I have to wonder: is it a sign of good
writing when people interpret your words in multiple ways, or is it a sign of bad
I really don't know -- I think it can go either way, I suppose it depends on what your intent is. If you want to express a clear, concise thought or view point, and people come away with different opinions of just what you are writing, then perhaps in that case it is not very well done. But, if you just intend to throw some thoughts and ideas and observations out there for general consumption, and leave things relatively open to interpretation, then I suppose it is perfectly acceptable and to be expected that others will take what you've written and form their own conclusions.
Why do I bring this up? I've had many posts misinterpreted over the years, but none quite like my last one
. I generally don't feel the need to defend or clarify what I've written (though I've certainly had to do so in the past
), but sometimes it is worth spending a few moments just making sure that my points aren't grossly miscommunicated.
My previously mentioned post was certainly a broad one, left open to interpretation. It was more of a rambling of thoughts (how unusual for me!), but there was an underlying point that it seems many people missed. It also is funny because it is yet again one of those posts where the responses fall neatly into two categories: "you are 100% correct" and "you are 100% wrong".
First, let's do a quick recap of things I am not
- Helping people is a bad thing
- People should never ask for help
- Forums are bad
- Beginners are annoying and should not be asking questions in forums
- I personally don't like helping people out in forums
If you read my post and formed an opinion that somehow led you to believe that I "hate newbees" or that I dislike helping people on forums, maybe read it again.
Next, let's review what I did
- Forums are a great place, helping people is great, but responding to questions that you can literally cut and paste into a search engine and get an answer in the very first search result returned is not really the point of a forum -- it's for those who have already tried that approach, but could not find the answer on their own.
- Are we really helping people out by doing obvious, simple, basic searches for them? Will they ever learn on their own?
- Can a person ever be a successful programmer if they refuse to even try using Google? Isn't learning to find simple information on your own a very important prerequisite for success in this profession?
If any of that is not clear, or if somehow you feel any of that leads you to conclude that I am saying some of the things I just indicated I am not, let me now.
Finally, of course, there is the primary "revelation" that I had one day while helping someone who apparently knows how to locate a website that has a forum on SQL Server, sign up for an account, post a topic, and wait for responses, but somehow doesn't know how to use Google:
- Then again, perhaps these people who refuse to learn to search or use reference materials on their own are quite a bit smarter than me -- after all, they somehow have me convinced me to do much of their legwork!
An idea which I thought was a bit funny yet not entirely untrue, to be honest.
A few people brought up the "search engine optimization" argument, which goes like this: All these forum posts, which are eventually responded to with simple links, help to elevate that link in subsequent search engine results, thereby strengthening the indexing on that topic in general, so it really is helping people out by asking and responding to these questions. My response is: That is great -- but remember two things:
- These web pages are already at the very top of the search results, which is my entire premise. I guess strengthening that top spot is great, but if it is #1, it is #1 -- it can't go much higher than that.
- Strengthening search engines in general is great for me and you, but not for people who refuse to use them.
folks -- the one who never learn to find answers on their own -- that aren't helped at all in this scenario; they are simply enabled when perhaps what would be best is for them to be forced
to learn how to be self-sufficient.
I guess it all comes down to this: Helping people is good -- after all, that's pretty much why I write this blog. But helping people who refuse to learn to help themselves is not really helpful at all!
It is simply perpetuating a significant problem with many people in our industry: those that only ever learn to cut and paste, and never learn to think on their own.