Lesson learned … the importance of ‘support’

I’ve started 2 new categories, ‘Strategic mistakes’ and ‘Lessons learned’.  This is the first report of a lesson learned.

I’ve started a few open-source projects in my time … but none have been taken up by others and expanded on. I’ve also used a lot a lot of open-source software, and had many discussions on mailling lists asking for help with bugs etc. There’s something I’ve realised.

The best software will fail if there isn’t significant ‘presence’ in help and support when you need it. I never helped anyone with my open-source projects … I just thought I’ll put the code up there and see if people take it and run. They dont, ofcourse.

I’ve also joined mailing lists hoping to get a bit of help on some piece of software. There’s different kinds of ‘culture’ evident on mailling lists for different open-source projects. Here’s an attempt to categorise them:

  1. No response. No one is home.  You post a question, or an issue, and get no response, post again, maybe get one unhelpful comment. Sometimes there is some activity on the list, but for some reason no one is interestd in your problem. I found this to be the case on the aws-s3 ruby list.
  2. Lots of responses with some attitude. Mailing lists can sometimes act as peer-group venting environements. Some people can be really helpful, others assume a typical ‘youthful over-confident coder arrogance’ where their answers are short and full of ‘dont waste my time with your newbie mortality status’. RTFM is not a helpful response! I’ve had some of this on the Plone users group. Dont get me wrong,  I depend on the Plone users list heavily and get  some excellent help from many generous people (I’m talking about that occasional ‘attitude’ response). You see this a lot when Googling for help on something, and come across some old conversation on a list.
  3. Super vigilant individual. And then there’s the occasional list driven by one passionate and surprisingly helpful individual. I’m talking about Bill Schottstaedt on the SND list. Bill’s support is fast, clear and without attitude. I started using Ecasound (which had a relatively active list) but found that when I reported a bug or an issue, the response was neither here nor there… and as such, I had no way of knowing whether someone had registered the bug or was dealing with it. With Bill’s support, I feel as though I can depend on the software and build on top of it.

The lesson I’ve learned is on the importance of polite, clear, fast and no-attitude ‘support’. Its empowering to the user and builds a pleasant community feel.

I try very hard to do this on Ambisonia … and I have to admit it is very difficult! It can be difficult to be trouble-shooting a new issue when there’s so many other things to do. Sometimes I write an email that is just a few words too short.. and it gives the wrong impression. Sometimes I get stressed and it comes through in my communication. I’m learning to keep that to myself.

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