Why do you answer questions online?

I'm curious, if you answer questions online (blogs, forums, newsgroups, chats, irc, etc) what your motivations are?  If you don't answer questions online... what prevents you from doing so?

Comments (22)
  1. TAG says:

    How do you expect to see comments in your blog from people who does not answer questions online ? ;-))

    I reality – it’s simple – if you know answer on some question or problem or have some correction – this is always good to share this with others people. Information sharing beetwean people has created our civilisation. This is how we are different from animals. Animals does not share that much information.

  2. Sean Chase says:

    Yes, if I know the answer or have time to figure it out. What goes around comes around.

  3. MSDNArchive says:

    My primary motivation for answering questions is the principle of give-and-take. From the time I was a kid, so many people have helped me to fix, learn, and understand things, that I feel it’s only fair to give something in return. It’s not much of a sacrifice either; it often takes an experienced person only seconds to solve a problem that would take a newbie days.

    There are always questions I won’t answer though, generally questions that are rude, excessively vague, ask too many questions at once, are beyond the scope of what I feel comfortably familiar with, have already been answered, or that the questioner has obviously made no attempt to solve themselves.

  4. Ron says:

    I want to look smart.

  5. Max Nokhrin says:

    I agree with all the answers before mine. But they’re missing another critical question that should be asked before this one: Why do you ask questions online in the first place? The answer is because of the give-and-take model, you know that the most likely place to get an answer is online. It’s one of those chicken-and-egg questions: what came first, the question or the answer? It would seem logical to answer the question, but then why would someone ask anything online if no one ever answered anything online. So the answer must have been first. How could an answer exist without a question? For example, I blog a lot answering questions in my opinion.

  6. petal says:

    lots of reasons! The exact one varies depending on the post…

    boredom – I don’t have anything better to do.

    malice – the wrong answer might be very amusing.

    vanity – just to show how clever I am.

    altruism – I can genuinely help someone.

    need – subsequent answers may help me as well.

    humour – well, I make me laugh…

    devilment – let’s start an argument!

    and so on.

  7. Jeff Parker says:

    I would guess my answer would be a little more selfish sounding than TAG’s. I do it for own personal growth in knowledge. I started programming when I was 8 years old. I am now 34, I have worked on Apple 2, IBM 360 (Not vast exposure but exposure I was only 9-10 then), VAX, Unix servers, Windows Servers, WAN’s, databases and so on. Languages, from basic and assembly though to Ada, on up to my favorite C# now. I do not answer the questions like I used to. On just one board alone I answered 3161 questions in two years time frame and every answer was answers like this one semi long and detailed (a bad trait of mine I think but when I answer something I try to answer in one go). Someone added it up for me when I was leaving the boards http://www.aspdevnet.com/default.aspx?Page=%2fforum%2fdisplay_message.asp%3fmid%3d203372 and yes I used to go by the name BOUND4DOOM on a few boards.

    Now as for why I answered all those questions, because those were questions I didn’t know the answer to. I went out and figured them out. There were not msdn blogs back then when I first started online in the early 90’s providing me with a wealth of new information. Back then it was just mainly me sitting back figuring things out. I didn’t have any challenges in my life then, the stuff I was coding I could do in my sleep, so I basically took on other peoples challenges to grow myself.

    I think because of blogs though is why I do not answer so many questions now. It is nice because I have a vast sea of information coming at me in a constant stream. While I have been extremely busy though with the latest free stuff from Microsoft Elearning for SQL server 2005 and Visual Studio. So anyway I know it sounds kind of selfish but the only reason I did it back then and still to this day was to grow myself not the person I was helping. Occasionally I still prowl the message boards looking for a question I never thought to ask and do not know the solution to so I can go figure it out but not as much. However I did meet some great programmers and of course some bad ones, and still do to this day. I enjoy the Microsoft blogs like I have told you before I enjoy the people that blog on them all smart people and not the bad programmers I used to run into before that just basically want something they can copy and paste.

  8. NickMalik says:

    I’ve answered hundreds of questions online over the course of the past year on the microsoft.public.dotnet news groups. I do it primarily because interacting with smart people makes me smarter. I don’t tend to spend much time on the novice questions, although I do pick up an occasional newbie question a few times a week.

    On the other hand, I really value the interactions with people who want to discuss ideas. I learn a great deal, I teach a little, and feel better for it.

  9. Michael Schoneman says:

    I rarely answer technical questions online. Really it comes down to not being sure of the answer most of the time. Usually if it’s an easy question, it’s already been answered. If it’s a hard one, I may know *an* answer, but I’m not sure it’s the best answer. I’ve had too many of my own questions answered in a "it’s not exactly what you’re look for, but here’s something that I actually know about" fashion and spent time following them to dead ends to want to inflict that on others.

    Opinion questions (like this one) are a different beast all together. If I’ve got the time and someone appears genuinely interested, I’ll generally answer.

  10. Norman Diamond says:

    The advancement of civilization (miniscule as it might be) depends on sharing knowledge from people who have it to people who need it.

    There have been lots of occasions when I’ve searched for information and/or asked in newsgroups (especially in public newsgroups back in the days when the web didn’t exist or wasn’t popular yet). Others have helped me and it’s only fair for me to assist others in the same way, even though those are two different sets of others.

  11. Joku says:

    If this was directed to MS bloggers, I would say that if it’s something developer oriented and not troubleshooting type of stuff, it probably has value to others than just the person who asked the question. So if it seems like that, I suggest you blog it; If it was not in the form of a comment you better ask if it’s ok for the other party that you blog about it. If your answer had holes in it, I think there’s a good chance that someone will drop by and add the missing pieces, provided that comments are allowed also from non-registered people; since it seems not that many have registered. Of course if msdn blogs required registration to comment in blogs like old new thing etc maybe more people would register.

  12. Henry Boehlert says:

    Answers to online questions are entered into the shared consciousness of the Internet, from where they can be re-used, occasionally giving some credit to the original authors.

    However, given that such an answer will be online until the end of time, it better be approximately correct and satisfying.

    This makes it prohibitively time-consuming to craft one but in the most trivial cases.

    But then the answer really can’t add much value. Just like this one.

  13. Why? To help others. To give back to developers. I learned a lot from website like TheCodeProject, Microsoft newsgroups and MSDN. What better way to say thank you then to give back to these communities. To help out those who are stuck with problems.

    I know what it’s like to have a problem that you just can’t seem to get the answer for. How frustrating it can be and how many hours you spend crawling through the web looking for the solution. It’s damn frustrating. If I can help people get the answer quicker then I will.

    And finally, it’s nice to be nice.

  14. Darrell says:

    To help build the community. More people using Microsoft software in the end helps me somehow. πŸ™‚ I also know that I enjoy my user group, and online communities are just extensions of that – less intensive communication but a broader cross-pollination of ideas.

    To help build my own knowledge. Sometimes the way things should work and the way they actually do work are different, and verifying something before answering a question brings the knowledge home.

    To give something back. I find lots of answers, I might as well give some back.

  15. AlfredTh says:

    My first answer to this question was "because I can." But that is sort of flip and not really the whole story. I find that I lack a certain amount of self-control when it comes to questions online. Somehow if I know the answer I feel compelled to answer. But honestly I answer a lot of questions that I have to look up the answers for. I think that I do it because it just feels good to help people out with answers. So feeling good about myself is probably the main thing.

  16. MSDNArchive says:

    Thanks for all the comments so far. I’ll restrain myself from commenting so as not to color future responses, but I wanted to let you all know that I’m listening.

    We are interested because we are working on ways to improve the asking/answering experience on the MSDN forums and I’d rather get to the root of the problems than start at the feature level. Everyone could argue about features, but people can’t argue about what motivates them. πŸ™‚

  17. I personally belive that people who are passionate about a particular profession or technology enjoy teaching or training others in that profession/technology.

    Answering online questions is essentially helping to teach people that which you’re interested in.

    Mon $.02

  18. Jeff Parker says:

    You know I think a common theme is the desire to help others. I think I did start like that but I met so many people just wanting a solution wanting to copy and paste some code in and make it work rather than learn the how and why. I met script kiddies, popup makers that were trying to figure out how to fire up the old unclosable popups, virus writers or people attempting it anyway, kids just wanting answers to school projects, people trying to disguise url’s, basically the scum of the computer industry. This I think really turned me off to forums after several years and made me more selfish and careful who I help. This is also why in the early 90s I abandoned the IRC, it used to be a great place lots of computer guys out there sharing knowledge, well thats because that is all there was. Then came AOL to the internet and really messed it up.

    However, when I find someone that wants to learn and wants to really pick my brain I am all over it. Mainly though I am out of the forums and more at the User Groups and so on I am also on the board for a local .net user group and present now and then for the same reasons to share my knowledge with the people that are there to learn. I enjoy going having a beer with peers and talking things and theory.

    The good programmers I mentioned before we met on a forum talked for so long on the forums helping others out and even each other we still email each other to this day. I have never met any of them they are all in other countries outside the USA. Interesting phenomenon the forums, one programmer I know is from Israel, types little broken English but we both speak a common language very well, code. Through all the wars over there we have remained online friends. I think though that’s part of the reason I love the Microsoft blogs as well, you guys are my kind of people. I rarely ask questions on them, not much need you guys pour out info. However I do like it when you guys ask questions and tough ones. Larry Osterman’s Whats wrong with this code, Brad Abrams Mini challenges. That dang Cyrus asked a good one today I am still plugging away on to see if I can come up with a better solution while analyzing it I found a problem in probability with certain prime numbers.


  19. Jeff Parker says:

    Oh yeah another thought I had. I really like the Tech Republic aka Builder.com forums when they first started. They were great, you started with 500 points, you could ask a question and offer some of your points for the correct answer. At first it was cool no one there but fellow geeks. I racked up 10k+ points in a few months. I left those forums as well. They tied those points into their articles sections so you would get points if you read an article and rated it. Well like AOL an influx of newbies and bad seeds quickly abused it and would just go to every article that came out rate it and never read the article, hence screwing up not only the point system but the rating on the articles as well.

    I still go there and read the articles to this day I love the site but the forums are now just over crowded with hundreds of the same questions mainly newbie questions most now day how does someone get rid of some spyware or something. I guess thats what turns me off to forums anymore now days I see them as the responses to a slashdot posting. You really have to wade and work through hundreds of bad unintelligent posts to find a gem. Again I read slashdot but long since given up at reading any follow up responses there.

  20. BR says:

    Interesting question.

    For tech interactions:- Because the other person’s insights have helped me many times, and I don’t want that wellspring to go dry. So I put back what I can. And learn on the way.

    For political/touchy-feely topics: I used to respond a lot to such stuff, but recently I realized that even though you can win an argument with logic, it doesn’t achieve/prove anything. People’s opinions/convictions may be formed with emotions/feelings most of the time, and not with logic. So I listen, smile and move on.

  21. Daniel Moth says:

    Because I can πŸ™‚

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