I've come across some plain "please help me"-issues posted by users including the comment they need urgent help. Clearly, they're not looking on the right site or should ask this on chat instead, but how do we deal with the questions posted?

  • Should we edit the post to remove all "urgent" matters?
  • Should we leave comments? To what do we refer to? Nothing in the FAQ seems to cover this.
  • Should we downvote such questions?
  • Should we flag such questions?
  • Should we close such questions being TL or OT?

I have two thoughts about it: answer #1 and answer #2.


Example question

Blank VLC player - no menu options - Urgent

I do use vlc player [...] I need urgent help for this guys...

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6 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Edit! Remove all the "urgent" stuff from the question

Just remove all the details about why this matter is urgent to make it a question for a wider audience. No comment or downvoting needed for this reason.

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Some people might reasonably upvote this answer and that one. After all, if commenting is unnecessary, this answer is correct. If commenting is often helpful even though unnecessary, that's correct too. (I don't think that's a problem, we should just keep it in mind when comparing these answers' scores.) –  Eliah Kagan Jan 21 '13 at 13:58
    
This is what I do. It annoys me when people say, "this is urgent!" because they're essentially saying "I'm more important than anyone else - help me first!" Sometimes, when I ask a question, I feel like that. But I still don't say it's urgent, because there are other people and their question is just as important as mine. –  nick Jan 22 '13 at 17:56
    
I feel my other answer, to include a (pro-forma) comment, is preferable, but the given votes say something different. Could someone say why he has voted for not leaving a comment? –  gertvdijk Jan 22 '13 at 23:38
    
@gertvdijk That has no downvotes so I wouldn't say anyone voted for not commenting. It may be people are sure it should be edited out but less adamant about commenting, so just upvoted this. But here's why I upvoted here and not there: Editing notifies authors. If the edit summary says why "urgent" is being removed, no comment is necessary. Edit summaries are great places for info of interest mainly to the author. (Similarly, distracting comments saying to format/spell/etc. better are hardly ever necessary; this should be a short polite note in the summary.) –  Eliah Kagan Jan 24 '13 at 17:28
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Often people who come here and say they need urgent help really are in the right place, because they don't need urgent help.

Serious Urgency

Suppose someone needs help quickly because:

  1. They need to know if they took their life-saving medicine this morning, and have forgotten their password.
  2. They need to format a document properly to meet a court-ordered deadline in three hours; if they do not, their client will be convicted of a crime.
  3. They need to assess the security of their Ubuntu server; if it has been compromised, their revolution / military operation / doctor's office has leaked information to people who should not have it and they must act immediately to mitigate the harms.

While we can help them with the technical problems, they have not come to the right place because they need faster help, given by someone with an established legal or cultural duty to them, preferable under confidential conditions.

If we ever see something like that, we should remind people that we cannot accommodate their genuinely urgent needs.

Another reason we're not an appropriate resource for those situations is that, under those situations, it's likely we'd be (wrongly) relied on as a sole or primary source of assistance. They should be seeking the right kind of help with the time and effort they're using to ask us.

Since, in most cases, we can still assess the usefulness of questions to the community, we can still sometimes edit and keep these questions, like with other sorts of problematic questions.

If there's a question separate from the urgency, we can usually keep it.

If someone asked, "I want a BitTorrent client with a web-based interface so I can download Album X," and Album X is unlikely to be available this way without violating copyright, we can remove the reference to Album X, remind them that it's their responsibility to know the copyright laws that apply to them, and answer the modified question if doing so will create the sort of Q&A we want on our site.

Similarly, if someone will be fired in one hour unless they can set up Basque spell-checking on the command-line, we should answer the part of the question that's a question (rather than a plea for urgent help). We might take more than an hour to answer the question. That's OK. We're not just answering for the benefit of the OP.

If the urgency is the question, we should close it as too localized.

If someone asks for immediate help removing an embarrassing digital photograph from an Ubuntu One account to which he has forgotten the password (and which might actually belong to an American opera singer), we cannot help him at all.

We could potentially close his question as a duplicate of a canonical question about resetting Ubuntu One passwords, but problem is too localized.

A cyber attack in progress would be a similar too localized situation.

Not-So-Serious Urgency

Suppose someone needs help quickly because:

  • They need to get LaTeX installed so they can finish an important draft of their dissertation in two weeks.
  • They need to fix Evolution so they can send a follow-up "thank you" email after a job interview, within an optimal time window.
  • They need to solve a problem with a release upgrade, so all their workstations are upgraded before the release they're running goes EoL.
  • They need to free up space on disk so they can edit some video they took this morning; the earlier it's done, the better.

Here, the faster their problem is solved, the better for them it is, but this is a common degree of urgency, when seeking help from volunteers on the Internet.

Furthermore, in these situations, they are likely searching the web, looking elsewhere, asking their friends, maybe even posting elsewhere. We're not going to hurt them by trying to answer their question.

(We should still not consider ourselves bound by any deadline in doing so, of course.)

TL;DR

If it makes sense without the urgent part, it's basically OK.

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Good grief... long answer, but well thought. If community agrees on this being the answer, I think this should be compacted and put in the FAQ as a single line. –  gertvdijk Jan 21 '13 at 14:23
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This is not a commercial support website. So in most of the cases adding the word 'urgent' will not help the question . So if it is not an urgent issue for the community( Eg: security risk) just remove it and improve the question. There is no need of downvoting and closing for this silly reason

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Yup, but new users don't really get that mostly. And in the installer this website is listed as to go for in case you experience problems. (can't find the screenshot now) Shouldn't we have a pro-forma comment on this? "Welcome to Ask Ubuntu! Please note that this is not a commercial support site, but about Q&A for a wider audience [...]" –  gertvdijk Jan 21 '13 at 13:50
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Should we edit the post to remove all "urgent" matters?

Yes. It has no purpose on this site.

Should we leave comments? To what do we refer to? Nothing in the FAQ seems to cover this.

It is a good idea to help new or unknowing members of the community be a better member, so please leave a comment explaining why it shouldn't be there. You can refer to a FAQ question about, for instance, how we are building a database with questions, and that their urgency is -at most- a comment, but probably not even that, but a small note that we are not a forum, and this is not a part of the question should be enough.

Should we downvote such questions?

Only if there is another reason to do so: downvotes are about the general quality of the question, research effort, etc. There is a suspicion in my head that someone who thinks his/her question is URGENT might not have done a lot of research, but that doesn't need to be the case.

Should we flag such questions?

I don't see the need.

Should we close such questions being TL or OT?

Only if they are. The "urgent" part is probably TL (Too Localised), but that doesn't mean the question is. OT (offtopic) doesn't have anything to do with the urgent part.

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Edit and comment

Edit the question to remove all the "urgent" stuff and leave this or a similar comment:

Your question seems to be more of a support request requiring immediate attention. This site is not fit for dealing with urgent matters. Please refer to the about page on how this site works and the FAQ on what we expect from users. If you have enough reputation you could participate in chat to have some more instant communication with other users here. I've removed all the urgent matter from your question now.

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If it's urgently needed, they should bounty it.

Maybe informing them of the bounty system along with editing out [urg]?

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No, bounties only work after 48 hours. "The question has been asked in the last 48 hours. Give the community a chance to answer your question normally first." –  gertvdijk Jan 21 '13 at 13:57
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