Why are some Open Source support people so damn rude?

Don’t get me wrong – I love Open Source software and have used some of it fairly widely in various development projects that I’ve done.   I’m also aware of the fact that people involved in the development and support of such software are typically volunteers, and on the odd occasion I have called upon people for support, I’ve always had good experiences.

I’ve also seen some absolute stinkers of ‘support’ given to other developers, in which the people who’re associated quite strongly with the softwrae have treated people in a rude, patronising and often offensive and abusive manner.  Now, in 20+ years of dealing with IT support people – including folks like Oracle, Microsoft. Borland (showing my age) and even Zortech and Nantucket (back in the deep past!!) I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve had this sort of treatment from big bad commercial software houses.  It’s unfortunate that I’ve seen dozens of examples of this poor customer service from Open Source suppliers in the last couple of years.

Because even if we don’t pay, we are customers – and some of the worst behaviour I’ve seen from companies where users are required to pay for a license when the software is sued in commercial situations.  It’s hardly encouraging, is it?  I know it can be frustrating to answer the same question several times a day, especially when the solution is well documented, but rudeness isn’t the way forward.  After all – it doesn’t exactly encourage people to use the product, or pay for a licence – rather than persevere or even volunteer a fix, folks are more likely to just go to the next similar product on the list.

Ultimately, it boils down to this; piss off enough potential customers and people like me will write articles like this but will name names and products.

So, here are a few hopefully helpful hints to people involved in regularly supporting products and libraries.

  1. If it’s your job, you’re getting paid to do it.  If you’re a volunteer, you’ve chosen to do it.  In either case, if you don’t feel trained up enough in the interpersonal skill side of things, just be nice, and read around material on customer support.  If you don’t like it support, then rather than taking it out on customers, quit.  Because you’re unhappy is no reason to take it out on other people.
  2. Remember that the person asking the daft question may hold your job (or the future of your product) in their hands.  You have no idea whether they’re working on a project for a small company or a large blue chip / Government department.  Your goal is surely to get widespread adoption – the best way to do this is to make folks happy.
  3. Even if the fix IS documented in any number of places, be polite about it.  If it’s that common, then have it in your FAQs or as a ‘stock answer’.  The worst sort of response is ‘It should be obvious’.  Of course it’s obvious to you – you wrote it.  It isn’t obvious to other people.  This seems to be a particular problem with ‘bleeding edge’ developers who swallow the line that ‘the source code is the documentation’ – it may well be, but if you want your product or service to be adopted you need to get as many people as possible using it.
  4. Don’t forget that if someone perseveres with your software, through buggy bits, they may be willing to help you fix it.  The chances of you getting a helper if you are rude to them is minimal.
  5. If you get a lot of questions or confusion about the same issue, perhaps it’s time to update the FAQs or Wiki?  And don’t forget sample code – if you’re generating code libraries PLEASE provide lots of real-world examples.

And to all the nice support folks – thanks for all the help – it is appreciated!