Recently (as it does from time to time) the question of professionalism and good behavior in Fedora’s support channels has come up again. Personally I spend a lot of time helping out on irc in #fedora, so thats the channel I can most speak about, however, I am also somewhat active on the fedora users list and somewhat rarely look at fedoraforums.

First a bit of history: I was at Fudcon (version 10 in Boston, 2008). I had been involved with fedora for years at that point, but I hadn’t really ever spent a lot of time in #fedora or working with support channels. In the State of Fedora talk at the end of the day, Paul Frields noted that he had dropped into #fedora and had a very poor experence. People were cursing, being abusive and all around unhelpfull. So, this seemed to me a great chance to step up and help out there. I found that for the past many number of years, the channel had basically 2 active and very overworked operators, and a smaller group of helpers. So, we formed the irc-support-sig, got more operators setup, tried to setup guidelines and encourage people to help. ┬áThere are some great folks involved, spending a lot of their time and energy helping others now. I would personally say the channel is a great deal better now than it was in the past. Is it perfect? By no means.

I always feel bad when someone points out a bad interaction, even when I am not directly involved, but I fear there’s no way to eliminate such things entirely when you have a all volenteer group except by having enough helpers/community where such things are pushed back against. If we had 5 people being nice and understanding, the 1 who isn’t will stick out, be ignored and hopefully adjust their behavior. I think the same thing could be said in other support channels. If you post to a mailing list and get 1 rude reply, but 10 helpfull and understanding ones, you’re more likely to ignore the rude one and be welcomed by the others.

I also think we should make sure we as a communty are good at saying “Sorry about that”, since with a large diverse group I think it’s all but sure that someone will have problems with something you do or so no matter what. Lets all be quick to Appologize instead of arguing back and forth.

All of the Fedora support channels have their share of incidents. Last night someone came into #fedora who had been banned by fedorafoum (it would redirect them to microsoft.com when they tried to login. How is that professional?). We were able to get his printer working again and he went away happy. A while back someone got very upset when someone used the word “whinge” to them, and in the end I suggested the try another support forum. The users mailing list sometimes gets very off topic or downright rude posts. It’s all the inperfect world we live in.

What can we do to improve things? Several things leap to my mind:

  • More good voices. Spend some time helping out on the mailing list, forums, or in #fedora as your time permits. Read or watch a bit before diving in and see how that channel works.
  • Be quick to say “I’m sorry user X was a jerk, please ignore them and we will try and help you”.
  • If you are seeking help in any of Fedora support channels, try and make sure you have a specific question in mind. I would say 75% or more of the problem interactions come from over general or vuage questions, leaving it open to a flame fest.

Note that these are all positive things. I personally think they will do a bunch more good than “punish people” or “enforce a code of conduct”.

So, get out there and help today!