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The Grinch who stole the Questions

As a part of the “SDN Santa mode” clean-up I read all posts, again, in the SDN Security Forum which I help moderate and straightened some things out to the best of my ability, where required. These are some thoughts, observations and recommendations from it.

Some statistics:

It took me 7 days to read 1000 threads, a hundred or so OSS notes and some related notes from them which were new or updated and many “links” posted to check whether the context had a value, or not – and whether the “points indicator” was correctly set, or set at all.

I did my best to be fair without interfering in the OP’s decisions on points: efforts were rewarded, exceptional answers were given 6 points and only in rare cases did I feel confident that the thread could be close as answered (or the corresponding points assigned) as it is actually the OP’s responsibility to do this…

I also mailed several OP’s to close their threads. With one exception, they asked that I should do it for them…

I am feeling very smart now after all this reading, thinking, testing, debugging… going into the new year 2010. ­čÖé

Here are┬ásome thoughts I would like to share about it with the community – interesting OSS notes and forum threads you can find as updates in the “FAQ and memorable discussions” sticky thread in the security forum.

The OP’s are the biggest problem, at first…

Often people are reported for answering basic questions, or report themselves because the OP closed such a thread with a post such as “asdf”.┬áThis is not something moderators dream up, it really irritates a lot of folks to see it supported. Please┬ádon’t take the bait!

The “smarter” OP’s who realize that the “Comment” field is not mandatory often go back and close the thread “silently”, sometimes months later… and do not want to create any noise by assigning any points even – which was the impression I gained as they sometimes even tried subsequently to answer other questions with this new found information.

In the beginning there was gmail, after the 5th rejected┬ápost they found┬áthe search…

Many OP’s pop a few questions (sometimes from an interview catalogue..) and then experience the Abuse Reports and locked threads. Some of them then find the search…!

This is a good thing… but they also try to share their search techniques and go into phase 2 by sharing the answers found in the search to questions which they have more, and sometimes less… knowledge about. Copy&Pasting is another variant of this, and generally easy questions asked by others too lazy to search themselves are the targets.

This happened to several users after joining SCN. They tend to avoid interesting questions which are well formulated and where you have first searched yourself… (little tip: mention this upfront in your post and what you found!)

Traditionally we have flamed such “link-farmers” but reading through all these threads and the sequence of their posts and their “guess work” I think that such community members have a lot of potential to learn and contribute in the correct way if caught early enough and they have some role models to observe in the forums.

Typically, they score about 100 points and then leave… ;-( Mixed feelings from my side, but there are a few whom we could have rehabilitated earlier and with less frustration. Posting a “polite enough” comment about their tactic often does the trick.

For example: When they see someone with > 5k points post a link or copy&paste or answer easily searchable questions, and score 10 points for it…. then this is not setting a good example!

Go figure why they stop thinking, why they rush in to answer easy questions, why they don’t read prior answers, engage in a discussion… etc…

And I was spammed for asking a vague question, and then I rested…

I would like to thank all people who ask interesting questions which they follow up on and all the gurus who also react to incorrect answers by pointing out their folly to them.

This is understandably an irritation, but from my observations you only need to do this once or twice and they “get the message” that more thought is required, particularly if you observe that the question is incomplete. This is more powerfull than a few moderators and encourages those who ask and answer interesting questions and discuss topics which go beyond

People who do this understand what SCN community knowledge sharing is about, and from my observations they generally don’t give a toot about the points system either ­čÖé

Setting a better example by reading the question closely before answering (sometimes the OP is no fool!) and prying out the details and the context will bring you closer to answering the question.

Either ask for specific details, or disclose your assumptions.

On SDN we do not by default know the config, release, OS, DB etc infos, which the SMP would have access to, unless the OP provides it or we find the question interesting and ask for this information! Next time they will provide it in the question already.

The alternative is that┬áthe OP backs off and it remains unresolved forever… (regardless of the guru answers, and repetitive guess work, and bumped threads, etc).

Please read the questions carefully to be able to provide a context sensitive answer.

Possibly sfvenkitu was right: We are all a part of the “problem” …

I think you all know what I am talking about.

There is a business model here, if it works… for a while… whatever… then try lure others into doing all your work for you.

I would not like to go into further thoughts, but can strongly recommend that doing a little background check on the person asking the question is a big start, as well as thinking why the question is being asked so bluntly or in a broad and vague way.

By clicking on their user ID Profile you can see the number of questions they have asked recently, how many are unresolved, whether they also put something back into SCN sometimes. Also check their points and if you suspect something is faked or a misuse of the forum’s discussion environment (such as “spec dumping”) then please use the Abuse Reports button. Moderators will look into it and take action.

Same goes for cross-posting, chained question series awarding a lot of points (don’t take the bait, unless it is interesting and beneficial to others who read and search a topic which differentiates itself from standard documentation as well).

Some folks even copy&paste the emails from their customers into SDN, without making ANY attempt to even think about it or try a search (or test it in the system!) themselves.

Or they mess up the production system eventually without a backup and want help from SDN (?)… etc. You name it, we’ve seen it.

Your only realistic chance to find these is to check the OP’s track record┬ábefore answering, and move on to answer questions which┬áare challenging for you as well. The OP might be lost┬ásometimes (read the question carefully and ask for more details…)┬ábut interesting discussions can result from this sometimes and the OP will learn. So there are exceptions as well.

If it is a chained question or distributed spec, then please read other responses as well┬á(particularly if the word “moderator” is used in them…) before answering. Others might have picked up on it and commented already.

Do not only read the question and then answer without doing this check and reading existing answers!

I would love to say that these are a very small exception, but they are not. Perhaps it is a local management problem. Perhaps it is something which SDN is an “enabler” for within the SAPosphere. It does however not contribute to the information value of SDN and the “expert forums” to take such “bait” of doing all of someone else’s work for them.

I rest my case: I learn a lot from SCN, but check the OP and reasonableness of the question first and make your own decision.

Once a “silly” question has an interesting answer we will generally not reject it, but feeding forum trolls will also result in your points being removed and answer rejected together with the question.

The clones descended, and there was points all around…

Some good news: Points gaming has descended to the “village idiot” level.

Some tried a “late run” on the system, but they will start with new ID’s and zero points in the new year. S-zombies are proportionally on the increase.

Small amateur games can be made fun of in my opinion. The first gamers arrived on 1st January 2010 already. The next only a week later. They are rare now, but can be good fun at someone else’s silly (and dishonest) expense. That is what it is, and they get what they deserve. Keep an eye on the Coffee Corner forum.

Cartels will focus on the “gang leader” in the new year and also be moved to the Coffee Corner: I intend to┬árequest the deletion of┬áthe boss’s user ID from SDN in future and will investigate all user IDs from the same company if one of them is dishonest, and also tell them why we did it (including all details of gamers involved).

There is no tolerance or additional warning here if dishonesty and plagiarism is involved, so please distribute this message within your organizations (e.g. if you are the boss) and educate your freshers about the SCN rules before letting them loose on the forums, wikis and blogs.

Well… you are rude as well…

Moderating is no easy task on SDN. We have rejected 35627 posts (which excludes straight deletes or entire threads and spam which sneaks through) to keep the forums clean for all. Wiki “gardening” and blog “googling” can still be added on top of that.

A very special thanks to all who use the Abuse Reports button! This is a huge help to focus on problem users at an early stage, to remove it discretely so that almost all other users are spared this hassle and trolls are not given new ideas or “find their feet” and become repeat offenders of the forums, in particular.

During the “Santa Mode” clean-up I also took this use of the Abuse Reports into consideration -> had people not reported these, the sum of minority abusers would have been a pest beyond imaginable boundaries!

Reporting Abuses is protected information, but you know who you are and SAP does as well. I thank you!

Answering interview questions for the rest of eternity…

I am very disappointed in some people with many thousands of points who will answer any question if they know the answer, regardless of how meaningless the subject title is, how bad the track record of the OP is (or “good” if they play points-Santa all year long…) and take easy bait on behalf of the OP doing a basic search or just thinking a little bit.

This makes the OP lazy and discourages those mentioned in the observations above from reading the question closely and providing a context sensitive answer, instead of some bla-bla-bla.

Half joking – I hope for 2010 that all who read this blog (including freshers!) will respond to gurus in the forums who take excessively easy “bait questions” by repeat offenders and tell them that even a day 1 fresher can find the answer in F1, so the OP could have as well… ­čśë

This points-hunting behaviour also belittles our moderator efforts, and the tolerance for this can vary from moderator to moderator, as well as forum to forum.

Show them that they are setting an example which is not supporting the quality of the forum / wiki / blog information, by burping up such -bla-bla-bla posts and that they are not alone on SDN.

Guilty or Evil…?

From my observations of posts this year, and also before, the intentions are mostly good but sometimes mistaken, or people try a shortcut.

People are not automatically redirected to the rules or a forced search…

Give them one or two chances -> not by “feeding trolls” but rather by showing them the fishing rod, instead of taking the bait and baiting them further for more questions.

  • Show them how to use the search (do not search for them)
  • Tell them to do a basic training course on F1 (do not copy&paste it…)
  • Show them how to think… e.g. by asking for more details about the question.

If someone takes that chance and solves it themselves, then ask them how they did it. Generally, they will answer and take the time to provide the information. They expected the SCN community to do the same when asking the question, but pride in the answer is probably more on their minds.

Small Gods…

There are some gurus on SDN who don’t contribute much, but I have the feeling that they read alot of stuff.

One can observe this via the hit rate on some threads (I assume that they use RSS feeds on interesting terms used) and the speed via which they answer, as well as the “accuracy” they have to home in on the OP’s issue.

Take the time to also read the forums, blogs and wikis from time to time if you have to date only contributed by answering questions. Personally, I do it once a week and ignore my forum contributions for an evening.

Via your SCN Business Card you can add them as “favourites” or their ID as a favourite in a search, and then check their contributions.

You will learn much more from this over time than doing a search in for someone else!

Next year…

I hope that this “Santa mode” clean-up and follow-up was appreciated. I think I will do it next year again, but hopefully with even less intervention required retrospectively.

During the course of the new year 2010 I personally will not actively do this thread debugging, other that “normal” moderator tasks.

It is a part of the callstack at┬áruntime… ­čÖé

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  • Hi Julius,

    Thanks for all your support to this forum. Being a junior member to this forum, I have learnt a lot. Looking forward for more knowledge sharing threads/posts.

    Happy New Yr!!

    Keep Rocking!!

  • Hi Julius,

    thanks for doing that. Looks like security forum is now sparkly clean and ready for 2010.

    Do you know whether the “points gaming has descended to the “village idiot” level” is true in general or only for the security forum?

    Great work, Mark.

    P.S. For the readers not at home in forums OP refers to Original Poster see:

    • Thanks guys ­čÖé

      The “village idiot” observation of points gaming relates to anything coming in via Abuse Reports for any forum and particularly the active monitoring in the ABAP and Netweaver categories (done by moderators and several contributors who have a “hawk’s eye” for such behaviour).

      There is nothing as spectacular as a year ago (e.g. uncovering whole “nests” of gamers) and they seldom get past 100 points before being busted.

      Touch wood ­čÖé

      You can check the moderator forum for the frequency of documented cases and guestification requests.