Forums vs. private email

I hate writing this post. It makes me feel like a grouchy old man.

I like to be helpful and share whatever things I know. This is not an official part of my job (I don't get paid for it) but I find it helps me think, helps me understand what pain points our customers are running into, plus it makes me feel good. That's why I write this blog, and why I spend time answering questions on

Some people read my blog, then decide to ask questions by email. I do like getting interesting emails and meeting interesting people, but support questions, not so much.

The world is full of questions. Far too many for me to have any hope of answering them all. So I have to prioritize. Here are some of the things I consider when deciding which questions to answer:

  1. Do I know the answer?
  2. Has someone else already answered it, or is likely to answer?
  3. Is it an interesting question?
  4. Has the questioner done their homework?
    • -1 if a search engine could turn up the answer
  5. Has the questioner made it easy for me to answer?
    • -1 if the question is vague or imprecise
    • +5 if the question includes a simple, small & self contained repro app
    • -3 if I have to download a large project, or spend time creating my own project and pasting various pieces of code into it, in order to repro the issue
  6. Is my answer likely to be helpful?
    • -1 if I think the questioner is so far out of their depth that answering this first question will just leave them stuck on something else
    • +100 if I think the answer could also benefit other people in the future

That last point counts for so much that it isn't usually worth my while to answer technical questions via email. I'd rather spend my limited time in a public forum where more than one person can see the answer, and where future searches may be able to find it. Also, using a public forum increases the chance someone else might get to it first and save me the trouble of having to answer at all!

If I replied to your email with a link to this post, that's why. I hope you are not offended by my reasoning. If you ask your question on, there's a good chance I will answer it there. If you emailed me directly because you already tried the forums but got no reply, perhaps I decided to skip your question because of points 1, 4, or 5, in which case you have my apologies, but using private email makes me less likely to spend time on it, not more...

Comments (4)

  1. blog_derekh says:

    Hey, Shawn, I just wanted to take the opportunity to tell you your forum posts have been an invaluable aid to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hammered the forum search engine and found a post by you or one of the several other forum gurus that answered my question completely and often several other niggling questions. Sometimes I’ll just click that post count number next to your name and surf through a couple pages of posts. Even if I don’t have a question that needs answering, I always know there’s something valuable to be gained that I’m sure I’ll be able to make use of in the future.

    Thanks for the effort.

  2. StatusUnkown says:

    "-1 if I think the questioner is so far out of their depth that answering this first question will just leave them stuck on something else"

    Honestly, I’d rate that much lower. -10 at least.

    I find there is nothing more de-motivating than someone who is out of their depth and uses other people to drag themselves out.

    I know, it’s a very negative way of looking at it, but in the long run I just don’t see how you can learn from following.

    The best thing about programming is the satisfaction you can get from solving a problem you didn’t think you were capable of.

  3. Darks1de says:

    I have to completely agre Shawn, how many times I just want to reply with RTFM (a great old phrase).

    Since a lot of hard work goes into making information public (Help, Forums, notice boards, starter packs, tutorials), yet some people still think they can short cut the learning process and get a quick fix (which almost never turns out to be that quick).

    I’m amazed you manage to find any time at all to answer emails.

    Enough with the chatter back to work on 3.1!!! 😉

  4. malfunct says:

    The other good reason to post to the forum with the question rather than private e-mail is that even though you are incredibly brilliant, there are numerous other brilliant people in the forums who have knowledge worth leveraging.

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