Shallow Thoughts

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 16 Sep 2005

Rude Users Sometimes Beget Rude Developers

On the Linuxchix grrltalk list, someone was bothered by the tone of Eric Raymond's How to Ask Questions the Smart Way. And certainly, the tone is a bit brusque (like much of ESR's writing), though it's full of useful advice.

The discussion hinged around user demands such as "YOU SUCK! YOU MUST FIX THIS NOW!" This is obviously rude, and just as obviously has little chance of getting a positive reaction from developers.

The problem is that after twenty or so of these demands, even a polite user coming in to ask for a feature may be snapped at. I've seen developers get touchy after reading a slew of this sort of bug reports, and snap at someone who wasn't being particularly rude.

Really, a lot of users have no idea how many of these rude, demanding, "YOU SUCK -- FIX THIS IMMEDIATELY!" messages some developers get. Try "watching" a category or developer in bugzilla for some major project like Mozilla for a month to get an idea of the volume of email that streams in. It's easy to get ten or more of these in one day's morning mail before you've even finished your coffee. Lots of developers just stop reading their bug mail after a while. I hate that and think it's wrong, but I can understand why they do it.

Sometimes problems that twenty users comment on, even if they're real issues, are hard to fix, or the fix would conflict with some other important aspect of the program.

"Hard to fix" or "Hard to find a way to fix the bug without breaking another important feature" is not an adequate solution when you're developing software professionally. But when you're volunteering your own evenings, weekends and vacations to contribute to open source software, and some user who probably spent his evenings watching TV and last weekend skiing, who doesn't seem to have spent any time contributing to the project beyond filing a few bugs, shows up and demands that you drop the work you're currently interested in and instead devote the next eight weekends to fixing HIS feature ... well, after that happens a few times it's easy to get a little touchy. When it happens day after day, it's even easy to stop caring so much about user input in general, and to (incorrectly) lump all users, not just the rude ones, into this category.

I wish users, before making a request, would remind themselves that developers are spending their spare time on the project, instead of going skiing or watching TV or whatever -- and no, that's not because developers are troglodyte geeks who have no other hobbies. DO make suggestions, but remember when you do that you're probably not talking to someone who's paid to maintain the program forty hours a week. You're talking to someone who donated spare time to create a program that you now find usable enough to care about.

No, rudeness doesn't solve anything. Developers being rude doesn't improve this situation -- it won't make the users stop being rude, it won't help the polite users, it won't even make the developers feel better. But sometimes people get irritable when they're taken for granted. Developers are only human. Whatever users might think.

Tags:
[ 10:30 Sep 16, 2005    More tech | permalink to this entry ]