Maybe "troubleshooting questions" isn't the right label for what I'm talking about, but I've seen a couple questions recently (in the last 12 hours) that seem a bit off to me. They're off-topic, but they don't seem to be the right sort of thing for ServerFault.

  1. Last night, there was a long back-and-forth in The Comms Room about this question:

    Where can I find a good guide to setup VSFTPD on Debian?

    I'm not sure if there's a better way to link to the chat transcript, the part I'm talking about starts a bit after 931pm, you can see the link to the same question:


    The guy has a problem, he posts a question, doesn't get enough responses, so he goes to the chat and gets troubleshooting, advice, and a bit of a tutorial from Zypher and Zoredache.

  2. Then this question this morning struck me as being the same sort of thing:

    Hide directory contents from showing when accessing the URL directly

    This time it's in the comments that there's lots of back and forth and troubleshooting.

As I said, these aren't off-topic, and I learned a lot reading the back-and-forth on the ftp question, but I wonder: is Serverfault supposed to be an live, online troubleshooting resource?

I think this type of question is at least a little "bad" because it doesn't really fit the question and answer format. I guess the question could stay as-is (or maybe add a more precise explanation of what Doug was trying to do), but Zoredache or Zypher would have to go to the transcript and turn it into an answer that says "don't use VSFTP, use SFTP, here's how to set it up." (Or maybe link to other sftp questions.)

One final comment: I think this type of problem is more likely to show up on SF, where you can get complicated problems that - if you are able to do some troubleshooting - turn out to be quite different than what the OP thought they were. I guess Superuser might have the same thing, but I don't go there much.

So: is this type of question a problem? Or is it even a type of problem at all? Does anything need to be done?

4 Answers 4


I think there are two possibilities here:

  1. Users who need to be spoon-feed everything in tiny steps because they don't know anything, including where to begin or how to research. I would not really call this "troubleshooting" per se.

  2. Users who are attempting to troubleshoot hard problems where they have some understanding and present research for each step.

I have an example of #2 for us, ultimately it was about bad Broadcom network drivers, we had to replace with Intel network cards, but it took months to figure that out!

Windows Server 2008 R2 network adapter stops working, requires hard reboot

Anyway, type #1 is definitely not healthy, since it indicates a fundamental lack of effort. They might do better to start in chat.

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    The question then is whether or not chat is the right place to get help. I regard it as an off-duty place, a coffee shop if you like, rather than an actual help forum in itself (I appreciate others might disagree). I also think that people who ask for help there should be encouraged to ask a "proper" question because they have not only limited their audience to people who use chat (a small subset of people who use SF, obviously) they've also limited themselves to the set of chatters in the room at that time. Not likely to get the best possible answers from that.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Feb 27, 2011 at 15:47
  • 1
    @Robert Moir, I agree. Chopper put it best when he compared users finding us in chat to following your Banker into Walmart. The users in the examples above (in the Q) showed an obvious lack of fundamental understanding and effort. SF is by SAs for SAs (et al). When it becomes obvious the user doesn't have the most basic understanding, it's time to close or migrate (as appropriate). I'm sure would disagree, just as we get users who try to force SF into a Forum, or however they envision the site should be. Troubleshooting in chat isn't necessarily bad; these examples are medium independent.
    – Chris S
    Commented Feb 28, 2011 at 2:39

As a realist, primarily, I feel that there's no way to actually stop this. If the answerer is willing to participate in this back-and-forth manner - there's no real harm done, that I can see. It's not the cleanest & most organized layout for information, but it's still providing reusable information. If it's not generating noise, that's usually my first litmus test.

Stalking people in chat is a bit too aggressive for my tastes, but that would just make it easier for me to hunt down a silence/squelch function. ;)


Regarding the use of chat for help, perhaps a 'live help' session should be encouraged into it's own chat room. That way it's not cluttered with other conversations and the transcript can be linked to from a answer on the main site.

  • If we must have "live help in chat" at all then I'd certainly prefer this way of doing it.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 8:35

My opinion may not be popular, but I subscribe to the "no question too basic" approach.

One of the goals of SE sites is to build a rich body of content for prosperity. When users ask newb questions that are on topic, we should either help him or let the question be if we don't feel like contributing ourselves - odds are that someone else will.

Who said that being lazy is bad?

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    Applied laziness (e.g. automation) is a good thing. Plain outright laziness, such as asking questions that are already covered in the relevant documentation, is a bad thing and makes for poor workmanship. It should be discouraged with a flamethrower. Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 12:58
  • @JohnGardeniers - My approach to programming is often to jump right in and hack, without reading the entire tome of documentation. Asking questions (even if their answer might be in a documentation which I haven't read) fills in a gap in this approach ... why would you take it for me?
    – ripper234
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 8:14
  • 2
    I can't think of a better way to create buggy software or,when applied to system administration, create broken systems that cause no end of grief for everybody concerned. What you describe is simple everyday laziness. The exact thing that needs to be eliminated. Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 6:43
  • @JohnGardeniers - let's agree to disagree.
    – ripper234
    Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 7:27

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