EDIT: IT'S OVER...hopefully it helped some...now to continue on down the road...

tl;dr? Just see the bold...

After reading both of these meta questions:

Why is the Server Fault community so unfriendly?

What's wrong with ServerFault community?

Along with questions like this:

Being professional to professionals

And the "Be Nice" Requirement which is purposefully a 2-way street:

(EXPERTS) Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions. Don't expect new users to know all the rules — they don't. And be patient while they learn.

(ASKERS/NOOBS) If you're here for help, make it as easy as possible for others to help you. Everyone here is volunteering, and no one responds well to demands for help.

I can see that despite the site's statement that "Server Fault is a site for system and network administrators" there's an obvious sense of Server Fault not being helpful based on the "Be Nice" rule.

We "experts" here tend to be very quick (myself included) to stomp on the VTC button and then when asked "why?" we point them to the Help pages and say "you should've known".

SO...with the finger pointed back at myself...should I have known about the above "Be Nice" requirement? I've been here for 5 1/2 years, surely I've read that before today right? (sarcasm)

With all of that said...I'm back to the title. From here until January 1 I will strive for the following and am challenging my other experts to do the same:

  1. I will downvote and comment as to why. If the OP changes their post enough to warrant removing the downvote I will remove it. Yeah, it's not an SE requirement...but I'll go above and beyond the requirements.
  2. I will edit questions that will improve upon them and help the OP receive help here on SF without removing their original intent.
  3. I will offer up constructive yet positive comments on all questions during this challenge.
  4. I will not presume that someone isn't in a professional sysadmin role unless the evidence is overwhelming. Even then, I will politely explain WHY they are in the wrong place and offer alternatives to point them in the right direction.
  5. I will remember the words of the great philosopher Dalton https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTh5JzRziHE (nsfw) when dealing with posters not being kind to me.

What's the goal here? Why do this?

  1. To either help prove/disprove the reasons why Server Fault gets the reputation it does.
  2. To follow the rules. Be Nice is in the Help rules...

Anyone with me?

  • 5
    I was totally on board, up until the word "kindness," where you completely lost me. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:49
  • 1
    is kindness a type of poison, pretty sure it's not a gun or knife
    – Chopper3
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:50
  • I prefered my attempt at a catchy label: "Harsh Winter" Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:51
  • 5
    :) well my goal here is to see if being nice will matter...since it seems that the word "unfriendly" is prevailing lately from outsiders.
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:58
  • @HBruijn - I would've upvoted that question personally. The OP worded it well enough and appears to just be stumped on the way the OS works.
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 16:07
  • Maybe I had a moment of weakness and regarded it as something too basic and too obvious failing the minimal understanding. I agree it was well worded and unlike many also formatted correctly.
    – HBruijn
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 16:10
  • 4
    I'm completely on board. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 20:19
  • 1
    @TheCleaner Just so you know, when I saw this in the morning when I was about to post this, well, you beat me to it :) Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 8:26

2 Answers 2


The night before you posted this, I had a long conversation with Gabe (my co-worker) about an attitude he keeps encountering on pt.stackoverflow.com: certain types of questions seem to spark an immediate, visceral reaction from some members, even when they aren't attracting problematic answers or otherwise causing harm. He was frustrated, because in most cases these same folk are very helpful to others on the site, answering questions and helping new folks improve their work when their first attempts are lacking.

We talked about this for a while, reviewing the relevant discussions and reflecting on our own experiences in similar situations, trying to ascertain what was triggering this reaction. Slowly, it dawned on us...


When you've witnessed a situation go badly wrong, the memory of it tends to stick with you. "Once burned, twice shy" as the saying goes. And who here hasn't seen a site overrun by lousy questions, rude/demanding askers, off-topic discussions and trolls willing to soak up every last ounce of goodwill? Perhaps that's even what brought you here in the first place, and if so it's only natural to be wary of the same thing happening again to Server Fault.

Being wary is good. It lets you recognize when an interaction is leading to problems, when a user is clearly participating in bad faith, when a question is sucking up others' time with little hope of ever being resolved. Caution is born of experience, and it is the collective experience of its members that makes this site.

But fear is something else. Fear doesn't wait for indications of a problem; it jumps at shadows, lashes out at memories. Caution avoids a question because the problem is unclear; fear screams at the asker because he might be a vampire. Caution leads us to make changes carefully while examining the consequences; fear leads to paralysis and politician's logic.

When I look around at the discussions here, at the debates over how to handle the (very real) problems this site is facing, at the angry reactions to questions that could trivially be fixed or discarded... I see legitimate concern, but also a great deal of fear. Fear of outsiders. Fear of insiders. Fear of being overruled and fear of being abandoned.

Don't be afraid to be helpful

Your call to action is admirable; I would love to see everyone here rise to the challenge. But if you are to do so, you must first overcome your fear:

  1. Don't fear negative reactions from those whose work is criticized. Be honest and civil in your critique, focusing on the problems you hope to see corrected rather than the author who created them. If it happens that you've cast your pearls before swine, then call upon the moderators to stop them from trampling you.

  2. Don't fear that your edit will inadvertently deviate from the author's intent. If you edit in good faith, according to your best interpretation of the author's intentions, then it will be easy for them to correct inaccuracies should you err. A substantive edit that salvages a poorly-written post can prove invaluable for both the author and those who come after; a timid edit just wastes your time.

  1. Don't fear that you may inadvertently help someone who ended up in the wrong place. If you write your answer to be useful to your peers, then it may well be of service to such even if the asker is not among them!
  • 5
    There's probably an element of this, but I think we'd disagree on how big an element. The common reaction I've noticed among the regulars and myself to seeing what may be a help vampire (new user, decent question) is to simply ignore it - sentiments like it's worth my time, he's probably not gonna upvote or accept, why bother, etc. have been and are expressed in chat amongst ourselves. You may well have a point about the response to poor questions, but I'd argue that, especially in the volume we gt them, they actually do harm. Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 5:05
    – MadHatter
    Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 9:17
  • 2
    The Chef community and company is notorious for being friendly and helpful. Many of them are not afraid to dig into your Puppet problem if they know anything about that. I recall one time where a kid stumbled into the Chef IRC channel looking for advice on cooking a vegetarian dinner to impress his girlfriend. Rather than being berated for asking in the wrong place, he got loads of helpful advice.
    – gWaldo
    Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 14:17
  • Here on SF, that should rightly be closed/migrated as off-topic, but it goes to show that we needn't rigidly enforce "professional"; we can err on the side of being helpful.
    – gWaldo
    Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 14:19
  • 1
    All done...I have no metrics to quantify whether being nice has helped or not...other than a few random feedbacks from new users and old alike. Merry Christmas 2014!
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 14:21

I've been trying this for the last few days, and I like the results. Useful, respectful dialog is breaking out where in the past there would've been just downvotes and frustration - for example, here.

  • 1
    I always like concrete data, but how does the linked question show any signs of kindness (as per the original question) causing "useful, respectful dialog"? I can see the ever-heroic HBrujin giving an excellent answer to yet another questionable question, but that's it. Did you perchance mean to link to a different question?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 9:15
  • 1
    Uh... hm, that is strange. I was referrring to an exchange of 4 comments I had with the OP below the question, but they're now gone. Deleted by a moderator? Oh well. I'll try to find other examples. Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 9:18
  • 3
    Well, that is kind of the mod in question, whoever it was. Even our progress towards respect-through-kindness is too tetchy to live. Could I challenge a duty mod to undelete the comments in question, or at least let us know whether it's a community mod or an election fly-by mod who did it?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 9:24

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