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.