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PerlMonks as Ambassadors

by turnstep (Parson)
on Apr 21, 2001 at 00:36 UTC ( [id://74314]=monkdiscuss: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

I've been very busy lately, but I had to post this. I recently was reading the perl5-porters list digest (see a copy at") and came upon this section:

Casey West came up with the great idea of having a mailing list for Perl beginners. It's worth quoting extensively from his post:

I have been throwing around the idea of a central place where Perl newcomers can come and ask FAQ questions and the like. My dream is to funnel all the RTFM traffic from p5p, c.l.p.* and other such places. I would like to see a place where the newbies are accepted as people who just don't know yet. ...

There are a few crucial things that must take place in order to make this list as effective as possible:

  • Moderation. Flames must be removed at all times. It should be easy to be the newbie.
  • Direction. Archives are a valuable resource. We don't do homework.
  • Publicity. List and News Group FAQ's can and should list perl-newbies as the primary source for simple, 'new commer' questions. Questions of this nature should be immediatly redirected to perl-newbies.
  • Teachers. They can and will ask, we must answer.

So far, so good. I was thinking to myself: Wow! This sounds like the perfect description of PerlMonks. So imagine my horror at the next paragraph:

At first I thought PerlMonks was this thing, however, PerlMonks is not an environment where newbies are allowed to ask simple questions answered in the documentation.

Ouch! Is that really the reputation we are getting from some people? I can sort of see their point - some newbies *are* treated roughly around here - whether with a "do your own stinkin' homework" or a terse RTFM-like response. Certainly on the balance, however, I feel that we *do* help newbies.


Rather than turn this into a raging debate, let's tip our hats to Casey for thinking about creating yet another resource for Perl, and accept the paragraph as some constructive criticism.

I will put forth the theory almost everyone here *means* well, but perhaps some of us have forgotten what it is like to truly be a "newbie" to the world of Perl, or even to programming/computers in general. The obvious isn't. They may not know what a manpage is. They may not even know about the existence of the Camel book. They may have just had Perl thrust upon them suddenly and someone has pointed out our site as a good place for help. Let's not disappoint these people. Here are some suggestions I humbly offer:

  • Give every poster the benefit of the doubt. If the question sounds really dumb and simple, assume that the poster is sincere and has already done some research, or does not know where to find the answer. What may appear obvious to "us", may not be to most people.
  • Give a person credit for getting as far as they did - finding the site, (sometimes) creating an account, and formulating a question: this can be a big deal for someone who has never done so before. Keep in mind that a large portion of the population could probably not even get that far. Cut them some slack.
  • Sometimes it seems as if the same handful of people answer all the questions that are posted. If you post a lot, consider cutting back a little, especially if it is an easy question. This gives other people a chance to answer it, who might not have spoken up otherwise. You can always answer the harder questions. :)
  • Answer questions in a nice tone. Be friendly. Don't scare people off from the language. If you feel the need to write a terse, sarcastic, RTFM-like response, count to 10, recompile perl, then come back. As the letter above demonstrates, we are not only a source of technical answers, but also a source of perl advocacy, and a reflection upon the perl community. Treat everyone with respect, as if it was your 88 year old grandmother, who just picked up "Perl for Dummies in 24 Hours" and needs your help. It is always better to err on the side of being too nice.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: PerlMonks as Ambassadors
by footpad (Abbot) on Apr 21, 2001 at 01:02 UTC

    Thanks, turnstep, for mentioning this. This is an important reminder that the Monastery is designed to pursue certain ideals, ideals that may not be served by flame wars, knee-jerk reactions, or overly harsh responses in the name of troll-prevention.

    I would add a few bullets to your list:

    • If you see a question that you *know* has been answer previously. Consider posting a collection of links, along with a gentle nudge toward the FAQ (or Turnstep's home node).

    • Evaluate such lists and see whether or not they are appropriate. If not, consider writing a tutorial. If you know such a tutorial is in the works, gently nudge the writer toward completing it. (Um, Ovid?)

    • Remember that your words are public and will be viewed and reviewed over time. People perusing the historical record may not know (or care) about your angst in the moment. Leave your personal troubles outside the Monastery Gates.

    • Remember the words of many grandmothers, maiden aunts, and other maternal behavioral correctors, "If you can't say anything nice..."

    • Grudges are rarely productive; sniping less so. (And, yes, I'm also referring to comments that could conceiveably seen that way..."Out of context" is not a justification for rudeness.)

    Remember, we're all at different points along the Perl Way and each traveller brings a different set of experiences and ideas.

    Some may not have mastered the skills you consider trivial. On the other hand, they may also have things to teach you...but only if you're willing to listen, accept your limitations, and then move on.

    Mistakes happen. Progress only occurs when we learn from them.


      footpad wrote:

      If you know such a tutorial is in the works, gently nudge the writer toward completing it. (Um, Ovid?)

      Mea culpa! Mea culpa!

      I realized what a large task I was undertaking in trying to write a Perl/CGI tutorial. My life, in the interim, has taken some, um, fascinating turns. Moving to Amsterdam and programming in VBScript, moving back to the U.S. and unexpectedly breaking up with my girlfriend,* and a whole host of other excuses have kept me away from this project. Frankly, however, I think "excuses" is the key word.

      I have been planning to add lesson four soon, but I still don't even have a place to live (staying with the ex-girlfriend -- you can guess what that's doing to my mindset). For the curious, lesson four is going to be using and it's HTML functions to create a "mailing list sign-on" page. It will be rather involved, but it needs to be. I was thinking of lesson five as being an introduction to using HTML templates and beyond that, I haven't given a lot of thought besides adding to the appendices and creating a glossary.

      For all of you who have messaged me and asked for more, I can only offer my humblest apologies.


      Join the Perlmonks Setiathome Group or just click on the the link and check out our stats.

      * I know of at least one monk who's going to be really shocked by that and ask me what the heck is going on. To you (and you know who you are), I can only say that I will email you later when I have my head sorted out. Sorry about ignoring you.

Re: PerlMonks as Ambassadors
by buckaduck (Chaplain) on Apr 21, 2001 at 01:59 UTC
    Frankly, I can see how visitors can be confused sometimes. I have seen the occasional reprimand to a visitor for not consulting Super Search, but I don't see any links to it from The Monastery Gates. Nor is it one of the main links at the top of each page.

    In the textarea to submit a question to Seekers of Perl Wisdom, there is no reminder for users to check Super Search, or the Perl documentation, or the Q&A section. Maybe there should be.

    I don't see this information boldly leaping out at me from the Site How To or the Perl Monks FAQ, either. In fact, visitors are encouraged to browse the Perl Monks FAQ for formatting tips and then to go ahead and submit their questions.

    I will gladly concede that visitors should make more of an effort. But I can certainly understand how they might not know where to look. In that case, a gentle nudge is more appropriate than a terse scolding.

    I would also like to remind some of the more experienced Monks around here that most beginners do not know how to use perldoc. It's not that they refuse to try; they simply have never been told. Be patient with them.


      When I was new here, (not that long ago) I felt like I had been dumped into a D&D-like maze - passages leading everywhere and no idea which one to take. I suggest that the Monastery Gates have an obvious link to a "Site Tutorial" explaining the layout and function of the various sections. Appropriately, most of the tutorials here are aimed at gaining perl expertise, but newbies really need a "map" of this place to make the most of it.

      (so many nodes and so little time ... )

        Are you thinking of a guide like Welcome to the Monastery! Make yourself at home.? If something else, then someone has to write the "map" of this place that you refer to. If you want it done, the most reliable way is to become that someone.

        Once the map is available, it is easier to get it moved to Tutorials and then possibly linked from other places.

Re: PerlMonks as Ambassadors
by boo_radley (Parson) on Apr 21, 2001 at 00:55 UTC
    I'd be willing to help in a novitiate's area.
    we (lv 6+) can segregate newbie type questions to this area, so that existing areas don't get crowded with them.
    If there's enough consensus and vroom's support, we oughta email them back & let them know so.

      If one is created, I'd fully support it.

      However, there is a common theme (one perhaps not directly expressed) running through previous discussions about setting up an area like this. Namely: Every area in the Monastery (save perhaps the Moderations/Aministration nodes) is supposed to be accessible by everyone.

      I wouldn't want to see the Monastery membership fragment into "those who know" versus "those who don't."


Re: PerlMonks as Ambassadors
by arhuman (Vicar) on Apr 21, 2001 at 16:43 UTC
    A Newbies Area
    This topic come back in the foreground quite often
    (see this node, this node or this one to name few...)
    It was even one of my desire, the first time I came into the monastery.
    (I didn't want to bother experienced monks whith question I knew were silly for them...)

    Now that I'm a little bit experienced (but still so clueless ;-)
    I realize that this area already exist with the Q&A area (at least partially).

    Furthermore I realize that what make the monastery so great
    is the fact that you can talk/listen with really great people here.
    Newbies (and I) learn a lot more by reading experienced monks post/talk in the CB,
    than by just asking questions (when they dare to ask).
    We should enforce this kind of contacts rather than parking newbies into 'newbies areas'.
    They'll improve much faster this way.
    Learning to ask the right question (and hence already having part of the answer ;-) and receiving high quality answer...

    Moreover I agree with those who think that we must improve our way to deal with newbies.
    I mean :
    • Being (even) more kind with newbies. (as turnstep suggested)
      being kind in our tone, assuming that they don't know instead of they are stupid,
      giving them credits when needed.
      Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for an 'everybody is nice, everything is great' policy
      but just saying to a newbie that is doing great when it's the case shouldn't harm...
      (I still remember how a kind message from a 'saint' about a piece of my code
      gave me the will to work even harder on a topic...)

    • Adding links to SuperSearch, Library, tutorials is great (buckaduck's suggestion)
      but we should also underline the good way of searching in our posts
      ('A SuperSearch gave me as result...' or 'Using perldoc I found...')

    • Learning more about each newbies.
      We should make each 'newbie' a 'unique monk', it's not just a semantic trick,
      I mean we must tie stronger relation with each newcomer,
      not only answer his question but try to know him better.
      (should we setup a mentor/tutor/godfather/brother in code's program ?)
      The reason behind this strange Idea, is that peole with no reputation/identity tend act without worrying about responsability
      (See all problem related to AM)
      I observed several times that newcomer act differently in front of someone who knows them.
      So treating each newcomer as a 'unique monk' could change his beahaviour, making him often more responsible and mature.

    This wouldn't change the monastery but would make it a better place for everyone.

    "Only Bad Coders Badly Code In Perl" (OBC2IP)
Re: PerlMonks as Ambassadors
by Masem (Monsignor) on Apr 21, 2001 at 01:06 UTC
    While I think the ideas are good, one of the problems that we get here, that was recently mentioned in the thread about Newsgroups, etc, is that there are newbies that do not want to do the 'homework' that reasonably ought to be done before posting their question; they want *a solution* (not just an answer, the difference between like giving a hungry man fish, and teaching a hungry man how to fish) within a few minutes time. One solution that I've mentioned is to disallow the posting by new users for at least 3 days; this would prevent PM from being bogged down by those that want the fast answer and don't want to further work with the community (Anyone have any good stats on how many level 1 accounts are still active?) But this solution will fail as long as there is the Anon. Monk, and I don't believe it's wise to get rid of that. One similar solution is that if you are posting as AM, you are informed that your root-level post will not be visible to the bulk of the users for 24 hrs, and program this in specifically; again, this might drive off those looking for *a solution* inside of an answer.

    Sure, there are things that we can do without any modification of the engine by vroom, but there's only so much that we can do in this case, many of the above suggestions are good. But again, I think it does come down to a bit of frustration seeing questions that are clearly marked in the man pages or FAQs asked over and over without indication that they even tried. (two nights ago in the CB, there was discussion of a Tutorial of How to RTFM. This really doesn't sound like a bad idea in this case...)

    Dr. Michael K. Neylon - || "You've left the lens cap of your mind on again, Pinky" - The Brain
      A tutorial on how to RTFM? That's a joke right (no offense meant)? The problem isn't so much a lack of documentation here, it's either a lack of willingness to help oneself (you point of wanting a solution is spot on! Are we being too stuck-up in thinking that people should know how to do things? I don't think so but...), or possibly ignorance. The first we can't help, so we can either tolerate it or think up schemes to prevent it (such as preventing the Anonymous Monk from posting but I certainly don't support that either). Your idea of a cooling off period is intriguing however.

      The second we might be able to work on by making the posting instructions as clear and helpful as possible. There must be something missing in interpretation when so many posters don't even know about code tags, or wonder why the preview looks awful. Unfortunately I don't know what it is. In any case this topic will keep coming back until it is resolved, so it does deserve some creative thinking.

      Update: Thanks for the clarification Masem, but I had pretty much figured something like that. Though I was being a tad flippant, my point is that people are reading very little now, and adding something else to read is not likely to help much. I think what you describe would be useful to many, just not those that we're apt to get most frustrated with.

      I'd like to be able to assign to an luser

        The proposed tutorial on RTFM was not on how to read it, but how to use the existing perl documentation effectively, including man, perldoc, using sites like,, as well as the perl docs here. This includes understanding how perl documentation is broken down and where finding certain bits of info would be most likely.
        Dr. Michael K. Neylon - || "You've left the lens cap of your mind on again, Pinky" - The Brain
        When I first started using computers I got on bulletin boards.
        There was one bulletin board that was modified so that new users could
        only access certain areas. This allowed me access to a test message group
        and to use the download area for downloading help files. This helped me from being red-faced.
        Other boards I went to before didn't offer this.
        So being new to computers and to bulletin boards I made LOTS of mistakes until I got on that one board.

        It was very helpful. Maybe this might not be a bad idea for perlmonks.
        I know that for the first three days here I read the docs specific to this site.
        Thank goodness it's offered not to mention visible as soon as you get to the site.
        That was very helpful and even though I still made some mistakes I didn't make huge blunders.

        I am looking right now at something that says Writeup Formatting Tips a quick read that was very helpful.

        Okay my point. Although I took some time when I just began to look at posts
        and see what was already being posted before I began.
        Others may not. A introductory period isn't a bad idea but something helpful should be offered.
        I just didn't want that forgotten.
        An intoductory period without something constructive could be worse in the long-run regarding reputation.

        "Lights, Camel, Action!"
        A Fierce Pancake(1988) *Charleton Heston*(track 8)

Maybe? Maybe Not? :Re: PerlMonks as Ambassadors
by Mission (Hermit) on Apr 21, 2001 at 15:50 UTC
    I understand what everyone is saying. A week ago, I would be responding in an entirely different manner for entirely different reasons. I am (what I consider) a 'Newby.' I posted a node, Newby Query Comment, which asked a similar topical question: 'Shouldn't there be a Newby area.'
    The response I got I was not happy with (at the time), since most of the responses were about users not from a *nix background, or not reading the documentation, etc. I didn't initially like the response from davorg, but I kept reading his post Re: Newby Query Comment and it started to make sense. Now I totally agree with him. Because of all of those responses I received, I learned to 'Seek First, Ask Questions Later.' I don't see that as negative (I did at the time.) Actually, I'd rather like to help myself. I can be a fool and write meaningless code in the privacy of my office and not be a fool in the eyes of the entire community. I also replied to voyager's response in that same node. I posted, Another Lightbulb, which I stated, "... I was not aware of perldoc -f." So, I think that herin lies the problem.
    Masem, I agree with your post above! As a newby, I didn't know that installing Perl on my system also installed a ton of documentation at the same time. I think a tutorial on how to use that documentation is needed, and where to find the Super Search and other resources. The theme is not to push off the 'Newby', but to give them (including myself) a way to help themselves.
    I'd hate to see this community change entirely from Casey West's article. I do think that there could be improvements to show users how to help themselves. What we need is something equivalent to a large road sign stating, "This Way to Newby Orientation and Documentation!"
    As I stated in the beginning of this reply, I wouldn't have responded in this manner a week ago. A week ago, I was still struggling with how to look up information. By reading many posts at Perl Monks, I don't have that problem anymore.

    - Mission
    "Heck I don't know how to do it either, but do you think that's going to stop me?!!"
Re: PerlMonks as Ambassadors
by cLive ;-) (Prior) on Apr 21, 2001 at 04:39 UTC
    Having read everyone else here, I've had a thought. Why not put the following in front of every submit box on question pages for user's whose experience is (say) under 100, or if they are anonymous?

    (_)I have looked for my answer in Super Search
    (_)I have tried to find my answer in the Library
    I am a Perl (_)Newbie (_)Beginner (_)Adept

    That way, the answer could automatically get stuck in a Newbie section if they select that they are a Newbie or Beginner. And if they don't check the first 2 boxes, they get a warning that they can still submit, but that their post will get sent to Purgatory (a new node, perhaps?).

    Also, we could add a flag to all users that could be set to prompt other users if they consistantly ask RTFM/homework questions, whatever their XP.


    cLive ;-)

      I second the motion. Sounds like a great idea.

      $PM = "Perl Monk's";
      $MCF = "Most Clueless Friar Abbot";
      $nysus = $PM . $MCF;

Re (tilly) 1: PerlMonks as Ambassadors
by tilly (Archbishop) on Apr 21, 2001 at 15:46 UTC
    For those who missed the name, Casey West is ctweten. He may not be very active now but he certainly does not talk about the Monastery out of ignorance...
Re: PerlMonks as Ambassadors
by chumley (Sexton) on Apr 22, 2001 at 07:02 UTC

    I especially like your third suggestion. Even though I'm a relative newbie compared to most Perl Monks, there are questions that even I am qualified to answer. Doing so not only helps the one asking the question, it also gives me a chance to look it up to make sure I'm not misleading the seeker. That means I learn as well.

    I don't see a way to enforce this, but I think it's a good idea to answer the most difficult answers you can. If a question is so easy that you don't even have to think about the answer, then let someone else answer it! If high-level Monks constantly answer newbie questions, they are taking away a chance for others to learn.

Re: PerlMonks as Ambassadors
by chanio (Priest) on Oct 14, 2004 at 04:28 UTC
    Reading these past comments, started 3 years ago, I guess that we've done an excellent job, don't you think so?

    Nearly at the same time that I knew this site's existence, I was also knowing the experience of using GNU Linux. (that I have always seen as Perl's parents)

    At that time I was envisioning a systematical way of knowing certain great things in life, that are impossible to learn in an instant. Like Perl and LINUX. It is not fare to expect a lot of something that you are just starting to practice! But, on the other hand, it is important to put all our efforts in learning such valuable things because they would surely, sooner or later, pay for our past struggle.

    So, in LINUX, instead of presenting the newbie a digested environment (like Micro$oft's). I would do just like many easy-to-install Linux boxes like Mandrake do . They don't limit the system available, but speculate on what a newbie would require to start, and provide them with such environment.

    Here, it would be great to have a sort of robot that would interfere (at least during three days) the new users postings. And try to answer their questions, by analyzing the frequency of some known phrases, and guessing the structure of the posting by studying the presented code.

    As in an enhanced Super Search (always available) it should answer with some previous questions of the like that would appear with some excerps included.

    Instead of ending the search here, there should be an option of letting the user mark all the answers that might be close to her previous question.

    And finally, the super enhanced Super Search would guess again the real point of the user's interest. Presenting some new answers, always with the same option of marking the texts that might 'reprogram' the Super Search, eternally.

    By doing this interference of newbies, the enhanced Super Search would be the first tool that the users should know about PM.

    It is not a shame to admit (in my case) that I wouldn't dare to program such script. But having the correct tools handed to the inexperienced users, no one should have to face stupid or famous questions any more. Or if they happen, everybody would know that they are just a way of showing off, because the better option is always infront of them.

    I always put a lot of effort and good intentions when I start using something new, don't you?

    _`(___)' __________________________
    Wherever I lay my KNOPPIX disk, a new FREE LINUX nation could be established.

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