A Quick Post on Being Nice

There was a nice e-mail on the opennms-install list today. The install list is our “newbie” list, as the first hurdle to jump with OpenNMS is to get it installed, and a person had posted a question about a Debian install.

The question was well worded, and while I couldn’t explain the problem the person was having with importing our GPG key to apt, I was able to quickly test a workaround on my desktop and offer it to the list.

Here is the reply we received:

I wanted to thank everyone for helping me with this issue. Obviously, I am new to this and just trying to learn. I asked a question on a different listserv (for a different monitoring software package I was testing) and all I received were snarky responses and little to no help…how discouraging! That definitely was not the case here!!!

I went with Tarus’ instructions and they worked just fine. The rest of the tutorial was spot on for me and no issues. I now have a few nodes scanned and am just loving the interface and how it feels.

I have been involved in open source for a very long time now, and I have to say that his experience with “snarky responses” is all too common. We have always made the best effort to be open and friendly to new users, since they will be the old users of the future.

But I can understand how this happens. No sooner had I read the post then someone else hijacked the thread with a “it don’t work help me plz” question.


I tried not to be snarky when I replied, asking the user to start a new thread by sending a new message to the list. Was it too much to point them to esr’s “How to Ask Questions” document?

I also felt the need to stress that any direct replies to me would be ignored. While this doesn’t happen with most users on the list, usually the ones that need a little more help latch on to the first person to reply and start peppering them with questions to their direct e-mail address.

I never feel right answering those, since our business model is for a large part built on providing commercial support services, so in order to ask me a direct question I want you to have a support contract. Not because I’m greedy, but because I want to be fair to the people who put food on my table.

But the list is different. Since it is shared I feel like I am answering not only the question at hand but almost all future versions of that question.

It’s really hard to balance limited time with virtually unlimited needs, but if someone politely asks a well-formed question on the list, I do my best to answer it.

Who knows, perhaps one day in the future they’ll answer a question of mine.