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Beware the Trolls!

by dmmiller2k (Chaplain)
on Dec 28, 2001 at 20:13 UTC ( #134898=monkdiscuss: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

In a recent pair of new nodes ('Extract string from rear of string' and 'Search a string from beginning or end' (which has since been reaped)) a nearly identical question was asked by two Anonymous Monks.

The question itself had some hallmarks of a homework-type problem. In one of the two threads, some unsuspecting Monks unfortunately took the bait and all but solved the questioner's problem for him (or her).

One is left to ponder, did PerlMonks get a good grade on that assignment?

It's surely one thing to make an attempt to solve a problem and get stuck. It happens to all of us (or most of us, I expect) once in a while. And while typical responses to such trevails can span the gamut from trying to solve the problem to merely being supportive (e.g., "it happened to me, too"), the unifying theme seems to be one of nurturing, mutual respect and community.

One of the things that drew me here initially, and keeps me here still, is the overwhelming sense that no matter what the problem, SOMEBODY here will be able to point me in the right direction.

But to just put a homework problem out there and troll for answers shows antipathy and lack of respect for this community which I find reprehensible. It makes me feel violated, like we've been used.

I hereby propose the use of the term, 'Trolling', to describe this sort of behavior, that of baiting well-meaning Monks into solving one's problem rather than doing one's own research and taking a decent shot at it. The term as I propose it should be used in a negative context, with a particular emphasis on lazy students. (This is as opposed to Lurking, which I suspect, we've all done to some extent, and which in contrast, is likely acceptable to most of us -- after all, that's how we learn)

Further, I suggest referring to practitioners thereof as Trolls (fitting in kind of nicely with the whole Middle Earth, Monk thing) and that we try to avoid assisting them with their homework or programming assignment or whatever.

There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, or TANSTAAFL, as science fiction writer Robert Heinlein's characters are fond of saying.

Let's not give any more Trolls a free lunch.

Update: I in no way mean to imply that all who pose academic questions are Trolls, or that asking such questions at all should be thought of as Trolling.

No. Trolling is more like asking a question (academic or otherwise) with little or no obvious effort made to attempt to answer it first on one's own. In other words, a Troll might be someone who says, "Help, I can't figure out how to do X", rather than, say, "I'm trying to do X by doing this; what's wrong with what I'm doing?"

Obviously this is a judgement call.

dmm

You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day ...
Or, you can
teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime

Comment on Beware the Trolls!
Re: Beware the Trolls!
by andye (Curate) on Dec 28, 2001 at 20:35 UTC
    hmmm, dmm, a couple of comments on that...
    • It was the same poster twice, wasn't it? Accidental duplicate, surely.
    • Seemed like a reasonable question to me. If it hadn't already been answered, I would have answered it.
    • Doesn't look like homework. If it is, does it matter? Can't say I'm too bothered - it's still a specific, on-topic question.
    • 'Trolling' already means something else
    Just my $.2,
    andy.
      accidental duplicate

      Duplicate? Yes. Accidental? I'm not sure. It's possible the answers that the first one was getting weren't helping, so it was asked again in a new, slightly different, way.

      reasonable question... If it hadn't already been answered, I would have answered it

      Exactly! That's my point in a nutshell. I too, almost fell for the bait. It was just about an interesting enough question that, upon reading it, I began to think about how best to answer it. When I saw the existing replies, one or two of them already covered the points I'd have made, so I held back. Then I saw the other nearly identical post, which started me thinking about this whole phenomenon.

      doesn't look like homework.

      You're right. It didn't at first to me either. It took the second post for me to recognize it as such.

      'Trolling' already means something else.

      Okay, perhaps there's a better word. Or maybe in the context of PerlMonks, and all that entails, 'Troll' can have a specific, different other meaning, as I've suggested above.

      dmm

      You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day ...
      Or, you can
      teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime
      The meanings of words are changing often, or would you call a hacker a evildoer (I like that crappy word) who breaks into the FBI-server and deletes his nighbour?

      > Just my $.2,
      wooo you rich boy!

      just my two € cent

      -- package Lizard::King; sub can { do { 'anything'} };
      TomK32 - just a geek trying to change the world
Re: Beware the Trolls!
by scain (Curate) on Dec 28, 2001 at 20:37 UTC
    dmmiller2k,

    I must agree with you. It is quite irritating to see this type of behavior, and it's been happening here for a long time. Most of us are familiar with this fine chestnut from bravismore. Since the Monastery has grown quite a bit since then, it is not a bad idea to remind people of the message in your sig line: it is fine to help people with their homework; it is not fine to be tricked into solving it for them--BEWARE!

    Scott

      As a "Troll", I can definitely say that I don't like to be handed the answer. I like to get in, break it down, and figure it out for myself, with a little push from more experienced folks. Point me in the right direction and I will figure it out eventually. Even if it takes me 6 months to figure something out, I like the satisfaction of knowing I figured it out on my own. I'm not necessarily speaking of just coding, but in life itself. Its a good feeling to know that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to with minimal help.
Re: Beware the Trolls!
by earthboundmisfit (Chaplain) on Dec 28, 2001 at 20:40 UTC
    While I appreciate and mostly agree with what you're saying, I want to bring up a point that often goes overlooked vis that not all homework questions are trolls or the by product of lazy students. I can think back to times when I was the victim of brain cramp or poor teaching methods or both and relied on the help of a friend or study partner to get me out of the Dark Woods (Eternal thanks, Tom Bombadil). If we lump all academic questions into the category of trolls, we will inevitably trounce on some student out there who seeks the same thing we all seek: a better understanding of Perl.

    As is the case in so much of life, context is everything. Judgement has to enter into it. Personally, I'm inclined to run the risk of helping the lazy to avoid the risk of quelching someone's drive to learn.

      "As is the case in so much of life, context is everything. Judgement has to enter into it. Personally, I'm inclined to run the risk of helping the lazy to avoid the risk of quelching someone's drive to learn."

      I agree. It's sometimes tough to draw the line between those looking for easy answers and those who are actually trying to learn.
      I think the thing to do is when something looks like homework, point them to resources instead of just handing them code. If they're not willing to do the work to figure out at least part of the equation, they don't deserve the answer. When someone's made the effort of writing and posting some code (or at least formulating an intelligent question that shows that the individual has at least tried to tackle the problem) and saying "This doesn't work - and I can't figure out why", then I think it's entirely appropriate to help them by solving their problem - and provide an explanation as to why that works.

      Rich36
      There's more than one way to screw it up...

        "... the thing to do is when something looks like homework, point them to resources instead of just handing them code. If they're not willing to do the work to figure out at least part of the equation, they don't deserve the answer."

        Exactly.

        Thanks, Rich36 for articulating my point better than I was apparently able to do.

        Judgement is absolutely the key to responding appropriately.

        dmm

        You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day ...
        Or, you can
        teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime
      "As is the case in so much of life, context is everything. Judgement has to enter into it. Personally, I'm inclined to run the risk of helping the lazy to avoid the risk of quelching someone's drive to learn."

      I agree, actually, that of course judgement has to enter into it. I'm mostly referring to those who

      • remain anonymous (c'mon how expensive or hard is it to create a login here?),
      • ask what amount to pretty basic questions which would dissolve in a blaze of obviousness after a reasonably in-depth read of the perlfunc manpage, and
      • obviously don't even bother to try searching the PerlMonks site either for previous answers to similar questions

      In other words, yes! Use judgement and restraint.

      Update: We must never "lump all academic questions into the category of trolls". But we should favor pointing posters in the right direction over completely solving problems for them.

      dmm

      You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day ...
      Or, you can
      teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime
        The ease of login creation isn't so much the issue IMHO. I know that I visited PM several times over several months before creating my account. When every Tom, Dick and Harry's website requires or requests an account for use, most neither needing it nor providing anything useful for doing so, some induhviduals (YT included) eschew obfuscating their lives with excessive underused accounts.

        Perhaps one means of reducing truly Anonymous Monk posts would be to have an input field(defaults to Anonymous Monk) where the poster could input their email address. Thus allowing easier tracking and ownership of questions etc. by the monastery and the user themselves. And of course perhaps after making any AM post (esp. one with an email address), a friendly message about account creation and benefits could be displayed...

        --
        perl -pe "s/\b;([st])/'\1/mg"

Other options...
by mojotoad (Monsignor) on Dec 29, 2001 at 00:12 UTC
    Rather than Troll, which though coopted by the fantasy context probably began as a fishing reference, how about these monklike terms that might apply to someone who lazily expects a free handout:

    acedian: Perhaps cryptic, but generally refers to someone remiss in their practice of virtue; i.e., someone guilty of sloth.

    mendicant: Someone dependent on begging for their survival. Though this could be construed in a more benign way, such as a practicing member of the Franciscan order, it does indeed have a prior meaning that might encompass the meaning we seek.

    Iīm sure there are plenty more ideas out there. Anyone?

    Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears.
    -- Our Buddy Ben Franklin
    Matt
Re: Beware the Trolls!
by Zer0Her0 (Acolyte) on Dec 30, 2001 at 03:04 UTC
    You were saying these questions were for homework/academic purposes but they were both posted on the 27th of December obviously break time for ANY student. The only student that would have work over break are high school students. And like many other students i pick up extra curricular studies while on break, in fact i'm teaching myself perl over break simply because it fascinates me and i don't have room for it in my studies of graphic arts. And many times i have simple stupid questions that i have no idea of how to go about solving simply because my background isn't in CS but in graphics instead. I do agree with the comments about help by point them towards useful resources. but i like seeing code because well i just don't think in code...yet ;) well anyway i do agree with the post about feeling used, i think there isn't an easy way to figure if someone is posting a straight forward homework questions or real questions they ran into while coding, or doin homework
Don't feed the Sloth
by mojotoad (Monsignor) on Dec 30, 2001 at 04:25 UTC
    There I was talking about acedians and mendicants, wrapping up with a quote from Ben Franklin. There it was, staring me in the face.

    Just call the critters Sloths and have done. Concise and to the point.

    Matt

      "Just call the critters Sloths and have done. Concise and to the point."

      Bravo!

      dmm

Re: Beware the Trolls!
by particle (Vicar) on Dec 30, 2001 at 12:57 UTC
    i believe here at perlmonks not only in honesty, but also in openness and patience. perhaps if one considers the possibility that a post *might* be a homework assignment (due to lack of context, etc,) one could *ask politely* for an honest, open rephrasing of the question, with an appropriate context.

    if the initial question is rephrased in better terms, it is beneficial to all involved; an experienced monk can escape frustration with a bit of patience, and the petitioner will recieve a more appropriate response..

    i expect well thought-out responses to my questions, as i have usually exhausted my searching skills before i ask. some questions are immediately answerable, while others take patience and investigation to craft a response. i'm willing to be patient if the response i receive will be higher in quality. i believe most petitioners--members or anonymous monks--feel the same way.

    ~Particle

      Righto, particle. Despite my playful attempts at taxonomy, I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment.

      Matt

      "i expect well thought-out responses to my questions, as i have usually exhausted my searching skills before i ask."

      I have the utmost respect for those who take the time to think about and research their questions before presenting them here. My original post was mainly lamenting those others who, in effect, say, "I am responsible for doing X; how do I do it?", rather than some variation of "I am responsible for doing X; I've tried Y, but it isn't working. What am I doing wrong?"

      dmm

      You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day ...
      Or, you can
      teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime
Re: Beware the Trolls!
by Anonymous Monk on Jan 04, 2002 at 00:47 UTC
    I find this viewpoint pathetic.

    Either information is hoarded out of greed, or the ease by which information is obtained is disdained out of jealously.

    Trying to segregate those who 'deserve' information and those who don't is a preposterous action, doomed to fail and woefully misguided. The point is to make it free, not make it earned. The whole point is dissemination. Stop worrying about whether someone is getting off easier than you got off and start contributing.

      Whoa! Easy, there. Nobody is proposing hoarding information (or making any kind of judgement about who 'deserves' it or not).

      Dissemination of information is what PerlMonks is all about. We *want* Perl to become more widely accepted.

      The point is: Do your homework and make an effort. If you have no idea how to get started, we'll happily point you in the right direction (uh, directions: T M T O W T D I). If set out on the wrong track, we'll help you figure out where and why (given enough information, of course).

      Just don't come here expecting to have anyone solve your problems for you.

      dmm

      Either information is hoarded out of greed, or the ease by which information is obtained is disdained out of jealously.

      Bogus. (Excluded middle, if you want the technical term.) There are plenty of other reasons for withholding information. In this case, they're pedagogical. Someone who copies their assignments word-for-word off the net won't learn as quickly or as well as someone who thinks for themselves. So the objective of not doing trolls' homework for them isn't to establish an elite of Perl gurus, but to encourage people to learn Perl, learn Perl well, and hopefully become valued contributors to the community. Look up "enlightened self-interest" for more details.

      --
      :wq
      Your list of possibilities is incomplete.

      The one you miss which most closely matches my opinion is that in order to share we want to encourage behaviour which leads to learning. Answering good questions and refusing to answer thoughtless ones both aim for this goal.

      Indeed if I wanted to discourage lazy people from learning I would follow Dominus' memorable advice.

        "encourage behaviour which leads to learning."

        Amen I can agree with this whole heartedly. I only have one thing to say about it.

        Does this encourage senior members to hastily give the cold shoulder to someone that may not be looking for an immediate answer, but just didn't know how to phrase the question? I haven't seen this personally, just speaking hypothetically.

        Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity.

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