It drives me nuts every time I connect to an IRC channel, Perl-related or not, and the first thing I’m greeted with is “Don’t ask to ask, just ask!” (Over in #perl on freenode, the greeting is “No pasting, at all”. BAD USER!)

The problem that the keepers of the channel are trying to solve is when new users come in and ask “I have a problem with arrays, can someone help me?” The regulars of the channel would prefer it if the person seeking help would simply ask the question: “How can I delete an element from the middle of the array.” So they put up that chastisement, “Don’t ask to ask!”

How incredibly short-sighted!

First, is it really a problem that people ask an introductory “Can someone help me?” Wait, don’t answer yet. Don’t say “Well, they can just say…” That’s not what I asked. Is it a problem? No? Then don’t try to fix it.

Second, why not have a more welcoming message to those who you’re ostensibly looking to help, and who you’d like to have as part of the community? Why scold people before they’ve even said anything? How about “Thanks for joining us in #vim! We’re glad to answer questions as best we can!” instead?

Third, stop optimizing for your own convenience. Try to consider what your messages are saying to those around you. You just might find the communities you’re in to be a nicer place.

People’s behaviors are not code that can be optimized by careful code tuning. You can’t eke out every last second of efficiency in human interactions.

Addendum: I wrote the welcome for #perl-help on freenode. It says “Welcome to #perl-help. We’re glad to help with your questions, but you may need to wait a bit for a response. Posting your code will likely help, please see here:” It tells the same things, about how to post your code, and encouraging users to ask questions.