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Many larger OSS projects maintain IRC channels to discuss their usage or development. When I get stuck on using a project, having tried and failed to find information on the web, one of the ways I try to figure out what to do is to go into the IRC channel and ask.

But my questions are invariably completely ignored by the people in the channel. If there was silence when I entered, there will still be silence. If there is an ongoing conversation, it carries on unperturbed. I leave the channel open for a few hours, hoping that maybe someone will eventually engage me, but nothing happens.

So I worry that I'm being rude in some way I don't understand, or breaking some unspoken rule and being ignored for it. I try to make my questions polite, to the point, and grammatical, and try to indicate that I've tried the obvious solutions and why they didn't work. I understand that I'm obviously a complete stranger to the people on the channel, but I'm not sure how to fix this. Should I just lurk in the channel, saying nothing, for a week? That seems absurd too.

A typical message I send might be "Hello all - I've been trying to get Foo to work, but I keep on getting a BarException. I tried resetting the Quux, but this doesn't seem to do anything. Does anyone have a suggestion on what I could try?"

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closed as primarily opinion-based by MichaelT, jwenting, Bart van Ingen Schenau, amon, GlenH7 May 5 at 17:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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It depends on the channel. No two are alike... Best thing to do is to lurk for a while before posting - see how things are done and then join in in the expected manner. –  Oded Jun 28 '12 at 14:53
    
What exactly does this have to do with programming? –  Joel Etherton Jun 28 '12 at 15:17
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@JoelEtherton: Well, it's about the interpersonal side of software engineering. –  Zarkonnen Jun 28 '12 at 15:28
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@JoelEtherton it has to do with programmers –  nischayn22 Jun 28 '12 at 15:34
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To clarify: I'm not talking about "how do I use Project X". I'm talking about "how do I hack Project X". It's a question about the culture and etiquette of programmers and OSS projects. –  Zarkonnen Jun 28 '12 at 19:57

4 Answers 4

up vote 33 down vote accepted
  • Rule #1: Don't ask to ask
  • Rule #2: Behave as you would do in a real life conversation
  • Rule #3: Be patient. If there is no activity, it usually means that no one has read what you wrote yet. If no one responds, they don't know or didn't notice. You can re-try after a while, or ask if anyone has any clue with regards to your question x minutes ago.

Also, sometimes IRC is not the best way to get help. You could ask if there is a more active forum, like a mailing list, that you can try.

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Great answer, exactly to the point. –  zxcdw Jun 28 '12 at 15:04
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By "don't ask to ask", do you mean: "don't go 'can I ask you a question?'"? –  Zarkonnen Jun 28 '12 at 15:08
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@Zarkonnen exactly. "Don't ask to ask. Just ask". Don't ask people "Anybody around?" or let alone highlight others to ask if they are around. It's just easier to drop your question, hang around and wait. Ask again in a few hours or so. –  zxcdw Jun 28 '12 at 15:12
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I've also found that posting updates of your attempts to solve the problem can also be helpful. –  Spencer Rathbun Jun 28 '12 at 20:38
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Also, when it's about a specific part of code which is longer than ~5 lines, many IRC users regard it as rude if you don't use services like pastebin.com but paste them directly into the channel –  mcwise Jun 28 '12 at 20:55

If possible, break your question down to be as simple as possible. While learning to program I spent a lot of time asking questions in IRC. Sometimes my code just wouldn't work, and I didn't know why, so I'd put my 200 line program into a paste bin and ask why I was getting an error on line 78. Nobody would answer.

I found that in order to get answers I had isolate the problematic code. If I couldn't get my example to fit in 20 lines or less, it was hard to get a good answer. This often required a significant amount of work, but in the process I often solved my own problem before I had to ask in the IRC.

(This advice also applied to good SO questions.)

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Check the timezone of the main developers, if they're not awake when you IRC them, you'll hardly get any reply.

Some may appear online, but just left a bot or left the client open to check for some messages when they wake up/come back. If you don't log back on, when they're available, they will have no way of coming back to you, though.

Anyway, for usage directions, mailing lists or issue trackers work better.

IRC is more useful for developers working on the project: so they can sync and discuss each others' efforts in real time without accidentally starting a flamewar.

(Mistakes and misunderstandings on debatable topics — like "what to do next?" — are faster to spot and correct in realtime)

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Make sure you're in the right channel. If you're in a developers channel it's obviously not help-desk channel.

If I'm a developer I want to discuss development, not help randomuser #1040 who can't get really well documented feature x working.

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And if you contribute to a community-driven FOSS project, chances are feature X is very far from well-documented. –  K.Steff Jun 29 '12 at 0:47
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I guess I should refrain from using hyperboles. –  Pieter B Jun 29 '12 at 9:13
    
My point was just that most FOSS project suffer from insufficient manpower and focus on code, no nagging intended. –  K.Steff Jun 29 '12 at 10:03

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