Newsgroups for N00bs
Okay, maybe not just for newbies, but also for people that just don’t use them frequently… The below tips are just some advice from me to you that will make your newsgroup experience nicer and much more productive.
(I’m writing these guidelines with the assumption that you’re going to be in a quasi-professional newsgroup or forum such as Autodesk Discussion Groups, AUGI or similar.)
Use a free email account (yahoo or hotmail) on groups where your contact information might be shown. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure against a stalker or flamer, but this is also a good precaution for switching employers (one less place you’ll have to update your contact information).
Try for an appropriate user name, if you’re given a choice. Show your individuality, but do it conservatively.
Men: nothing in your name should reference the perceived strength of your libido… Yuck!
Women: obviously casual names are fine, but if you want to be taken slightly more seriously try to avoid anything too cutesy.
For signature lines, this is a place to show your affiliations and a little personality. Some people put a link to their blog and a funny quote. Try to avoid politically offensive statements, or things that are sexually suggestive. The same goes for avatars, if a site allows them.
Know the rules
Some rules are stated, some are implied… get to know the ones that are stated right off the bat, you’ll slowly pick up on implied rules as you go along.
One of the things that will cause reader irritation, a flame war, etc. faster than anything is advertising!
Do not reply to a question with ‘I can help you, contact me!’ as most of these forums prohibit advertisements.
Yes, networking is a great benefit of newsgroups. Provide good content and users will contact you if they need additional help that they’re willing to pay for.
However, do keep in mind that these are peer to peer support groups, and most people aren’t looking to pay someone to do their job, they just want to know how to do it better themselves.
This may go without saying (basic code of ethics here), but, don’t pose as ‘just another user’ and act like you’re a satisfied customer of your company or product… chances are the others on the website will see right through you and lose all respect for your company. Don’t risk your entire reputation for a little free advertising.
Politics and religion are a no-no. Basically keep this in mind… a statement that is negative about any group (gender, ethnic, religious, political, etc) is a bad idea, don’t post it.
Anything posed as inflammatory is generally prohibited.
(A personal example: on one site, someone made a negative generalization about female programmers… as a result, I flamed the gentleman who made the comment. Said gentleman then went to another forum that I post to, and repeated the comment in an attempt to antagonize me. Of course, as it was blatantly discriminatory, someone deleted it before I had a chance to reply... and that was probably a good thing for me.)
So, really, avoid chasing up people trying to get them riled up, and try to ignore people who are obviously trying to do that to you.
Make a clear subject line (thread title). AUGI has a feature that finds similar threads based on keywords in the subject of the thread, and Autodesk discussion groups have a lot of posts to read through, so titles like ‘Help!’ or ‘it’s broken!’ aren’t a good idea if you want people to pop into a thread and provide an answer.
Post a question only once on a website. This keeps the answers nice and organized and the information all in one place if you’re asked to clarify something.
Don’t be demanding. These are peer to peer support groups. Other professionals pop up to these sites during their breaks or spare time to try to help another user out. If a thread’s been dead a week with no answer, go ahead and bump it back up… but, don’t come back an hour later making demands as to why it hasn’t been answered. No one answering questions is getting paid to do it, so don’t complain or you’ll be branded an ingrate, and that will likely affect the answers you’ll get in the future.
Ask your question on the site by posting, don’t just pick someone and contact him or her in private expecting an answer. That’s not the way forums are intended to work. Chances are, you won’t pick the most qualified person this way anyhow. ;)
Add details that might be relevant. Such as your product and version, any installed add-ons, your operating system (and service packs), whether you’re pulling drawings from your hard drive or a network. Step by step instructions on how to reproduce your problem will get faster results than ‘my drawing doesn’t work anymore, how do I fix it?’ It might also be helpful to post a screenshot so other users can visualize complex problems more easily.
Don’t post in all CAPS… THAT’S CONSIDERED YELLING.
Take care with your words. Some people are bothered by grammar and spelling mistakes. Personally, they don’t bother me in a casual environment such as a peer to peer forum. But, I do find myself feeling really irritated when I see misused or misunderstood statements… such as declaring a mute point or asking for imput (for those that don’t see what I’m saying… that’s supposed to be moot point and input).
(This is akin to the irritation when I get a drawing and someone has included the name of a different health system. I can understand that someone would confuse two hospitals, and I can understand that someone would confuse two similar words, but I do tend to take that contractor less seriously because of a small careless mistake.)
Conversely, while a polite correction isn’t unrealistic, please refrain from hostile flaming of users over a simple spelling mistake.
Post your solution. Sometimes you’ll get a few suggestions on how to fix a particular problem. Help out the community by posting back, which one worked for you! Or, if you found an answer elsewhere, go back to your question and post your solution; guaranteed, someone will do a search and come across it later and be really grateful!
FWIW an FYI: geeks love acronyms… NTTAWWT. Don’t want to keep asking what people mean? IMHO, you need to just keep the link to Acronym Finder handy - http://www.acronymfinder.com/
Newsgroups are a Good Thing!
I am the only full-time CAD person in my company, and we all know that things break. Out of necessity, I discovered professional design newsgroups within six months of starting my career, and have been grateful ever since. Sometimes you get the answer you need, sometimes you just get a workaround, other times you get exactly what you required in a fantabulous AHA! moment.
I can assure you that the good outweighs the bad when you adhere to the rules and guidelines.
These tips are just a place to get started, after a while, you can feel more confident to let the atmosphere of the CAD forum that you choose guide you.
Edit: Here is a nice succinct list of things to keep in mind... http://blogs.squidoo.com/squidblog/?p=276
Here is a non-CAD-specific, but, humorous video about proper forum etiquette. Enjoy.