Answering questions of Debian users on various support channels

When you start your journey with Debian, you tend to have lots of questions. You’ll find some answers in various documentations but there always are remaining questions. Those can be asked on various support channels:

Those are the places where you can also start your journey as a Debian contributor… instead of asking questions, you just have to answer questions of other users! Let me share some advice if you want to do some user support.

User support is difficult…

It’s not always an easy task. Some users are more skilled than others and there might be difficulties related to the language, English is not always the native language of a user who asks a question in English.

Be respectful and courteous when you answer user questions, even if they made mistakes. You’re effectively representing Debian and you should give out a good image of the project. If you don’t have the patience or the time needed to do a good answer, don’t reply and let someone else take care of this user. I invite you to read (and follow!) the Debian Community Guidelines.

Avoid RTFM answers, instead you should show the users how they could have found (alone) the solution to their problem. We don’t want to scare people away, we want to grow our community.

But it’s also rewarding

In some cases, the problem reported by the user will be a real problem and you’ll have an opportunity to file a good bug report, thus helping to improve Debian for everybody.

Often, you don’t even have the answer to the user’s question. But you’re more skilled than him/her to do researches on the web, or you know of a good documentation that might contain the relevant bits of information, in any case you’re doing further research to help this user. In this process, you also grow your own skills since you’re learning stuff that you didn’t know yet.

At least that’s how I learned many things during my first year in the Debian community… there’s no reason why you couldn’t learn lots of stuff that way, in particular if you also read the answers of other skilled people on those channels (it takes a bit of training to learn who are the skilled people though).

I still believe that doing user support is one of the best ways to join the Debian community and to start contributing. It helps you to grow your skills, and to slowly progress from “average user” to “advanced user”.

If you want to start contributing to Debian, click here to subscribe to my newsletter and get future updates for new contributors. You can also follow me on Identi.ca, Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

Do You Want a Free Debian Book? Read This.

A bit more than a year elapsed since we announced our plans to translate our Debian book into English and to try to get it published under a license compatible with the Debian Free Software Guidelines. But we’re now ready to go to the next step.

Completing the translation of 450 pages book is a huge work, we estimate it’s going to take roughly 3 full time months for both Roland and me. Since we’re freelancers, we can take the required time provided that we have a minimum income during that period. That’s where you come into play: we have setup a crowdfunding campaign on Ulule.com and we need your support to raise €15000 (this is the absolute minimum for us to be able to commit the required time).

Even if a good and up-to-date book on Debian is a great perspective, we want to go further than that by adding the perspective of getting a DFSG-free Debian book. That’s why we have transformed the crowfunding campaign in a liberation campaign. When you support the project, you can pledge money towards a liberation fund… and if this fund reaches €25000 then the book will be published under the GPL-2+ and CC-BY-SA 3.0 licenses.

On top of this, when you support this project you can select a reward that goes from a copy of the ebook to a dinner with the authors (only 10 places for the latter)! Among the other rewards, there’s obviously a paperback version of the book, but also an individual one-hour mentoring session with me… a nice way to get you hooked as a new Debian contributor (limited to 40 persons, don’t miss the opportunity!).

Wait no longer, click here and pledge some money to bring this reference book to Debian and the rest of the world.

We also need your help to spread the news and get as many supporters as possible. Share the link with your friends, write an article on your blog, put a widget on your website, etc. Thank you very much!

Click here to go to the fundraising page and to learn more about this project.

16 Debian contributors that you can thank

I put 5 EUR in Flattr each month and I like to spend those among other Debian contributors. That’s why I keep a list of Debian people that I have seen on Flattr (for most of them I noticed through an article on Planet Debian).

Directory of Debian contributors that you can thank

I thought this list could be useful for others so I put it on a web page. Then I realized that limiting this to Flattr was not a good idea, and indeed several developers already propose multiple ways to be thanked.

I went back through my list and looked up each developer’s website to identify a “Thank me” page (it can be “Donate”, “Support me”, “Amazon Wishlist”, etc.). Obviously this means that Debian contributors who are not on Flattr do not appear on the initial list even if they have some “Thank me” page… please help me fix this and send me the missing entries if you know of any.

Click here to view the directory. The initial listing contains 16 developers and 8 of them have an additional (non-Flattr) “Thank me” link.

Please note the warning I put on the page: the inclusion in the directory should not be taken as an endorsement of the amount or quality of the work done for Debian. You are supposed to make up your own judgment when deciding who you want to thank (but the links can help you learn more about what each contributor is doing).

Flattr subscriptions explained

Since this article replaces the traditional Flattr FOSS issue for this month, I wanted to introduce a new Flattr feature I recently discovered.

With Flattr you have to click on some things every month or your monthly fee is given to a random charity. Now you can avoid this pitfall by “subscribing” to some things that you like. A subscription acts like an automatic click during a period of 3/6/12 months.

If you want to subscribe to something, you just have to click a second time on the Flattr button and you will see this:
Screenshot with Flattr subscription choices

Once you clicked on the desired duration, the subscription is recorded and the button will appear like this:
Screenshot with a subscribed flattr button

Easy, isn’t it?

PS: I installed a WordPress plugin to make it super easy to share my articles on the most common social networks.