As part of the Lotus Community Forum, Kathy and I had the chance to present on a webcast on the topic we titled “The Lost Art of Forum Etiquette.” In it, we covered some of the tips and tricks that will either make your discussion forum visits much more productive, or get you ostracized if you insist on not playing nice with others. I’m sure you’ve run into both types out there, or even *been* both types at different times.
The basic content came from a document I wrote a number of years ago that became a de facto “etiquette FAQ” in one of the original Lotus forums. I’m still not sure how I got pegged as the “Ms. Manners” of forum behavior, but such is life. Revisiting this content for the webcast, I found that a number of the points stood up well over the test of time.
01. Before you ask, SEARCH!!!
This is one of the single most important things you can do. In most cases, someone has had the same problem you've had before. There's a fair chance that you'll find your answer without having to post and wait if you do a search first. There *is* a chance you'll do a search and not hit the right key words. Someone will probably be kind enough to point you to a prior posting. But posting "How Do I Do Sequential Numbering?" is a dead giveaway that you haven't looked first...
02. Make your topic descriptive as well as short.
Simply posting "Help me!" or "URGENT!!! NEED IMMEDIATE HELP!!!" will not get as many responses as a post titled "Mail-in Agent Not Running On Receipt". Everyone's time is valuable, and many people scan the topic titles to see if there's anything of interest. A generic posting title will be largely ignored. Also, it makes it harder to find your posting during a search. If someone is searching for help, seeing "Help me!" in the title line doesn't give them much information to go on.
03. Why is your question more URGENT!!! than anyone else's?
While it might be tempting to label your post as URGENT!!!, it really doesn't accomplish much (except to annoy others). Everyone who has a problem would like a quick resolution to it. Don't expect people to fall all over themselves to help you just because you are having a crisis. Remember, almost all of your fellow Notes professionals in the discussion forum do not work for Lotus, and are not being paid on how quickly they offer support to you.
04. If there's no answers, they don't know!
If you post a question and no one responds, you shouldn't take it personally. And you really shouldn't submit another post stating "See My Previous Post". If someone knows, they'll contribute. If they don't, they won't. There are some really valuable minds in the forum, but they don't have the answers to all the problems.
05. Be specific with your question and what kind of a solution you're after...
Posting "My agent doesn't work... Please help" is worthless. Don't simply say something doesn't work. What doesn't work? What did you try? What did you expect to happen, and what happened instead? Did you get an error? If so, what was it? If it's related to an agent or Script or formula, post a sample with the offending line(s) pointed out. Also, don't play "gotcha" with those trying to help. For example, if you want a formula-only solution, say so. Don't wait for someone to post a sample Lotusscript coding solution and then say you wanted a formula; and vice-versa. If your problem is Web-based or Notes client-based, say so. Don't wait for someone to spend time offering a Notes client-based solution, and then say "Oh, I need a Web solution".
06. If you have a LotusScript error, please use the LotusScript debugger...
This tool will help you figure out what line the error occurs on. To turn on the Debugger, go to File, Tools, Debug LotusScript. See Help for usage. When posting your code, identify the line in error. Please do not post your code and expect someone to do this for you. If the error is 'Object variable not set', that usually means exactly what it says. The object, the prefix for your field/method/property, e.g.,'doc' as in doc.ABC, does not have a value. It was not Set. If the error does not show up in the Debug process, please state that.
07. Post a followup with your results (or at least acknowledge the help)!
If you take the time to post a question and someone takes the time to post a possible solution, *please* be kind enough to acknowledge the help *and* post a followup to tell whether it worked or not. Many people use the forum as a reference point, and it's very frustrating to find possible solutions with no hint as to what worked or not. It's just basic courtesy... Even if you've figured out the answer for yourself, please post the result as there are many who could benefit from your experience. Please don't think in terms of "Boy, was I stupid in not seeing that". Nobody is going to judge you and everyone will benefit.
08. In most cases, don't post to a specific person.
The benefit of the forum is that it's a "group" forum. Even though it's tempting to try to get some of the "regulars" to answer by asking them specifically, don't! If they're hanging out (and they always do), they'll answer anyway. In addition, many others who may have an answer *won’t* post due to the directed nature of the question. You may miss out on some really good solutions by not including everyone.
09. Continue the thread whenever possible.
If you have a followup issue within a couple of days of an original post, try to keep it with the original. If someone is trying to help, they won't want to search through days of other posts to find the original discussion. Keeping everything in a single thread makes it easier for others to help. It also makes it easier for others in the future doing searches on the same issues. If you *absolutely* feel you must continue the same topic in a new thread, at least try to post a link to the original posting so that someone coming in later can understand the context and the continuity of the discussion.
10. Don't duplicate your postings.
Posting the same question two or three times in a row will not lead to a faster response. It just clutters up the forum, splits any potential responses between two (or more) threads, and frankly irritates everyone. Also when posting, if the browser displays the error message "The server connection was reset...", refresh the browser page. Your post was probably successful.
11. Remember, you're global now...
Keep in mind that the forum isn't restricted by national borders. English isn't the main language of everyone, so be considerate if someone's English isn't the best. Also, keep in mind that humor and irony doesn't always translate well to email, and it *really* doesn't translate well in a multi-cultural setting. Use it sparingly, if at all.
12. Need to talk with someone? Ask if *you* can contact *them*...
There are times when a problem really needs to be discussed "in person" rather than "by posting". If you reach that point, respond by asking if you can contact the other person, and put your email address in your post. If that's something they don't mind doing, they'll contact you via email, and you can proceed from there. Do not ask the person to call you long distance or assume they will want to continue the discussion via email. It's rude to think that someone will want to pay for the privilege of helping you, or will want you to be able to contact them with additional questions (even if you don’t plan to at this point in time.)
13. Stealing is encouraged, but acknowledge that you're doing so...
Many developers and administrators feel that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery, and it saves you a ton of time in the process. Some of us refer to that as R&D… “Rob and Duplicate.” Feel free to use, reuse, or repost code snippets you find in the forum, but try to acknowledge the original author if at all possible. This goes for whether you repost the code as an answer to a post, or if you steal the code for one of your own applications. It gives the original author a warm fuzzy feeling to see that they are appreciated and that someone else benefitted from their mistakes.
14. Everything you should do here you learned in kindergarten...
Here are some miscellaneous items that are important to remember in order to get along well with others...
- Simple replies may be acknowledged with a Subject line without any corresponding body text. When doing so, include "" in the subject (i.e. "End Of Message"). This saves people clicking on the subject and then waiting to find that there is no further info.
- Guesses and suggestions should labeled as such...
- Avoid arguing unless you have a useful point to make. Avoid any objectionable language or ideas. Do not write anything that could not politely be said face to face.
- Be brief without being too terse. Be descriptive without overwhelming us with too much. Include code examples in your initial post whenever people may need it to answer.
- Stick to the topic of the forum (i.e. "Lotus Notes/Domino").