Forum Thoughts

I spoke the other day about review sites having a “love ’em and leave ’em” approach to equipment and why I didn’t think this was too good an approach anymore.

As part of that, I noted that the current reality is that websites review, users support each other in forums. I suggested that this wasn’t all too good, either, and now I’m going to explain why.

On the Internet, Nobody Knows That’s You’re A Dog

That was the caption of a famous New Yorker cartoon with a dog sitting in front of a computer typing away.

Unfortunately, that’s probably the best succinct description of what’s wrong with forums/newsgroups.

There are plenty of very knowledgeable people who spend a lot of time and effort trying to help people. There are also a lot of idiots. If you don’t know what you’re doing, how can you tell them apart?

My personal observation after a lot of time in forums is that on the whole, the average person is more likely to the idiot first, simply because his answer is simpler and looks easier than the answer the truly knowledgable person gives.

Strike One.

Brutal Efficiency This Isn’t

If you take the average forum/newsgroup thread, most posts contribute little if anything to the matter at hand. It’s like panning for gold. Sure, there are nuggets, but for every gem, you go through a ton of dross.

At least those just waste a reader’s time. Any decent-sized thread will certainly have posts that will waste your money if you were foolish enough to follow them. I’ve probably seen hundreds if not thousands of instances where somebody had a problem where I could think of five or six reasons why something was or wasn’t happening, and someone would invariably say, “Replace X” when X wasn’t even on my list.

A typical situation is somebody buying a processor that wouldn’t hit the speed the owner thinks he’s entitled to if he dumped the whole computer in a liguid helium bath. That’s the problem. I’ve seen threads where between one person or another, they suggested replacing every vital part EXCEPT the CPU. NOBODY told the guy, “You bought the wrong thing.”

But even those just waste money, and at least you can sell your surplus equipment on Ebay. Then we have the flat-out-wrong posts, which is a fairly sizable proportion of posts. I saw one just the other day that said that 100Mhz CPUs cannot run at 133Mhz and that you had to buy a 133Mhz processor for a KT133A board. I looked, and this dope was a Golden or Platinum or some precious metal Member of this particular forum.

But not even these folks inhabit my lowest circle of Hell. That belongs to the folks who suggest things that are flat-out dangerous to the continued existence of a computer. Not risky, dangerous.

The most typical of the bunch were those I used to call Dr. Frankensteins. No matter what the problem, the answer was “More electricity!” Most of these folks were relatively harmless, but a few used to casually recommend voltages far above the absolute rated maximums for the chip, without giving the slightest hint that this might pose some danger to the long life and well-being of this CPU.

Strike Two.

Hatfields and McCoys

The feud is alive and well and it lives and flourishes on the Internet.

I’ve seen feuds go on in a thread for maybe three hundred posts. I’ve been in feuds that lasted for a hundred, so I’m guilty of this one myself.

Usually, the topic is completely forgotten about, and God help the person who interrupts the feud flow by saying, “What does this have to do with the subject?” All that does is get the two feuders to stop beating on each other and start beating on the interrupter until they can go back to regularly scheduled programming.

Strike Three

Does Everybody Have To Go Panning For the Same Gold

Whatever I’ve said about forums apply even more so with newsgroups. On the whole, I’ve found the noise level even higher there than in forums. On top of that, at least you can skim through superfluous forum comments. With newsgroups, you end up clicking on each and every one, because (outside of feuders), you don’t know which one might be good, and which isn’t.

Maybe I’m just an efficiency freak when it comes to this, but if I’m looking for something, I want to find it right away. I don’t care that you think your computer system is wonderful. I don’t care if you think the answer to every problem is replacing the power supply because it worked in an entirely different situation once. I don’t care whom you hate or why. I just want to get an answer without getting the usual headache along with it after going through a hundred posts before finding two useful ones.

It’s probably unrealistic and undesirable for forums to suit me to a T, never mind the folks born too late to be Nazis whose obvious previous highpoint in their life was third-grade hall monitor and who live for every opportunity to relive those glory days at the slightest deviation from a rule. I don’t mind going through some irrelevant posts, just not when it’s 90%.

However, there’s got to be a better way to skim off the cream so everybody doesn’t have to go panning for gold.

Chaos Manor

As I mentioned in the earlier piece, there are tons of variables in any collection of computer users. Everybody uses a different set of hardware, probably not much you can do to change that.

However, there’s another range of variables you rarely hear about. People can be as varied in how they install things as they are in selecting hardware. People can be as varied in how they troubleshoot a problem as either.

There’s a certain percentage of posts from people with problems where I don’t have a clue what their problem is, and I could probably interrogate them and their computer for hours, and never figure it out. Maybe the hardware is actually bad. Maybe little Susy installed some half-assed game, and some .vxd is gumming up the works. Maybe your earlier attempts to fix Earlier Problem A caused Current Problem B. That would be from difficult to impossible to find even if the person trying to figure out the problem actually had the computer rather than trying to remotely diagnose.

I think there should be a way to approach problems in a more standard and methodical way than you get in the forums or newsgroups. I think the KT7FAQ pages are an example of what I think are steps in the right direction. At the least, I think that kind of material should be gathered and made available as part of a review website.

What do you think? Am I just being a picayune pain-in-the-ass, or do you think there are better ways to do this?

Email Ed

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