Hello Server Fault people!

I really appreciate this help page entitled Be nice.


I am frequently concerned with manners. The manners of others and my own. I admit, I'm not perfect and I get irritated and such and say things in such a way that I should not sometimes. I also see it a lot from other users on the site too.

My question is, can we follow the rules from the Be nice. page a little more closely? Can we please enforce these rules a little more strictly? I think it could be good for everyone, especially new users that seem to get slammed pretty hard sometimes when they ask their very first questions. It's what they deserve.

It seems to me (maybe I'm wrong) that impolite or rude right now is mostly just things like:

  1. Name calling "You're being a *&%$"
  2. Harassing
  3. Other very overt and blatant insults

What bothers me are all the statements that fly under the radar. Things that seem ok to some, but perhaps not to others (especially the recipient). I think "what would I do if I co-worker talked to me like that?" and sometimes the answer is not so good. A co-worker would rarely if ever talk to me like that I think... so there's something wrong here.

  1. You're in over your head, step away from the computer
  2. This is bad advice
  3. You don't know what you're talking about
  4. You're out of your depth. You don't understand the basics.

Questioning ones personal or professional ability/understanding/intelligence or generally just being rough/harsh with someone to me seems impolite and isn't a "nice" or professional way to talk to someone. Often I find these statements/comments can be reworded easily into a friendly and professional statement.

One section of the above mentioned page is:

Your tone should match the way you'd talk in person with someone you respect and whom you want to respect you.

This is exactly the problem I'm seeing. People are saying things to each other that they would not say in person, especially to a respected co-workers, customer, supervisor, etc... this isn't just a problem with SF, you see it all over the net. I think it's because you're not face to face and there is no repercussions to acting in such a way.

So my question is (including the above)

What does everyone else think? Am I just being a weird stereotypical Canadian obsessed with manners (though I still lose it sometimes too!)? You can answer that, I won't take offense. I understand there are cultural differences.

Should we adhere a little more tightly to the guidance provided by the Be nice. page? Rather than just asking, should we perhaps enforce these "rules" a little bit more strictly and perhaps educate like with other rules (e.g. "Off-topic because...")?

Most importantly - should we all behave like professionals, just as we would in person, dealing with someone that we respect? And should this behaviour be expected of us?

Thank you

Extra question

I wanted to add something... do people agree with the Be Nice page? There's been some downvotes, and answers that seem to indicate some people disagree with the things I stated. So I'm wondering who wrote that page? What do they think? And should it be changed if we're not going to follow the rules? Or do people think we are following the rules?

I'm not complaining (completely). If I can come on SF and apply the "LART" and what not, it could be fun. I just thought things were different here.

  • 8
    I have used all four of your 'under the RADAR' examples on more than one occasion IRL. Being direct is not at odds with being nice.
    – user9517
    Aug 24, 2016 at 20:15
  • 2
    I am a fairly new contributor to Server Fault and I agree entirely with your point of view - some comments/answers on the site can seem very terse. As someone who tries to be as understanding and patient as possible in my professional life, I too find myself slipping into easy cynicism and impatience when answering or commenting on questions on this site. I don't know if it's just because of the volume of low effort "cash-grab" questions that I see, however, I do, and will continue to, make an effort to behave online in the same manner as I would offline. It's nice to be nice I guess.. Aug 25, 2016 at 21:37
  • @lain No it's not at odds, I agree. You can do both at the same time. You can be polite and nice and considerate and direct and even firm and other things all at the same time. I call it being professional and a kind person. It's how I am with my son as a father as well, even when he's difficult to deal with (like a user?). Aug 27, 2016 at 13:34
  • 3
    Here's a thought. Have you tried practicing what you're preaching? Find yourself some clueless posters and politely/nicely explain the situation to them. Do that for a while, on a regular basis, and see if you still have the same concerns in a month (or if the experience has changed you into a bitter, jaded husk). Aug 27, 2016 at 19:56
  • 1
    A side note, if we compare globally on all the stackexchange's familiy, there I consider it really friendly, as like on ME for exemple I used to bring an idea for a site feature, and you have no idea how much downvote and negative feedback I got in less than 4 hours.
    – yagmoth555 Mod
    Aug 29, 2016 at 18:34

4 Answers 4


There's a difference between being polite and being nice.

It may be polite to hold a beginner's hand and explain in a simple-to-understand fashion how to make a pipe bomb, but it's not nice (or a good idea) to do so. Getting a blunt assessment of incompetence is better than losing an arm and getting a visit from a SWAT team. Or in systems administration terms, it's better than costing your company lots of money and losing your job. There is no conflict between an honest assessment of someone's lack of ability and professionalism.

"You're in over your head, step away from the computer" is being nice and professinal; it offers the good advice to stop making things worse. And while you might not tell someone in person that they're in over their head, not everyone shares that impulse. I have no problem doing that. If you ask me, one of the cruelest things you can do to a person is politely encourage them along the path to self-destruction.

Furthermore, StackExchange is about more than just the poster and anyone who answers. It's about generating quality Q&A for future visitors, which requires culling the crap, which we do by downvoting, closing and deleting. That may not be "nice" to the jerk who posts another "please halp me to server!!!??!1" question, but encouraging that kind of crap (or even allowing it to continue to exist) is not nice and unprofessional to the hundreds or thousands of people who stumble across that thread. The nicest, most professional response to this kind of garbage is to tell the person to stop making things worse, and then get rid of the question so that it doesn't make the internet worse for future visitors.

  • I was really using polite and nice interchangeably. And I'm not suggesting new rules, I'm referring to the existing rules. Are you saying you disagree with the existing rules or this is how you interpret them? Would you actually talk to someone like that at work? Aug 24, 2016 at 15:47
  • 1
    @RyanBabchishin Yes, you need to be direct if you are professional. One of my co-worker accepted a project even if another co-worker told him to not accept it (a big rdp farm). He told him to continue alone, because it's scrap what he was dooing there and it would not work. Guess what, 6 months later the customer wanted to kill him and the guy lost is job.
    – yagmoth555 Mod
    Aug 24, 2016 at 15:55
  • @yagmoth555 I've been there. I've had to argue with my boss over things, even a CTO on occasion. They don't always take it well (a good boss will listen/debate), but it's necessary (for me) as a professional to be honest and do what's right. I don't need to be rude to do that though. Aug 24, 2016 at 16:05
  • 2
    @RyanBabchishin Direct != Rude. As when I flag such comment that are rude moderator do a great job to moderate them in short time! Last comment I flagged got dealed with in less than 2 minutes.
    – yagmoth555 Mod
    Aug 24, 2016 at 16:07
  • @yagmoth555 Yes, I understand direct != rude Aug 24, 2016 at 16:08
  • 2
    @RyanBabchishin I'm saying (among other things) that "nice" and "polite" are not synonyms. I realize you're using them interchangeably - that's part of the problem. (And yes, I would talk to a co-worker that way, if I had occasion to. In fact, I've actually said "you don't know what the fuck you're doing, step away from the computer" to coworkers before.) Aug 24, 2016 at 16:10
  • @HopelessN00b Hahaha. So what do we do? Nothing... forget I brought it up? Leave that Be Nice page alone? Is it nice to say "you don't know what the fuck you're doing" to someone at work? Really, I don't care... I'm asking... I'd love a consensus. I'd love that page to say that you can expect to be told off under certain circumstances with foul language when the situation warrants. Can we do that? Aug 24, 2016 at 16:20
  • 1
    @RyanBabchishin The be nice thing is a network-wide policy, not ServerFault specific, so we have no ability to do anything about it. My personal feelings about it (which are not complementary) are irrelevant, as are yours and basically everyone else's. It's imposed by SE and isn't going to change. As it is, they get frequent complaints from worthless wastes of skin about SF being mean for down voting, closing or otherwise not bending over backwards for some particular PoS "question" or another. Aug 24, 2016 at 16:30
  • 6
    While I share the "direct != rude" view, I also firmly believe that describing anyone as "worthless waste of skin" over some less-then-ideal interactions on a website is far beyond unacceptable. Essentially, you deny people their humanity and in the end, their right to live because they asked a stupid question and complained afterwards? You can't be serious, I hope.
    – Sven
    Aug 24, 2016 at 17:47
  • @Sven That seriously minimizes the criteria I have for categorizing someone as a worthless waste of skin, and I'm pretty sure that neither someone's humanity nor right to life is not defined by whether or not they are worthy of their epidermal layer, but it shouldn't be a surprise to you that a cynical misanthrope such as myself would seriously hold a cynical, misanthropic point of view like this. Aug 24, 2016 at 18:01
  • direct != rude, direct != nice... ye, we all know that. How about polite and nice while being direct (and firm I think sometimes)? Is that still too difficult? Aug 27, 2016 at 13:30
  • 1
    @RyanBabchishin No one is advocating that posters be called out as worthless wastes of skin or bludgeoned with heavy objects. However, you have not made a case for your assertion that it's not nice to tell someone they're hopelessly out of their depth and just making thing worse. Aug 27, 2016 at 17:20
  • 2
    @RyanBabchishin I'm Canadian, so... so much for that theory. Aug 27, 2016 at 17:34
  • 4
    @RyanBabchishin Downvotes on meta indicate disagreement. People are free to think what they want. So it's ok for someone to think 'waste of skin' but it's not OK for them to say that directly to someone - it would quite rightly be flagged into oblivion. I don't see any argument or attacks here either. Oh and I don't see anyone openly disagreeing with bee nice either.
    – user9517
    Aug 27, 2016 at 18:34
  • 3
    @RyanBabchishin You are clearly not listening. You have not made the case for not polite. Until you do, there is clearly no need to change.
    – user9517
    Aug 27, 2016 at 19:50

To quote myself: There is a reason that for the past 20 years Simon Travaglia's long running BOFH series continues to have enormous appeal to system administrators.

Many problems really require only a generous application of the LART. Some of our contributors are polite about that, others leave PC where it belongs, in the office where they get paid for it and prefer to make unambiguous comments and call a turd a turd.

Technology is often like that, unambiguous. You're either doing it right and it works, or you're doing something wrong. They're no shades of grey, almost doesn't make it work.

That simple fact is reflected in our professions communication.

People often attribute too much emotion to what gets written online and those should probably stick to interpreting poetry instead of requesting advice from acerbic system administrators giving blunt direct answers or, heaven forbid, who are actually trying to be funny.

  • I'm interpreting this as a no. Right? What about the "Be Nice" page? Should we change it? Calling things turds and telling people to go read poetry? LARTing people? Aug 24, 2016 at 15:29
  • @RyanBabchishin I'am not a native english, and I agree with HBruijin, as often I tend to cut the lenght of my sentence to not make typo, but I may appear really direct, while in fact I just dont want to write 10 typo in my sentence.
    – yagmoth555 Mod
    Aug 24, 2016 at 15:33
  • @yagmoth555 I'm not talking about being direct... nothing wrong with that. Aug 24, 2016 at 15:34
  • FYI, there is no right or wrong. This is an open question to all users. I want to know what people think. If everyone is happy to ignore the rules that SF has defined, then so be it. I'm just asking. :) Aug 24, 2016 at 15:37
  • @RyanBabchishin Yeah, but it can be seen as impolite, and often the answer I get are. So, it's tied to the be polite argument IMO.
    – yagmoth555 Mod
    Aug 24, 2016 at 15:37
  • @yagmoth555 I don't understand. Do you mean people reply back to you impolitely? Aug 24, 2016 at 15:38
  • 2
    The reactions that appear to concern you are seldom found in answers. I see them primarily in comments, which are designed to be short, allow little formatting and can only be revised for 5 minutes. Among others their intended purpose is for "constructive criticism that guides the author" where the constructive sometimes appears to fall to the wayside in the abruptness of the short remark, IMHO
    – HBruijn
    Aug 24, 2016 at 15:45
  • @HBruijn Yes almost always comments. Those were just examples... there's way more out there... I just thought of a few off the top of my head. Aug 24, 2016 at 15:49

The attitude displayed in comments is IMO a symptom of the problems here, not a part of the problem. I wouldn't be so angry if I didn't have to make 20+ close votes daily just to find a post that looks like someone even tried to find an answer on their own.

I have lowered my standards as to what I consider 'professional' in the way of questions asked to the point where I would happily say 'you are stupid and I will quit if you make me do that' to an actual coworker but on here I would suggest the questioner looks for a site that is targeting beginners.

Without fail that second comment will lead to me being directly insulted.

Nice isn't going to happen until the crap posts greatly decrease in volume or those that want to actively participate in the stated purpose of the site leave. Many already have.

One of those kills serverfault as a community. And you're concerned that we're not being nice. It's a lofty ideal to target but I don't think on the priority of issues here, it's even relevant worth discussing at this point.

  • 6
    Nice works both ways. I consider it not nice/impolite for people to ask questions without having done any personal research.
    – user9517
    Aug 27, 2016 at 9:58
  • 1
    Anyway it's not worth getting all het up about. SF is long past being in any way anything more than a place for the completely clueless to ask crappy questions.
    – user9517
    Aug 27, 2016 at 10:00
  • Nah, nothing to get bothered by. More like.. 'I hear ya, and I won't say you're wrong... But I can't say I care.'
    – user143703
    Aug 27, 2016 at 10:02
  • Nay, nay and thrice nay old chap. You need to hear what I'm saying and not disagree with me but ... ;)
    – user9517
    Aug 27, 2016 at 10:07
  • I hear you I'm just pretending you're wrong for a little while longer. I have a long history of staying where I don't want to be because I'm still gonna change the world. Keep the dream alive my friend.
    – user143703
    Aug 27, 2016 at 10:11
  • @yoonix It sounds like that answer was something you wanted to say... liberating? Perhaps it is worth discussing if not just so that people like you can say what you have to say? Aug 27, 2016 at 13:28
  • I feel that I've been biting my tongue months trying to be nice as I possibly can while not feeling like this place as nothing but volunteer work. You're right. It does feel quite liberating to simply admit it. I'm not really here for therapy though. Technology and lame insults are my thing. :/ I didn't intend to sound combative or dismissive and I'm glad you didn't take it that way.
    – user143703
    Aug 27, 2016 at 13:34
  • Mainly I agree you, but I think the site would need a clearly communicated vision for that. A possible vision is to create an "elite community" of sysadms, with high step-in requirements and with a strong quality control. Another way would be to produce a not so elite, but big, friendly, and not very LQ site. There are many examples for both on the SE, and also for the sites who are simply unable to decide. Imho in all of the cases it would be very important to treat the offtopic content, from cooperative OPs as nicely as it is only possible (i.e. by migrating them).
    – peterh
    Apr 18, 2017 at 3:54
  • 1
    Btw, I think the Unix SE and the Askubuntu would be probably very glad to get a large part of the rejected questions here, maybe a cross-site cooperation could help a lot for everybody.
    – peterh
    Apr 18, 2017 at 3:59
  • Seems like you are trying to urinate against the wind but there is not enough urine anymore. This site shows up as the first entry in the Google search results and there are and there always will be newbies. If you don't like it you can take your stuff and go...just as you stated in your profile. Good riddance I say. The age of BOFHs is over and you are a dying breed. The need for administrators is in decline as well thanks to the devops mindset. Seems like this problem is solving itself at last.
    – Adam Arold
    Jul 7, 2017 at 10:46
  • As long as devops continues to be used as an excuse to justify poor / rash technical decisions there will always be work available for those that actually make the effort to understand the systems they support.
    – user143703
    Jul 7, 2017 at 15:54

With regards to your edit and question regarding the Be Nice page: It comes from our Corporate Overlords and is as far as I know used verbatim in all Stack Exchange communities.

It's not "ours".

As with all codes of conduct and contracts, better to have and not use them rather than need them and not have them.

Also, moderators do follow up on content that gets flagged and brought to our attention as being rude/offensive and such a code of conduct is what gives us the mandate to remove it immediately, rather than leaving it up to community processes to slowly achieve consensus.

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