John Topley’s Weblog

No Time Wasters, Please

One of the things that really annoys me is when people ask questions and then disappear off the face of the Earth. During the nine months that this site has been running, I've received a number of technical questions either as comments or via my Contact page. Invariably these questions have been too vague for me to be able to answer immediately, and so I've ended up having to ask for more detail. Then I hear no more.

Why do people do this?! A few years ago when I first had access to the Internet, I was also starting out as a Windows programmer and I posted no end of questions to newsgroups asking for help with various problems. Without fail I eagerly checked back the next day to see if I'd received an answer. Later on, I started answering other people's questions too, which was quite rewarding. I just can't imagine a situation in which I'd ask for help online and then not respond when a person trying to help needed more information. Even if I'd solved the problem myself in the meantime, I would have the courtesy to make this known.

It's interesting observing how programmers go about things when they're stuck. Some will cuss and bang their head on the desk for days before asking for help, whilst others will give up straight away and ask the brightest person at hand. Over the years I've observed that people are much more inclined to ask a colleague for help than to try to find the answer out for themselves, even though the latter is often quicker if you have a strategy for doing it. I'm convinced that this phenomenon directly led to the creation of the Microsoft Office assistant. Microsoft noticed this behavioural pattern and thought it would be a great step forward if they could distill the office expert into Word. I wonder if the people I started off complaining about leave Clippit hanging on for more information?

A picture of the 'Clippit' Microsoft Office assistant


There are 5 comments on this post. Comments are closed.

  • avatar John C
    17 February 2004 at 22:10

    You're not alone John, the same thing happens to me. Someone takes the time to write out a long (sometimes rambling) question and then you reply to them and *bang* - you never hear from them again.

  • avatar JPC
    19 February 2004 at 04:08

    You are so right about Google Groups. It is undoubtedly one of the best tools for researching problems in networking and programming. It can take a person with mediocre technical abilities to the next level. It usually outshines MS Knowledge Base for supporting MS products. It slices, it how much would you pay?....ok, I'm getting carried away.

  • avatar George Handlin
    19 February 2004 at 19:43

    I agree. I use Google Groups all the time. I don't mind helping people, in fact, I like doing it because it helps keep my skills up. But simple questions that can be found out in a couple seconds (repeatedly) can make me insane.

  • avatar bliz
    29 February 2004 at 18:48

    > Why do people do this?! There's no "subscribe to this post" option on blogs. A person might Google for something, find a related blog entry, "post" a question in a comment... but then what? They have to manually poll for answers. Too much trouble. Newsgroups are much easier to deal with in this regard. And forums that can notify people when a thread gets updated are even easier. (And I'll probably do like I do with most of my comments to blog entries: I probably won't return to see what you have to say in reply. No offense. :) It's just not in the system.)

  • avatar John Topley
    29 February 2004 at 20:46

    No offence taken. So it's not too much trouble to type out the question but it is too much trouble to look back for the answer? It doesn't make much sense to me. And you're not gong to see this reply anyway...

I'm convinced that this phenomenon directly led to the creation of the Microsoft Office assistant.


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