New users have a lot of potential. They are potential developers, potential advocates, potential documentation writers, potential artwork contributors, potential testers, and potential support providers. We want to harness that potential. We can’t harness it if they get scared off two days into their Linux transition!
If we want our community to grow, we need to embrace and encourage everyone who joins it. If we want our developer community to grow, we need to recognize that the person asking today “how do I get my mp3 player working?” may in a year be contributing patches. Those were a year apart for me. But that becomes less likely to happen if you answer “RTFM n00b!” when they ask that question. They’re likely to think “you know what? These Linux people are jerks. Screw them. I’m going back to Windows. At least I know how to use it.” Is that what you want? Alright, fine, I know there are some of you out there who think they should do just that. Keep Linux all for you elitists who think you know more than everyone and are the only ones with the right to use it. Well that’s bull. Free Software is for everyone. Your attitude is just as restrictive as a proprietary license because it prevents people from using the software the GPL has made free for them.
You all know Bethlynn, who started this blog? Linux sysadmin for over 10 years. She was told in #fedora to “go back to Ubuntu” because Fedora 11 would be too hard for her. Yeah, right. That’s the thing to tell someone you think is a new user: go away, you’re not good enough. And then they wonder why she was offended. Please, does it really require explanation? And yesterday I saw folks in #suse taunting a new user for using the pidgin-facebookchat plugin, saying they must have no real friends if they uses Facebook, then calling them a child for using /ignore. What? This is not how you retain new users! When called out on being jerks, they only said “I am *so* sorry for showing everyone that Internet is not the lovey-dovey place you had hoped for (because it is not, period).” What’s wrong with wanting people in a support channel to be, well, supportive?
I honestly think anyone that can use Ubuntu can use Fedora or OpenSUSE just as easily. So then, why does Ubuntu’s community grow so much faster? I’m starting to think it has to do with the Ubuntu Code of Conduct. The way that user was treated would not be tolerated in #ubuntu, #kubuntu, or any other channels governed by Ubuntu’s IRC Council (except maybe #ubuntu-offtopic, in which case it’d be friendly jests, not taunting someone asking for support). We try to be welcoming to everyone regardless of experience level. For some reason, other communities seem to fight tooth and nail against instituting a Code of Conduct. Why? Some claim it’d be censorship. To that, I’d like to quote Jordi Gutiérrez Hermoso:
It is an unfortunate situation that often people when they’re told, “hey, would you please be polite?” they respond with “NO, BECAUSE THAT INFRINGES UPON MY HUMAN RIGHT TO BE AN ASSHOLE!”
I assume the others arguing against a Code of Conduct see no problem with the current situation and are perfectly content to maintain the status quo. The status quo isn’t good enough, people. If you find that there are those in your community who would rather waste time being non-constructive jerks scaring away new users than use even less time giving an answer, call them on it and apologize to the newbie. Do we really want a reputation as a bunch of elitist jerks?
I was talking to Amber after the #suse incident. She’s had a run-in with #fedora before, getting an “RTFM” type response to a question. She told Karsten Wade from Fedora about it at OSCON, and he said Ubuntu has actually helped distros like Fedora because it gets people who would never have tried Linux otherwise up to speed and feeling confident enough to try other distros. Makes sense to me. Amber is also quick to point out that the Fedora Ambassadors are nothing like the people she and Bethlynn encountered on IRC. At both SELF and OSCON, the Fedora Ambassadors were helpful and encouraging. They were talking about how the communities need to work together and stop ridiculing each other and putting users down for their choice in distro.
We need some inter-community collaboration. Can we get everyone, regardless of distro or desktop environment, to agree that new users are a good thing and that we should be encouraging them? Can we get people to do that online, when it’s so much easier than in person to be a jerk without the pesky conscience getting in the way? It’s necessary in order to grow the greater Free Software user community.