An open letter to unsatisfied users on the newsgroups

Look, I know you are trying to use technology you don't quite understand, and you want someone to flip a magic switch and make it just work… so you don't actually have to read the documentation, perform an excruciatingly painful Google search, or basically learn anything at all about it.  But it just doesn't always work that way.

MVPs, like me, and plenty of other generous people, genuinely try to help.  Most of the time our help is useful, and most of those times, our help is appreciated.  But we're not gods; we can't read minds; and we don't have super powers to fix your issue from our chairs.  So, if an MVP (or anyone, for that matter!) can't snap his or her fingers and resolve your issue immediately, sit back and think about a few things before you start barraging them with nasty-grams.  You're getting FREE help from knowledgeable but UNPAID volunteers.  Try to work with us, answering our follow-up questions (without the smart-ass) so we can help you solve YOUR problem.  The more you make it a chore for us to get to the bottom of your issue, the less likely it is that we'll ultimately be able to help. You might want to look at this thread on (thanks Jack for pointing it out).

When I come across ungrateful and insulting jerks like "az" in this thread, it makes me want to take long breaks from trying to help ANYONE in the newsgroups.  If you're going to verbally abuse someone who tried to help but couldn't (whether it's because in your mind they're an idiot, or maybe you haven't yet realized that it's because you actually didn't describe the problem well enough, didn't answer all of the questions posed to you, or didn't follow the advice you were given), what do you think is going to happen next?  Think about it.  Do you really believe that person (and the people who read your scathing and unnecessary remarks) are going to rush to your aid the next time you start crying because your sky is falling again?  Several days ago a fellow MVP expressed his disdain for the sad state of newsgroups and forums these days.  You really should read his post, and equally as important, the comments where several of us weighed in.  Hey, I'm not perfect, and I'm no saint.  But I don't spit in the face of people who are honestly trying to help me with my own problems.  Nor do I shit in their shoes when they're not looking.

If other MVPs have thicker skin than me, and can stick with a thread in that state, then wow – congrats to you; your plan to turn people away from helping you back-fired.  How ironic.  (Except in this case, I was the only person in the world attempting to offer my assistance.)  I just don't have the patience to put up with that; I can find plenty of other ways to burn energy in my free time than getting attacked by someone who questions whether "your a MVP" and thinks I should hang out in the "LetMeWaste[r]YourTime" forum.  Maybe I'll do exactly that, and maybe you won't miss me.

I remain,
Aaron Bertrand

Aaron Bertrand

I am a passionate technologist with industry experience dating back to Classic ASP and SQL Server 6.5. I am a long-time Microsoft MVP, write at Simple Talk, SQLPerformance, and MSSQLTips, and have had the honor of speaking at more conferences than I can remember. In non-tech life, I am a father of two, a huge hockey and football fan, and my pronouns are he/him. If I've helped you out, consider thanking me with a coffee. :-)

28 Responses

  1. Jose Mariano Alvarez says:

    The people are very ungrateful. In the Spanish forums the same thing happening.
    Jose Mariano Alvarez (MVP)

  2. Paul Randal says:

    Hey Aaron – I couldn't agree with you more. I never touch the newsgroups any more and only do forums – and the data corruption/disaster recovery forums at that – because of the question quality, lack of response, and annoying retorts to my responses. What irritates me the most though is when the OP doesn't believe what I'm telling them – for instance, even though I have "author of DBCC CHECKDB" in my forum .sig, I get people questioning my interpretation of corruption errors and asking if anyone else can provide a more palatable (to them) explanation of the problem, or the "Are you sure? This blog post over here by <random clueless person> says you're wrong" That always turns me off for a week or so. Sigh. However, every so often someone is *really* grateful and that makes the altruistic time-sacrifice worthwhile again.

  3. Duncan says:

    At "*/*/;, aaronbertrand said, "I was able to resolve the problem using Window / Reset Window Layout thanks to a tip from Steve Kass.".
    Stop complaining, you're already my hero for the day.  πŸ™‚

  4. ALZDBA says:

    Respect Aaron !
    It's a petty many of us experience this cultural shift.
    Indeed, it is a slap in the face and may realy make you reconsider if you should still spend your time to help out others.
    Sit back, swallow, breathe, have cup of your favourite beverage and try to recall all the moments that got you to spending that much time helping out.
    You first paragraph of this article should be promoted as a sticky banner on all forums !

  5. AaronBertrand says:

    Phil, your sentiments are exactly why I am scaling back my newsgroup participation considerably.  No matter how hard I try to help people, there is always the ungrateful person who chooses to be super-sensitive when I get tired of asking for more information 12 times.  These people are coming to us for help and are so disrespectful sometimes it literally makes my stomach sick.  If they can't cut some slack to the unpaid volunteers trying to help THEM solve THEIR problem, then maybe they should hire a consultant who gets paid to take their crap.  πŸ™

  6. Phil Factor says:

    Any human interaction requires concessions on both sides if it is to work. Maybe I'm showing my age, but I wince when I see anyone refer to a real identifiable person as a 'dick', 'smart-ass' or a 'jerk', in a blog however wronged you feel. I can't help feeling that it was just a dialog that got out of hand through misunderstanding. I've read the original post carefully, and can see that it could be that the conversation started going downhill from your first reply. We are dealing with a multilingual, multicultural, membership with most forums and it is very easy to intentionally cause offense to someone who is under stress. I've done it many times myself whilst trying to help in forums, sadly; and felt just as indignant about it for a while.
    With best wishes

  7. David Markle says:

    That's why I have switched over to instead of the newsgroups.  It's nice to have the community downvote lame questions that have no good background.  It's also nice to know that you're appreciated, and IMO stackoverflow does a good job at doing that.  It's also really cool to be able to search out good questions and read what the answers are — something that's pretty tough in newsgroup-land.

  8. AaronBertrand says:

    Sorry Karl, but the "yes of course, as previously mentioned" came off as an escalation to me.  Never mind that he clearly didn't try half of the suggestions I made nor did he make an effort to answer any of the questions that probably would have yielded a solution before he went over the edge.  The moral of the story is pretty simple: if you want help, don't be a dick.

  9. KarlL says:

    I don't want to start anything here Aaron, and I personally do appreciate all the work you do for the community, however…  az's snarky "WasteYourTime" comment didn't exactly come out of left field.
    You pretty much upped the argumentative ante when you bluntly challenged him to show you exactly where in an earlier post he said he had tried the named instance.  THAT was the point that caused the discussion to go downhill.
    To me it seemed that up to that point he was relatively calm and appreciative (though not very thorough), and your frustration cause *you* to escalate the hostile tone – to which he responded in spades.
    The state of the forums are indeed sad, and hostility reigns, but it's not always a one sided issue.  When people are frustrated and begging for help, attacking them and showing them up rarely nets much positive result.

  10. jamiet says:

    Seconded. Well said Aaron!

  11. James Luetkehoelter says:

    Mike C or Mike C# is Michael Coles, my hunch is he's messing with you…he taunted me mercilessly at PASS this year πŸ™‚ In a friendly way – unfortunately that doesn't translate in writing…

  12. Denis Gobo says:

    Jonathan, here is one of my favorite posts that he created
    If you go back to April of last year you will see similar code
    You have to love this
    if 'start_date' is BIG than 'next_shift_date' IN one month than DATE IS '12/01/2008'

  13. Jonathan Kehayias says:

    Connectivity issues can be difficult and complex to try and troubleshoot in person let alone over using a medium like the forums and/or newsgroups where people tend to skim your request for information and provide back only what they deem to be important.  
    My personal feeling on things is that the generations after ours have a complete lack of decency overall.  You don't see how old people are, and there certainly are jerks in our generation, but people younger than I am seem to think the world owes them something for nothing.  I see it every month with the attitudes of new soldiers coming into the Army Reserves.  
    In the MSDN Forums, there are a few characters that have built their applications completely by using the forums over the last year.  It's funny to read their posts now, because they have began to post links to past posts where a recommendation with code sample was made for how to do something, and now it's not working inside the rest of the hacked up code they have pulled from the forums.  Instead of learning the concepts needed to code their app, they just took the code and used it.  Kind of like this post:
    It's my fault that you don't do the math to figure out a 2 billion row numbers table is a bad idea?  I'm sorry, let me go back and make a big bold note in the text to warn people like you who aren't able to read and understand "number 1 to the maximum value
    of an integer 2,147,483,647" means it will be a big table.

  14. K. Brian Kelley says:

    I try to remain civil as I know a lot of times folks are frustrated because stuff isn't working and it's on them to get it solved. In some cases they are in positions where they aren't receiving proper training and they're just trying to get the job done. But the thread you posted from the newsgroup really crosses the line. When someone responds like that, there is no point in helping that person. They'll just get the message that being abuse works. So I just drop the thread.

  15. AaronBertrand says:

    Ooh I like it.  Too bad Microsoft has no interest in NNTP or I would post a suggestion for adding support for that feature on connect.  πŸ™‚

  16. Denis Gobo says:

    You know, some forums have a Bozo functionality built in, what this does is that only the bozo user sees his own threads and no one else…after a while he leaves the forum because no one seems to answer his question  :-0

  17. AaronBertrand says:

    Alex, yes, just in the past few days I have had the pleasure of interacting with Mike C# (he now goes by Michael C).  In this engagement he declared that SQL Server wouldn't let you declare a variable in a table-valued function.  When I proved him wrong with four lines of sample code that he hadn't bothered trying for himself, he said something like, "well, I can't use that in a view now, can I???"  I proved him wrong again (obviously he didn't try that assumption either) but haven't heard anything more about it.
    As an aside, I always confuse him with Michael Coles, but that obviously can't be true.

  18. AGiotti says:

    Hello Mr. Bertrand,
    Your posts and forum responses are extremely useful, I have saved everyone of them. Please do not be discouraged by the idiots out there. Keep up the great work!!!!
    P.S. Your questions which were presented to az where valid, to the point, and would help anyone trying to solve a connectivity issue.

  19. Mladen says:

    we have a thread about this too on forums.
    it's titled "Twit list".
    go take a look, there's some pretty funny stuff in there. :))
    and yes i feel your pain πŸ™‚

  20. AaronBertrand says:

    James, I totally agree.  I was just talking MVPs specifically because that is how many are measured.  The guy asked, "and your a MVP?"  Like being an MVP automatically meant that the first and only thing out of my mouth should be a flawless solution to the problem he hasn't described well enough.

  21. AaronBertrand says:

    Adam, I asked: "And under SQL Server Services, what are all the services that are listed, and what is their current state?" and also explicitly: "Is the SQL Server Browser service running?"  These are the questions he either didn't read or didn't feel were important enough to answer.  <shrug>

  22. Jack Corbett says:

    Seems like this is happening more often lately.  On SSC there is an open thread about it.  You've just need to focus on the people that "get it" and not let the ingrates get to you.
    You do too much good to not continue.

  23. cinahcaM madA says:

    I think he needs to turn on the SQL Browser service.  But I'll let you relay that message πŸ˜‰

  24. James Luetkehoelter says:

    Wow Aaron, that post is inexusable (from the poster, not you πŸ™‚ ). What has happened when we can't treat each other with a modicum of civility. Aaron, you're exactly right – how to people expect someone to know the answer to a relatively vague question without having the person answering it truly know their environment. That's one reason I usually avoid newsgroups (I'm selective about what I answer). Too many want a nice pithy answer, and I'm sorry, in the technology world that doesn't exist.
    I'm sorry you got treated that way.
    Another thing for posters to keep in mind – there are many very bright people out there that are NOT MVPs. Be open in your acceptance of advice. An MVP, or MS employee, or other colleague won't have all the answers – how could they? Personally I'd love to see newsgroups altogether abolished – they are too often used as a lazy approach to researching a problem (come on, Google people), and then if there is no response there is nothing but hostility.
    Sorry Aaron, no one should be talked to that way – ever, in any situation. What has our civilization come to….

  25. AaronBertrand says:

    Blacklist doesn't work too well (they I do have a *PLONK* file of about 15 ingrates).  When they realize they're being ignored, they can easily just change their name / e-mail address, and then for about 5 minutes they appear as if they aren't the same jerk who is being ignored.  And most of the people I'm talking about (because it's very easy to check) come from the web forums, so they all appear pretty much anonymous.

  26. Denis Gobo says:

    Time to start a blacklist?
    I have one user in my little book who starts with a question and then the end results is something completely different, he start asking to build a mouse but in the end he wants an elephant. He is like in the commercials..but wait there is more….but wait there is more…. but wait there is more….with every answer he would twist the original question around…scope creep galore. He also like to use some crazy formatting with highlighted sections BIG Fonts etc etc
    of course after an hour he would post something like "doesn't anyone know something simple like this"  
    sigh, the sad thing is that after 1 year he still asks the same kind of questions
    So now when I see his name, I just ignore the thread