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No. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and you’ll hit on the right combination of keywords to find a useful result. Or maybe you’ll be given a different personalized view of the search engine’s knowledge space. Or maybe you’ll give me a link I’ve already seen, but which is irrelevant. Or maybe you’ll find nothing at all, like I did.

In any given two-week period, I expect to have each of those experiences at least once. So don’t be so quickly condescending with your LMGTFYs. I asked in your presence because I hoped you might be an expert.

Right now, the state of things is pretty disheartening. I’ll hit docs first. They’ll probably be incomplete or inscrutably organized. Then I’ll hit search engines. Then I’ll ask.

Then, very probably, I’ll be digging into the source code for your language interpreter or other tool. I dug into the Linux kernel source looking for an answer to a Xen question, yesterday. I’ve had to dig into PHP extensions’ source code around twice a month. When trying to figure out how a Python script works, I’ve had to dig through the code of the modules it calls through.

Right now, forums suck, search engines suck (oddly enough, because forums tend to suck), documentation sucks, and the communities around far too many technologies are far too quick to assume a lack of any prior effort. The classic demonstration of at least three of these is to hit a search engine with $query, and have the most promising result be a forum result where the only respondent says something along the lines of “just search for $query”.

I’m not saying there aren’t parasites in forums and chat rooms, but there tends to be a presumption that the people asking questions are parasites.

Anyway, that’s what people are doing wrong. As for how to do it right? The best answers I’ve seen contain three parts in sequence:

  1. A reference to a specific resource for a better understanding of the specific subject area of the question.
  2. A direct response to the question, regardless of whether or not the answerer thought the asker asked the right question.
  3. A remark that the question represents an unusual problem, that they’re probably doing something wrong, and trying to learn more about the scenario the asker is in, and why they aren’t using a more typical solution.

Typically, I don’t see all three of those parts come from the same person. Usually, parts 1 and 2 come from one place, while part 3 comes from someone else. I’ve often seen askers who got all three of those parts in that order stick around; they got good information, and they’ve found a good resource, a good community. I’ve usually seen those that stick around go on to answer questions posed by others.

Though when someone receives part 3 before parts 1 or 2, they’ll get flustered, and may or may not stick around before they get an answer useful to them. So don’t do it in that order. 🙂

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