"How to be helpful online"

I saw this posted on HN and thought I’d share it here too:

Interesting thoughts about how to be a helpful helper if you’re helping online, which I’ve tried to apply below in the context of a Linux forum:

  • Answer the question first - avoid jumping to a unrelated topic (not to be confused/conflated with answering the Y in an XY Problem, which is generally counter-productive);
  • No third rails - try not to rant about something unrelated, e.g. “-Syy is bad!” in a question about a broken local database;
  • No dogpiling - if someone is helping then let them help, don’t jump in with everyone else and confuse the issue;
  • Meet their level - you don’t need to aim for a perfect solution, just what they need;
  • Say yes - avoid telling people bluntly they are plainly wrong, give them the correct answer instead;
  • Step back - if you have had enough then step away and let someone else take over;
  • Take some blame - Similar to “life is a two-way street”, communication issues are a two-way problem so be prepared to be wrong sometimes;
  • Use more words - short answers may be efficient but can also be viewed as blunt or uncaring;
  • Understand your motivations - why are you helping? Is it to help, is it to educate, is it to get a badge, is it to show off, is it to prove someone wrong? If it’s not altruistic then it’s not helpful.
  • Humility - be aware that everyone is learning - including you - so you’re allowed to make mistakes;
  • Make connections - giving an answer is secondary to building a connection with people (communities like this do this already :wink:);
  • It’s hard - helping everyone isn’t possible, so sometimes you just have to shrug and move on.

“Well, yes, it is 4.”

Other than that, great advice. :+1:


:scream: But i use Arch btw!!! How the hell can i be wrong? :no_mouth: :no_mouth:

“Very well dear sir…May i suggest, with my deepest respect and different cultural background, that it is very well observed and scientifically proven phenomenon in mathematics and programming: 2+2=4? :blush:
:upside_down_face: :nerd_face:


I’ll settle for being 99.99% right. I use EndeavourOS, BTW. :wink:


Use moar words:



That kind of proves the point. :rofl:


This kind of say’s it all! I would also say you don’t always have to post something because you don’t agree with what someone thinks. Sometimes it’s just better to agree to disagree without even posting. That’s also Humility because we aren’t always right just because we think we are. Maybe we are… maybe were not? Is it better to always be right? I think there’s more to life …

@jonathon I appreciate you posting this!


Similarly, I get the feeling that many worry that we are being elitist here on this forum. Absolute nonsense, just like Stack Overflow being “non inclusive”.

Welcome to the forum. You’ll fit right in! :slight_smile:

Personally, I think RTFM is like medicine, in appropriate doses, it is healthy; in excess, toxic.


So that’s what RTFM means . Thanks :innocent: :joy:


I very much agree with that! :+1:

Well…On Linux you actually have a lot of nice places: EndeavourOS, ex-Manjaro, Linux Mint to some degree :slight_smile:

There are places in internet much worse than Arch forum btw :laughing:

For example forums for art of experimental compression algorithms for random data (mostly russian, since a lot of them are really top-notch at making those), you know, the ones for :pirate_flag: games repacks where you can compress / decompress crc-faithful game from 90 to 28 Gb if lucky, which seems like black magic.

On those forums even if you think about thinking to ask some normal (let alone stupid) question without knowing history, code and how to use all tools in the Universe (and there is almost 0 manuals of course) - you’ll get PM with:
“Get the f***k out of here! It’s not school!” and get permanent ban :rofl:

Internet is fascinating place.


In the Arch forums, you better know the answer to the question you are posting or hell fire will come down on you, which makes asking irrelevant in the first place.
I’m not a member in too many forums, but Arch is the scariest one of all.


The few times I asked a question on the Arch forum, I always got help. I just made sure to look on the Arch wiki first, before asking, because if you don’t do that, they get quite upset. They are really not hostile there, they just have a set of behaviours that they get annoyed by, like triggers thar cause them to act unfriendly. But if you avoid acting like that, they’ll be happy to help.

I would not recommend a complete newbie to Linux to ask questions there, as a newbie probably can’t tell which question is a good one, and which is a stupid one.


Arch is a package distribution center and a guide to put the packages together to something useful - like a working computer system.

Just like the previously mentioned experimenting compression algorithm fora - when you communicate you are expected to know the topic - be it experimental compression or simply installing the correct packages for an operating system.

With this perspective Arch BBS is not a bad place - they expect you to know how to put a system together - if you do know they will help you - but as @keybreak stated - you gotta love that phrase - ‘this is not a school’.

The various Arch based fora - is based on the common understanding - we are leveling here - we are not teachers - though we will accept stupid questions and tell the user the question is not stupid - while we in fact - are rolling eyes and sighing - not again - did you search before asking?

Can you imagine the same core user base - getting the same question again, again and again and then a 100 - a 1000 times - even when the answer is readily available - they go bling - bananas - black - raging - you name it …


In my experience from seeing other people get dressed down, it didn’t seem friendly. You can’t compare this forum for example. I’ve never asked a question there, I’m too scared.
I do love their wiki though.

Also, as an example, you know a lot more about Arch systems than I do, so it would be easier for you to interact there. But for less knowledgeable people like me, it’s almost impossible, at least for now.


They might seem unfriendly sometimes - but it’s happened soooooo many times that users of some other distros have come there to get help and they’ve grown tired of it.
They just expect users to have a certain level of knowledge.

Simply put - installing Arch the recommended way is the fee you pay for any future assistance.

The few times I’ve posted questions there I’ve always got help and never been disrespected in any way.

Be polite - don’t be demanding - formulate a good question - show you’ve tried on your own first
These are basically the ground rules (which IMHO isn’t too much to ask)


I both get what you’re saying and still strongly disagree with it - coz regardless of (very valid) reasons (of aiming to be effective) - it’s still elitism.
There are countless ways to make it better - this forum being the one :slight_smile:

Also learning resources for Arch are great in terms of huge amount and diversity of available information, but it got problem of not being accessible for the most part, and in my opinion it’s UI / UX problem rather than info itself, i’ve raised similar question before on Manjaro as you may remember - that’s big miss in my opinion…

Besides, on Linux anyway you have a lot of choice of where to learn starting from 900 years old UNIX manuals to man pages :joy: , unlike experimental compression algorithm fora - where you have below absolute zero chance of learning it anywhere except those damn forums :laughing:

With all that being said - i admire hard work of Arch maintainers / testers / userbase, it’s just not place to be for almost anyone, unless you really know what you’re doing or how to properly ask if you don’t.

But there are some more complex situations arise than that binary one…

I’m using 99,99% Arch, btw :sunglasses:


They have a habit of being short on patience. The discord isn’t much better - I get it, they expect some level of due diligence as they also expect (perhaps assume) that users of Arch should be well versed in the ways of Linux.

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The view is that if you install Arch the Arch way then you should know how your system is put together, what is installed, and how it is configured.

There’s an implied “social contract” that e.g. you know what you’re using to configure your network, get an IP address, which graphics driver you installed and how, etc. etc.

That “social contract” gets broken by people who ask for help but then e.g. answer questions about their configuration with “I don’t know” - they should know, as they installed and configured it themselves.

The installation guide is on the wiki, you already have to use the wiki extensively to set up partitions, boot loader, etc., so there’s no excuse for not knowing where to look for information.

However, automated installers (EnOS included) abstract this knowledge away, so users don’t know how their system is configured or what software is installed. This is why distros like EnOS aren’t “vanilla Arch”, and why Arch support channels don’t support other distros.

EnOS has a perfectly good forum and chat channel, though, so no loss there. :wink:


I see the point they have about the ‘level’ of question they ‘allow’ - and the reluctance to help users of derivative distros. However - their knee-jerk reactions (and attacks) when they THINK they have found a non-Arch install are a bit much - especially when they are wrong! Yes - I speak from being on the receiving end - when I had a legit question about an actual Arch way install. I asked with supporting logs, detailed the steps I had taken, showed the parameters of occurrence, included logs… and was dumped on for having added a repo that wasn’t from Arch! If they though that was the problem - the I would just remove the repo (turned out not to be necessary or all that useful!) - but it turned into an attack on my veracity - deletion of the thread - and no answers.

Seems to me that just refusing to help would be a little more reasonable :grin: - even though I am sure they just do these things “pour encourager les autres”, they should be sure that they actually have a ‘\violator’ in their sights when they go off like that!


pfft…REAL Arch user can see you’ve installed your Arch just 99,99% :rofl:
It’s just…feeling, you know? :face_with_monocle: