Google is not your friend, and neither are they that suggest it is.
Join many IRC channels, Web forums or Mail lists in order to seek help or assistance with a particular problem or issue and there is a very good chance that you may be referred back to Google. Sometimes, unfortunately all to regularly in the open source community, you’ll be encouraged to JFGI. I have been guilty, in the past, of this particular attitude and it amazes me how easily I slipped into becoming a Google snob. So this post is as much a rebuttal of my previous attitudes as it is a reminder to others to be more accommodating.
Its not the Auntie Madge or Grandma Butlers who are joining IRC and Web forums ( Although the Sussex Linux User group does have its share of Grandmas’ ) but the technically competent and genuinely interested who wish to give Linux and open source software a real opportunity These are the very same people who have already , like myself , spent hours or even days attempting to configure and resolve some issue in the Windows world. Unlike the Microsoft world though we have created a large and easily contactable community through various on line mechanisms. These new users have already discovered those communities through the power of Google and feel that it may be possible to get some one to one support and advice relating to their questions. Imagine then the frustration and annoyance and being treated in a dismissive and frankly snobbish fashion when they ask an apparently new question. Its not surprise to me that many of the “defensive” windows and Microsoft users I meet are the way they are when you discover the responses they received to asking “simple” questions. When I read posts like Another Lost year for Linux I realise that our strengths in the open source community can indeed become our weakness. Many a new user to the open source community experience the issue of not finding the answer to their problem. Instead they need to find the answer to their specific problem and have already Googled the results for themselves.
The provision of support and end user assistance is an extremely sensitive and fragile topic to many open source enthusiasts. The division and levels of support and its acceptability in the community are wide and vast, and the possibility of the definitive statement on where it begins will never be settled. We have enabled so many different and varied ways of sharing information among many, many , individuals that answers to any question are available anywhere . We should therefore continue to be aware that new enthusiasts will be joining at any moment and that we should do what we can to help them discover where and how to help themselves and to help each other. We should avoid snobbishness or elitist attitudes. It should not be acceptable to establish authority or rightness solely on the privileges of access or attendance such as the operator rights or long term membership of a group. More importantly we need to remember that being dismissive or negative about just one persons inquiry does nothing other than to damage the view of the whole community and not just that member.
The next time you encounter a situation where you feel the need to tell someone to Google the answer, read the friendly manual or consider their questioning technique take a moment and try a new tactic. If you dont wish to give an answer then dont give a unhelpful or unfriendly one. It would be better to provide direct links based on your own googling than to embarrass or upset a possible new friend.
Thanks for reading.