Please Help - URGENT!!!

Some one posted a comment to one of my articles the other day.  It appears that they had had little success in adapting some code I had posted in the article to their application. They included this phrase in their comment: "Please advice me, it is  urgent".

As it happens, I was busy for a day or so, and didn't get round to moderating the comments on my site during that period. When I did get round to logging in, I found another comment from the same visitor in the moderation queue along with the first. This one had been posted about 12 hours after the first one. Now it included this phrase: "please advice it is very urgent".

My first instinct was to feel a little guilty that some poor soul was in desperate need of help and that I was causing them problems because I had not attended to their request as soon as they had made it.  Now the issue they faced was becoming serious.  Perhaps I was too late.  The poster obviously had a deadline to meet for it to be "urgent".  There wasn't enough detail in the post for me to be able to provide a quick answer, and the poster was in a time zone that meant it might take a day or two to communicate with them to get enough information for me to be able to provide useful help. What type of deadline, I wondered? Will this person miss a homework deadline at school or college? Will they lose a contract from a customer because they failed to meet this deadline? Will this person lose their job? What impact will this missed deadline have? How badly might I have let this person down?

Then I stopped myself. 

This person's urgent problem was starting to become my urgent problem.  Why was that? Had I volunteered? No. Is there any indication anywhere on my site that it's ok to contact me to trouble-shoot urgent ASP.NET problems? No. I started to get a bit annoyed that I was being imposed upon in this manner.

I deleted both comments from the queue.

You see a lot of this kind of thing in forums and newsgroups.  People post questions that include the phrase "Urgent" in their title or subject.  Some of them even use capitals to try to gain maximum attention.  Now that I consider this practice, I see it as extremely selfish and rude.

Why is it urgent? Who is it urgent to? Should volunteers who answer questions in forums drop everything to help you with your problem? Why should you barge ahead of others who have asked their question and then wait patiently for someone to answer it? I can think of only two reasons why your question is urgent: you've promised a customer a particular deadline, and are in above your head and can't deliver. Tough. You shouldn't have made promises you can't keep. Or, you haven't given sufficient time to your college course assignment, and the deadline for completion is looming. Either take your studies seriously, or find another course - one that you actually care about. I'm happy to help students who are genuinely confused by some aspect of ASP.NET, but I'm not busting a gut for lazy ones.

Unless you are asked to pay a subscription for membership to a forum, and it provides some kind of SLA agreement in terms of response times in exchange for your subscription, community forums are exclusively staffed by unpaid volunteers. Like me, many of these volunteers have real lives, with full time jobs and other stuff happening offline.  We all choose if and when we want to contribute to the community. We have our preferences for which areas we provide help in. I, for one, cannot and will not answer questions on ASP.NET AJAX. I don't use it and have no interest in it.

Many questions require a quick and simple answer, and a volunteer can move through a lot of those in a short space of time. Some require a lot more effort. I enjoy some of these, as they test and stretch me. But I have to be in the mood to commit to answering them. I might need to create a mini-application to test some solutions before I post code.  That takes time.  My time.  Writing articles for this site is something else I enjoy doing.  But they take time too.  Some of them can take several hours over a number of evenings. I try to balance that time between the time I can spend contibuting to people's questions in forums.  To have one person, who I don't know, and have made no promises to, try to jump the queue and impose their urgent problem on my time is very irritating.

Some people think that their issue is so important that they use the Private Message (PM) system in the ASP.NET forum to get the attention of individual members to their post. I have spoken to many MVPs and Moderators about this, and they all do the same thing. They ignore such messages. I used to reply to the sender of the message telling then that they should wait for someone to answer their thread. I don't even do that any more. Other people send me emails about their issue, as if I am some kind of help desk. What makes them think this is OK? I ignore every single one of those emails and PMs.

Please do not try to get attention over and above everyone else by including URGENT or similar words or phrases in your forum posts. And please do not think its's OK to email your problem to someone who has not invited you to do so. If you find that your issues become urgent, follow this advice:

  • Don't promise delivery to customers within impossible deadlines
  • Don't accept contracts involving areas of technology you are not familiar with without being honest with your customer
  • If it's homework, look at it the day you get the assignment and find out what you need to learn in good time

If all else fails, buy a support package from Microsoft.

Date Posted: Saturday, December 12, 2009 10:31 AM
Last Updated: Sunday, December 27, 2009 10:53 PM
Posted by: Mikesdotnetting
Total Views to date: 11840

18 Comments

Saturday, December 12, 2009 8:48 PM - Lee Dumond

Sadly, if you participate in the community on any level, this is absolutely bound to happen.

You would not believe the number of "urgent" emails I get through my blog contact page, through the p2p Worx forums, etc.

I used to try to answer these, but have found that the more you try to help some of these people, the more help they ask for in the future. The attitude of some of them is truly appalling. The act like you owe them a complete, packaged solution with a big shiny bow on top. At that point, you've gone from friendly volunteer to unpaid consultant.

No thank you. I'm with you... I just ignore them for the most part. On rare occasion, if the writer seems sincere and is just asking to be pointed in the right direction, I'll shoot back a quick email, but that's about it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009 8:51 PM - Lee Dumond

A bit off topic... but I find it interesting that you mention in this article that you don't use ASP.NET AJAX. Just what are you using as an AJAX framework? Just curious. :)

Saturday, December 12, 2009 10:43 PM - Mike

@Lee

Oh, I've had plenty of emails etc over the years, but the most recent one I mentioned above was the straw that broke the camel's back and prompted me into blogging about it.

I use jQuery :o)

I bought a book or two on ASP.NET AJAX, and ultimately could not be bothered to make the effort to re-learn javascript as if it was code-behind. I can see how it would work for web forms developers who don't know javascript, but it doesn't do it for me. Convention over configuration, as they say... I find the syntax of jQuery a lot more intuitive.

Sunday, December 13, 2009 2:58 PM - Rami

A 100% completely acceptable ethical solution....Thanks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 8:33 AM - Ashic

Totally agree...pms asking for EMERGNCI (yes, with that spelling) help - I always ignore them.

About Asp.net Ajax...it has a really good client side library. We use it extensively and like it too. We use it alongside jQuery as that seems to be how it's meant to be used these days.

Friday, December 18, 2009 12:49 PM - Fayaz

It's true. But you know, the human tendency for helping others, will drag them into it, if its urgent. Even if I don't know the answer and its urgent, somehow I will try to help them.

Once I saw an "urgent" post, downloading files form server using handlers, I spent my sunday, to help him out. He was able get the o/p, but some culture specific file which is showing junk characters. I replied I could not help coz I don’t know. And I got a very nice reply

"Mr.Fayaz, I followed your guidance and did these changes. Now, you can’t help, huh??"

I explained him that its beyond my knowledge. But finally OP is not happy. And I disappointed, coz I spent my whole day and my effort is simply vanished.

Friday, December 18, 2009 2:06 PM - Satalaj

Thanks for posting this stuff. It will help to guide other people in community.

Sunday, December 20, 2009 3:30 PM - sukumarraju

I spent few nights after work to help people asking for help, later i realised that it is going to cost my private life when i was receiving increasing number of email msg.
I determined to help whatever i know when ever i can. when i more number of same questions again and again in forms i try to write an article on my blog to help.

I agree with your concerns.

Thursday, December 24, 2009 5:57 PM - KW

It's a shame that the ugly side of humans begin to surface in these types of situations. This may be a little off topic but it seems indirectly applicable.

I wanted to let you know that I have enjoyed your site, especially the book reviews. You have been a great help to me in the forums and I really appreciate it. It's impressive how many people unselfishly volunteer their time to help others in the online communities. Becoming a developer is a very complicated endeavor. I often wonder where I would be with out the help of the community. It's been a very humbling experience to see that so many people are willing to help others. Thanks to again to Mikesdotnetting and anyone reading this that has helped anyone in the forums. You are what make them so great:)

Monday, December 28, 2009 7:28 PM - Tinker

Did we get up on the wrong side of our bed that day, Mike?

I understand not answering the posts - I even applaud your decision to delete them. I just wondered about the pressing need to explain yourself.

We've e-talked a lot in the past, and I am grateful for all the pearls you've cast before me. This did seem a bit out of character for the mental Mikey I've created...

:o)

Monday, December 28, 2009 7:44 PM - KBM

I don't know. Mike. I'm certainly not as popular as you, but I get a lot of calls and pleas and demands on my time from people who just need help and don't know where else to turn.

Claiming an emergency is off-putting, but I try to hold onto the adage that "Your emergency is not my urgency.." and smile through it. Easy for me to say that - if I get 500 asks in a year I'd be surprised.

Here's what makes me uncomfortable even in a justifiable situation: I started doing this when we talked to computers with ticker-tapes. Back then, we intentially invented a language and acronyms intended to obfuscate our meaning and to crown ourselves the wizards of a new and scary technology.

Now I just want to teach. I want to pass on what I;ve learned. I want to be challenged and compelled to constantly stretch my boundaries. I'm not comfortable with those who just sniff and say "Maybe I'll answer if I feel like it and the moon's in the proper phase or it's the third Tuesday of the month (Lee!)"

I know it's tiring and it's exhausting, Mike; but what good is there in the knowing of a thing if we hoard it like Scrooge McDuck?

I'm sure I might feel differently if I ever approach within a magnitude of being asked the number of questions you must field. I'm just not sure how comfortably the concept sits on me at this moment.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009 8:01 PM - Mike

@Tinker

Not at all. I thought long and hard before committing my thoughts to paper/database. My pressing need was and is to educate those that think it's ok to take advantage of people who willingly give their own time to provide help.

You've created a mental image of me, you say. My concern is that others may also create a mental image that I, and others like me are at their beck and call.

:o)

Monday, December 28, 2009 8:13 PM - Mike

@KBM

I'm not sure where you get the idea that I advocate "hoarding knowledge like Scrooge McDuck" from? As for people not knowing where to turn, the answer is simple: forums.asp.net. But realise that as the folk who answer questions there are all volunteers, and private individuals, people have no right to contact them directly and expect them to help. These individuals may not be able to, or want to for a whole load of reasons.

I want to pass on what I have learned too. That's why I do what I do. But it has to be on my terms. So far, I've made just over 9,500 posts in the forums. Over half of them have provided satisfactory answers to people who had nowhere else to turn. However, I know lot cleverer people than me who have never answered a question in a newsgroup or forum in their lives. I support their right to choose not to do so.

Monday, December 28, 2009 8:33 PM - Mike

KBM said:
I'm not comfortable with those who just sniff and say "Maybe I'll answer if I feel like it and the moon's in the proper phase or it's the third Tuesday of the month (Lee!)"


I'm sure Lee has a life. Maybe that's the only free time he has to make his contribution.

Would you deny the rest of the community the benefit of Lee's knowledge at the expense of one needy individual in a one-to-one email exchange, because they thought their problem is the most important one in the world?

Friday, February 12, 2010 5:38 AM - soumya

Nice site....

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 7:53 AM - seanb

plz sned me teh codez - urgent :)

Hi Mike,
entirely fair and reasonable position to take, IMO, is just plain rude to make urgent demands of those who contribute to the community voluntarily, especially if it is getting help for a commercial problem.

Thanks for taking the time to write what you write, have found some absolute gems on this site.

Thanks also for writing this article, as there seems to be a pervasive lack of manners in this regard, and more people should be made aware that sometimes they just need to knuckle down and work it out for themselves - programming is about solving problems, and some of them are hard.

Saturday, August 14, 2010 11:18 PM - Charith

Nice one Mike...

Friday, October 29, 2010 1:03 AM - Santhosh

Well said Mike!!!!!
Add your comment

If you have any comments to make about this article, please use this form to do so. Make sure that your comment relates specifically to the article above. More general comments can be posted through the form on the Contact page.

Please note, all comments are moderated, and some may not be published. The kind of things that will ensure your comment is deleted without ever seeing the light of day are as follows:

  • Not relevant to the article
  • Gratuitous links to your own site or product
  • Anything abusive or libellous
  • Spam
  • Anything in a language I don't understand including gibberish.

I do not pass email addresses on to spammers, so a valid one will assist me in responding to you personally if required.