain level of maturity that people start asking enough questions that I don’t feel like I can just answer everything. Certainly, for the first 6 months of the OpenLayers project, I never felt that answering questions on the mailing list was something that was a burden to do, but over the past couple months, it’s been an increasing level of traffic from users who haven’t taken the time to investigate the cause of their problems fully. I think the time has come to stop devoting as much energy to solving *every* problem, and instead solve the problems that can’t be solved by other people.

Of course, an additional step is to work to create a forum in which users can offer cash to solve their problems — you put up a question, with a cash bounty on it, and you either increase the amount of money you’re willing to spend to get your question answered, or you answer it yourself.

This seems like the kind of thing that there should already be software to do. I’ve never heard of any, though. I wonder why that is. Probably something obvious I’m missing.

3 Responses to “Asking Smart Questions”

  1. Chris Tweedie Says:

    Hey Chris, i understand your pain!

    Certainly mailinglists are not search friendly, nor newb friendly which probably compounds the problem of “stupid questions”. I havent used any products like yahoo answers etc. but im sure there would be modifications for phpbb (or other forum software) which does something similar.

  2. Jason Birch Says:

    It’s an easy trap to fall into; taking too much ownership of problems on the mailing lists for projects you’re highly involved in.

    I agree with your strategy for two reasons: first, it will cut down on your work; second, it allows your users to answer the question, give back to the community and feel generally helpful.

    You not answering every question can actually help your communities to grow more healthy _and_ preserve your sanity 🙂


  3. Mark Eichin Says:

    Question bounties: probably because the concept doesn’t actually work 🙂

    More effective is to cultivate enough earlier-stage users who can take up the slack of helping out with the complete hopeless ones.