Monday, September 28, 2009

Being A Responsable Community Member

Ok, so you read my post a while back and now you are thinking "Hey, I've tryed to be involved and you freetards are jerks!" or "I want to try this thing out what should I know?" Very good questions. So let's dive in shall we.

First, all communitys have a culture and if you are starting as an outsider it can be a bit of a learning curve. One of the main things I see people do is have the attitude "Dude, it's just software!" To many people in this neck of the woods it isn't "just software." It's a way of life. A large amount of the work that is done in free software is done out of passion not out of economics. People pour their heart and soul into this stuff. It represents an ideal more than a tool. Respect peoples passion when talking to them.

Asking for help is the first hurdle I see people stuggling to get over. If you are used to dealing with "traditional" software support then you might come across in a way you don't intend. If you jump in an IRC channel or post on a forum, remember most of the help in free software is volunteer and be respectful of that. Many projects offer many ways of getting help. However, some of those tools rarely get used. Some projects prefer IRC, some mailing lists, some forums and some wiki's. If you are asking for help in the wrong place and not getting an answer try to find out the projects communication process.

The second sticking point, as I see it, is the approach to that question. The motivation to help is quickly sapped when you ask in a disrespectful way. Remember, very few projects are trying to create a direct replacement for a proprietary Windows or Mac app. The apps might have similar goals, but asking why feature X in software Y isn't in their program can sound insulting. Especially when you follow there response with something like "Well, your program is never going to be as good as Y if you don't put that feature in!" If you are lacking a feature it's ok to ask if you are just missing it and if it doesn't exist ask if it's planned for a future release. If it is of severe importance to you offer to pay a developer to implement it or if you have the skills do it yourself. Hey, it's Open Source, right?

Lastly, if you find that people are still pretty harsh ask yourself "Am I asking about things I should be reading about?" A lot of projects have pretty good documentation. Read it. It frustrating to have some one ask you basic questions that are all ready covered in the FAQ on their website. Asking for help should be a last resort or for those who just don't know better. Don't be lazy.

I'm sure if you are respectful and take your time you will find a home in the community just like everyone else.
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