Avoiding Private Messaging People with Questions

  • I know that it is tempting to reach out to people that you know or respect in the community, or any community, with your technical questions; however it is important to restrain from doing this whenever possible. Of course, there are times that this needs to be done, such as when you are asking something personal or must divulge personal or private information, or need to hide the discussion from someone (like an employer).

    But, in general, all questions should be asked out in public in the forum. The community is, after all, where you are coming to make a connection. The entire point of the community is to provide a public forum where many people can view, discuss, learn from and eventually search for information. It is a collective effort of many people, creating not just value for the original poster, but for future posters as well, and for those that will never post but will find the information when doing research.

    When you ask a public question on the forum, you are welcoming input from anyone and everyone who has an interest in responding. People are free to respond when they feel that they have valuable input, or are interested in the exchange, and are free to not respond when they do not feel that they would be adding value or do not find the exchange interesting. It is a purely voluntary effort, which is important, since no one is being compensated monetarily for being involved.

    The people who take the time to participate in the forums do so for a variety of reasons such as helping others, gaining recognition, learning through the discussion, pushing themselves to get better or to advance the field. When we attempt to get questions answered unnecessarily through private messages instead of through the public forum we break this process. The person being asked to answer a question loses the purely voluntary status that it is assumed that they will work from and is being asked for a favor rather than for them to volunteer. The discussion is lost and, instead of being part of an ongoing exchange of ideas, they are being asked to act as a dedicated consultant instead. Instead of a public discussion where many people can benefit from the discussion, it is kept private only for the person asking the question. Instead of recognition for their efforts, the person providing the answers looks as if they are not participating at all.

    And then there is the community to consider. When we ask private questions we are keeping the community from benefiting, just like how private groups or categories would work where the effort in posting is kept for a small group of people instead of being open to the public and open to search engines. As a community it is very important that we generate context, traffic and activity. This is what makes vendors willing to participate, sponsors willing to pay the bills and the posters willing to take the effort to engage in the discussions. The community exists solely for the interaction that happens on the threads and nothing more. If we try to make those discussions private we are doing nothing that AOL Instant Messenger did not do twenty years ago and no more valuable.

    We should all try to keep the discussions, whenever appropriate, as public as possible. It is about helping each other, learning from each other and growing together.

    When we keep it all public everyone benefits. The person asking the question benefits by getting the best exposure and as many eyeballs as possible looking at the problem and either participating by posting or possibly just participating to make sure that the question gets an answer and that the answers are reasonable โ€“ sometimes people watch in silence as long as things are going well. The original poster also, we assume, gets the fastest response by allowing whoever is available to begin the conversation not just waiting on a single person to have time to respond. And the original poster is not stuck having to guess who is the right expert for the question โ€“ something that is far harder than it may at first seem to be.

    The person responding gets recognition for their efforts and gets to learn from everyone who gets involved. They build their own knowledge, skills as well as their reputation. In many communities they will get points as well. Sometimes even badges or privileges. This may seem trivial but often this publicly searchable โ€œresumeโ€ turns out to be very important for their careers as employers may be using it to find, promote or review candidates.

    For the community the public exchange takes the question of one person and turns it into something for everyone. A chance for anyone to learn how to solve or how to approach a problem. Learn what others are facing and tackling. Learn who has the experience that they need. Learn new ideas or products. And in some cases even find the answers to their own problems that they might be having at the same time or even found through searches that let others find answers later.

    And finally public posting builds the community. Without public posting none of us get to be here. None of us have a conversation in which to be involved.

  • I second this! It is so hard to keep track of people asking business advice in Chat. I would love to have these discussions openly.

  • Incoming PM barrage!

    Seriously, though this is a very valid point, because I rarely will answer specific questions from a PM. That always puts me on the spot and I am too busy to deal with that kind of thing.

    I participate on SW and here in my spare time for a combination of the reasons that @art_of_shred mentioned above.

    I resent people expecting me to help them, which is how I view a PM asking for help.

  • Banned

    I didn't actually read this more than the 1st paragraph, neither will those sending a PM for help ๐Ÿ™‚ Too much word salad, didn't read.

    I agree with the sentiment but those who understand this hopefully don't do it, those who don't understand it won't read this and will keep doing it.

    889 words 5119 characters, less really is more when communicating a point.

  • It's not that they would read it on their own, pretty much nothing is read that way. Just look at SW, tons of posts out there with all the information that almost anyone could ever want. And yet, you need to link people to the resources that they need nearly every time. It's not that people will see it before PMing, but that someone being PMed has a link to give to people PMing them.

  • People do that?
    Wow, that's kind of rude IMO.

  • I do it all the time. this forum seems to derail threads pretty quickly. the dude two above me is a pro at it.

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