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Author's profile photo Michael Eacrett

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil and Write No Evil – To remove postings on SDN forums or not?


Write no Evil?

Background to the weblog: While attending the ASUG/Sapphire US 2006 event, I happened upon an interesting discussion at one of the SAP NetWeaver exhibit booths (or ‘pods’ as we call them at SAP – something out of invasion of the body snatchers don’t you think?) I was staffing. The discussion started out simply enough about implementing additional capabilities of SAP NetWeaver and the approach that the customer should take. The discussion wound its way to the part about staffing the project itself – this is where I was asked by the customer if it was worth hiring SAP NetWeaver certified consultants for the project. From SAP’s perspective, the answer is always ‘Yes’ to this question. Now this is where the conversation got more philosophical as the customer stated that while he liked the idea of a consultant having a certain quality level of knowledge. An observation from the customer was that the certification itself did not always ensure that the consultant was competent -“How could some consultants actually get certified when they obviously did not have the basic understanding of the product area they were meant to have specialized in?”. There are probably a large number of reasons you could argue why this could be, so I was pleased to see that this customer had rigorous interviewing techniques to reduce this risk of hiring a consultant who know less than his staff. Following this conversation, while talking to colleagues on the SDN pod (yes, we use alien technology to clone our SDN staff – it explains a lot!) about some of the challenges of moderating SDN forums, one of my colleagues mentioned that he was having some challenges in his area, specifically the BI related forums, with multiple postings of requests for certification questions and the responses. He said that he had started to remove some of the postings but had received feedback from some SDN posters that this was censorship and he should stop. As further background, the SDN community guidelines state “We reserve the right to remove any postings (although we have no duty to do so).” So this leads to the philosophical discussion?

Should SDN editors and moderators have the right to control content posted on SDN? Is this censorship?

Completely taking off my SAP Employee hat here, I personally have strong beliefs in the freedom of speech and against censorship in almost every form but unfortunately its not a black and white subject and needs intelligent discussion, agreement, and some enforceable rules. The subject of this weblog is not to talk about censorship vs. freedom of speech in the general context (there are numerous newsgroups on the web that cover this already) but the specific topic of whether SDN editors and moderators should remove content that they deem questionable or harmful. Of course this now leads down the whole rat-hole of what does “questionable” or “harmful” actually mean? So for this blog I want to limit the discussion to that of the certification questions postings (and answers!) on the forums in SDN. I think this is a relatively safe discussion for SDN and relevant to most people who use SDN without opening up a very very large can of worms. In addition I do not want to open the discussion in the specific merits of the actual certifications themselves as that is a weblog in itself and something someone else might want to post on! It is not an easy topic to get your hands around so I’ll pose a few questions to think about: • Is it ethical for people to post certification examination questions and answers on SDN forums? • Is this cheating or simple information sharing or are the posters cheaters or information sharers? • Do such postings diminish the certification test itself? • Would you feel comfortable hiring a consultant if you knew that they could have cheated on their certification tests? • Do you see the SAP NetWeaver certifications as valuable achievements that people should work hard for? • Should SAP change the certification test questions more frequently? • Should SDN forum moderators remove such postings on SDN? • Is there any difference between removing these posts and removing blatantly incorrect information from SDN? • Should fellow community forum posters self police the forums and add postings requesting the posters not do this? Would self policing work? • Does it make a difference if the moderators removing these posting are SAP employees or not? • Do inaction or removal actions by SDN forum moderators on these postings diminish the SDN community as a whole? • Or does the presence of such postings diminish the integrity of the community? image OR image You may or may not have made up your mind when thinking about these questions. This blogger’s opinion is that we should remove such postings and specifically prohibit such postings in the community guidelines – other communities do control content too (see below). I have not removed any postings as of yet but there are a multitude of them already in the forums. Obviously this does not holistically solve this problem as there are other non–SDN SAP forums on the web where these individuals could go to post but I believe it does improve the SDN community itself by reducing ‘unethical’ actions by individuals. In addition I believe that everyone benefits when we have highly ethical and trained/certified consultants and users to work with. If we do exercise content control, where is the tipping point if we start adding more content restrictions to an open community? Even Google, whose corporate philosophy is “Do No Evil” has wrestled with this one and implemented at its discretion the ability to edit content on newsgroups set up by individuals (I will avoid the whole Chinese censorship issue immediately as this is a highly political discussion and not really a topic for SDN). Below is an extract from its terms and policies: Google’s Rights. “… If Google discovers Content that does not appear to conform to the Terms of Service, Google may investigate and determine in good faith and in its sole discretion whether to remove the Content…” During my limited research for this blog I found newsgroups with answers to the questions for my state’s driving examination! Now this is really scary that people may be out there without having learnt the laws. Obviously SAP Certification exams are not as life endangering as this example but it does bring some of the arguments into perspective… Maybe I should be suspicious of people who have passed both and drive really badly… or am I including myself there??? 🙂 Got to love this WWW, you find examples for everything! We could produce handbooks for these people too!! image So there you have it, I hope you found this thought-provoking and something worth reading? I look forward to the comments posted. All the best, “Write no Evil” Mike (A SDN forum moderator, SDN community volunteer, former SAP consultant and SAP customer)

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      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt
      Hi Mike,
      Sorry I missed that fuller conversation at SAPPHIRE, although I was at the SDN pod :-).

      I have been moderating SDN forums for a while now and don't believe in censorship.  What I do subscribe to is some common sense rules and the Core Rules of Netiquette.  In that spirit, I often exercise the right to move contents that are improperly posted from one forum to a more appropriate forum and I surely have removed solicitations (headhunting) from forum posts, with a polite admonition to the sender.
      As you all well know, we have responded to posts that are plagiarized because, quite frankly, that is illegal...its not censorship its APA standards.
      But your example of Certification baffles me because that seems like an out and out case of plagiarizing/deceit.  Removing such contents would be a service as well as a duty.

      Anyone have a problem with that?


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Although is hard to browse every post and see if they deserved to stay or be deleted...I think it's a need for the sake of the community...I'm the main moderator of the SAP ABAP Spanish Forums myself...And while I believe in freedom of speech, sometime there are some thing that I can not aloud...Like people who tried to sell the MiniSap software or SAP Documentation...Also double post or post that have the same answer second after the first one...And even with the same information...Asking for ABAP or SAP Certification question is not a crime...What is a crime is to actually give the answers...That people should be punished and they're posts deleted...even the users banned. But I think that we're free to ask -:)

      I planning to take the ABAP Certification within the next two months...And of course I'm going to read all my ABAP Documentation and some usefull blogs...If you actually need to have the questions and answers it's just because you're not ready to take the test.

      What we need here is to make a plan, about how to handle this kind of posts, and get the moderators ready to to they're jobs...And of course...Moderating the forums it's not the only job the had -;) So some orientation would be fully appreciated.



      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I agree with Marilyn here for the simple fact that no matter how much ever control you have on the forums, there are always people who are looking for loop holes and are trying to break the system. Now, we cannot deny the advantage for 90% of the people who use the information wisely for the sake of 10% of people who try to manipulate the information. As I said, these 10% does not have any job other than finding short cuts. And more over, in the long run if you don't have knowledge you are going get exposed sooner or later. If a person is intelligent enough to pick from there, good for him/her.


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Huh.. Now I think question/answer appeared in certification exam should not be posted. As it is like person gets things for granted. Like there is examination to take but you know all the questions well in advance(and can just prepare answers only for those). No meaning of taking exam then. As the result will not represent true potential of yours. However the word "cheating" is some what more harsh in connotation here.
      Is not there any middle way?
      Yes I think there is. Why does not SAP release some example questions for each certification that look like exam questions in nature but never show up in actual exams?(Long question but answer is short) Does not this sound familiar? Well, Very familiar as for most of other certification in industry free preparation guide (not free preparation material) is made available with sample questions from certifying organization. It is reasonalbe and not monumental task for SAP.
      Author's profile photo Durairaj Athavan Raja
      Durairaj Athavan Raja
      Instead of removing the entire thread,
      just remove the answers
      leave a note saying that these kind of questions are not allwed
      lock the thread to prevent anybody from answering.

      This way we leave information within SDN itself (if somebody is searching before posting a question , looking for interview question/answers) that this is not allowed in SDN.

      apart from Moderators pitching in and doing their bit , community forum posters should be motivated to do self policing of "their" forums.


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Iv'e been particiapting on the SDN BI forums almost two years now, both with questions and answers/assistance.

      I never have considered the SDN forums to be a public forum where "anything goes".  I consider it's purpose to be to serve as a resource for the community.  Is that different than SAP's view on it's purpose, I doubt it.

      Quite frankly, SDN's value to me declines as the volume of junk posts increases.  I know my level of participation has declined as the volume of posts has increased. I don't have the time or inclination to wade through posts requesting answers to certifcation exams, posts requesting answers where it is obvious the poster has not bothered to search SDN or made any effort what so ever to research the topic.    

      Am I looking for some exclusive little club of participants that know the subject matter, or can show they have made genuine effort to research something prior to posting?  Absolutely. I'm looking for something to help me in my job - I'm not looking to try to educate people not willing to make any effort on their own.

      As far as editorial control - seems eay to me.  Anything not contributing to SDN's purpose is fare game for removal.

      I could see a posting about a certification exam question that raised valid points of discussion, the reasoning behind an answer, whether the answer was the best solution, or really required more information to properly anser, etc. But NOT a - please sned me the answer to this querion post.  I think it does reduce the value of certifications, and don't believe that is in anyone's interest- SAP's, the certification holder's, or a SAP customer looking to engage a "certified" person.  Doesn't that fact that a company considering engaging a certified  consultant/contractor has to develop a series of questions to "test" a certified person tell us all we need to know about the amount of respect that certification carries?

      So I would welcome more active efforts from moderators to work towards maintaining the value of SDN.

      As for community policing - I haven't seen it work very well. I politely commented once on someone's post, indicating I didn't think it belonged on SDN and received a response overflowing with expletives.


      Author's profile photo Bhanu Gupta
      Bhanu Gupta
      I agree with John about the decline in the quality of posts and (sad to admit this) but also the quality of the answers to some extent. I am speaking of the BI forums here and I do feel that posts about certification questions (as opposed to certification experiences) do little enhance the S 'Developers' N. Since we are talking about this, it is not just the certification questions, but also requests for a certain Interview Questions book (for example /message/1523164#1523164 [original link is broken] which has 335 posts! ). Now there are even open requests for buying and selling certification material (like BW310, BW360 etc). I understand that everyone is trying to learn and that's why the SDN is a great place to be, but where is your enthusiasm and a little effort. Would such a certification or job be an achievement or take you far..?

      Should the posts be entirely removed…may be not (as Raja and Blag point out). You could ask anything, but the responsibility also lies with members who post the replies to these questions. When you provide an answer, it sanctions these type of questions. When you get points, it means that it is great to answer to such questions…and the cycle goes on. And also that it is great to answer not by typing some good information, but just printing out a page full of links (even tangential)…why not do a favour and just teach the person how to fish!

      Sorry, but what I am trying to say is that it is okay to have guidelines and Rules of Engagement, but we also need something that talks about How to Answer (Responsibly). What is considered to be a reasonable and respectable attempt to answer a question….something that is at minimum expected from the members of this community. As Raja says, locking such threads with a note should be helpful. Not sure if the community would take "policing" in the right spirit, but at least we can inform SDN if there is a situation that needs attention. And may be it would be a good idea to have a list of example questions from SAP for those members who need a little help and reassurance before the exam.

      It is very nice to be a part of the SDN and spend a considerable part of the day here 🙂 Let's not let the pride fade away...

      Author's profile photo Durairaj Athavan Raja
      Durairaj Athavan Raja
      When it comes to questions we shouldn't mind about the quality of them, as generally the people who are asking questions are new to that area or don't know them , thats why they are here asking questions.

      The main concern here is the  Qaulity of Answers . Some people either give a wrong answer or sometime its totally irrelevant to questions. And they keep doing it, irrespective of people pointg it out.

      Would like to hear SDNers opinion on How to handle this.


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Does anybody have the time to read and decide whether a post is good or not?
      I have a solution..because posts like the interview questions (like tyhe one going rounds now"201 bw interview questions",or certification questions,or some silly questions like what is full form for ABAP and so... attract lots of if you automate the process of closing a thread if the no.posts exceed ,say some 100,it will be good.
      If a problem is not resolved by even by 100 replies , may be there is  no solution.

      With Due respect to raja's comment regarding Quality of answers,i think everybody tries to give his best possible solution or information because the reply is viewed by the entire body wants to make fool of himself/herself.
      And one should be appreciated for this effort.
      So i think you must encourage people for  posting answers/replies  without worrying about quality of the answers!

      Best Regards,
      Bapujee Naidu

      Author's profile photo Detlev Beutner
      Detlev Beutner
      Hi everyone,
      I must admit that I'm quite astonished about this discussion and all the answers in sum - again. This special "SAP point of view" is something that again and again makes me wonder... Let me explain:
      Compare the SAP certification with other industry certifications, like (for I know them quite well) the SUN Java certifications. The SAP cert's are like the SUN SCJP (Sun Certified Java Programmer) - on the one hand, you can work for years with the stuff, with almost no chance to pass without some extra learning. On the other hand, you are able to pass without any real-world experience, just reading the right books and/or taking the right courses. Having this said, please do not misunderstand: I did *not* say that these cert's are worthless. I would argue the converse: Taking these exams, you will have to concentrate on some small things you haven't been aware of before (or at least you haven't taken care of). So *if* you have (enough) real-world experience, learning for (and passing) such an examl definitely will add some knowledge to your mind.
      Now, as somebody already mentioned, you can buy books to take the SCJP exam, read it - and pass. Anyhow, the exam itself is that tricky that it won't be enough just to memorise questions/answers (there are also too many of them; in the official books, of course there are only "fake questions", but very close to the real ones). You definitely will have to gain some basic understanding of the stuff. And there are also many forums, for example within the well known and friendly place JavaRanch, where exam questions are discussed (as far as I remember, also *real* exam questions). The point is: If the exam is of a good quality, this won't influence the value of it! (And companies hiring someone *solely* for having an exam - are stupid enough...)
      SUN's exam is of such a good quality. SAP's (EP Developer) is *almost*, for example. The questions are far more asking memorised content instead of asking for understanding the topic. Nevertheless, the things I have told about the exam above hold for the SAP exams, too. But: If the "danger" of publishing questions/answers is that "high" (that the exam would become somewhat worthless) - it's a problem with the exam, not with the ones asking/answering.
      Back to the different exams: SUN for example has introduced "long running" exams, where you get some task to fulfill within one year and have an additional on-site test. The task itself is not really different for different people (they change it just a little bit, but seldom). Also these tasks are discussed on JavaRanch for example. But take the exam! You will understand that these are so good, that noone will get the idea that discussing the different topics of these tasks would be "cheating". For sure, you could resubmit a solution your colleague submitted - but I'm quite sure that SUN will have the technical ability to detect this... (at least, it wouldn't really be a problem).
      To come to an end - my advise would be: Calm down! I have watched "censorship" on SDN for "much less" than publishing exam questions/answers. If you are really aware of the dangers of censorship, you should be aware of the weapons against it. And that is a small, reasonable catalogue of things being really "forbidden" for they are "hurting" someone. Period.
      I am definitely aware of SAP's interests in selling courses / material. So if you count this as "hurting SAP" - OK. But that's all (and in my eyes, not really reasonable, see above). At least - please do not discuss this topic as if it would be a question of ethics!
      Open your eyes to the world around you - it's often much more relaxed! Take this as an example, drink an extra cup of tea (not coffee ;-)) and enjoy the weather (if it's enjoyable at all) instead of getting angry about someone posting an answer which already has been posted...
      Best regards, Detlev
      Author's profile photo Mark Finnern
      Mark Finnern
      Hi Detlev,

      You write: "I am definitely aware of SAP's interests in selling courses / material. So if you count this as "hurting SAP" - OK. But that's all (and in my eyes, not really reasonable, see above). At least - please do not discuss this topic as if it would be a question of ethics!"

      We do have quite an extensive list of eLerning courses for free on SDN. Now even with a direct link on the top level navigation: 

      Which I think proofs that maximizing the profit of the training department at SAP is not our primary goal or motivator for what we are doing here on SDN.

      We just think that it is only fair to the SDNers, who got their knowledge for the certification through experience and their own studies, that the certification questions/answers are not freely available on SDN.

      Looking at the comments to this post it looks like SDNers agree with that rule. (A quick poll would be handy right now)

      So not necessarily ethics, but fairness to your fellow SDNers is what drove that decission.

      For the small but reasonable catalogue of things that are "forbidden" check out our Community Guidelines:
      We hope that one page meets that request.

      And I agree let's relax 🙂 Mark.

      Author's profile photo Detlev Beutner
      Detlev Beutner
      Hi Mark,

      Please, I *never* wrote nor will that "maximizing the profit of the training department at SAP is your primary goal or motivator for what we are doing here on SDN." Of course SDN - but that was not the question - offers much concerning learning, not only by the e-learning corner, but the whole thing does this. Nevertheless, it differs from what is sold - the courses and the course material. And that material is the primary basis for the certifications. So it's not the question if SDN wants to prevent learning - but *if* there is any really interest to make the sold material prized, it is: not to get it published. These are two different things, I didn't mix them up, please do not, too.

      I answered in detail why it is also a question of the quality of the exam if it matters if questions / answers are published. This together with the repeated statement of "fairness" points to the real problem many people seem to have (not only on SDN, but also in the real world): enviousness (if indicated or not; I answered why I think that there is no rational reason why enviousness  should be indicated).

      I started my initial posting with the observation that this discussion in my eyes is soemthing like a quick poll with a quite explicit result. Nevertheless, I wanted to set some *arguments* against a "dumb" polling where everyone shouts the same - but -maybe- with not that broad argument basis... I really would like to have this *discussed* than just again pointing to the number of people thinking in this or that direction.

      Last but not least: You know best that the case of censorship I have been affected with did *not* match "the small but reasonable catalogue" of the SDN Community Guidelines. Nevertheless, it was not retaken. I am aware that there are some moderators who are working very careful with their might they are given - and others who are not. And that's something everybody on SDN should take care of. And this discussion I can read here partly leads into the wrong direction, I think.

      Best regards, Detlev

      Author's profile photo Arun Varadarajan
      Arun Varadarajan
      I would say not , it has much to do with interviews also. As mentioned, the interview questions post seems to be going strong after a very long time and to top it someone thinks they need not be the 300th post but starts a new one...

      And questions like... I want to know about extraction in BW ... and these questions get answers. Ultimately who is the person who has the final say on things. And things get nasty with expletives when some effort of this kind happpens.

      As for certification ... in many cases its your foot in the door for an prospective client / prospective employer / setting your career path on the right track. Maybe they can tighten the rules for certification like they do it in India, but then that plays into the hands of SAP Education. So are things to be left alone and we pretend ignorance is bliss?

      My 0.02