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This has been bothering me for a while now, and I'm interested in hearing other people's points of view.

Problem

Contributors are very quick to comment with correctional boilerplate messages where a questioner makes a minor mistake.

Why is this a problem

It's unfriendly, and smacks of the "Well, actually!" response people make whenever a new person enters a community. It often doesn't actually help solve the problem the user has.

Examples

Here are a couple of examples which are made up, but reflective of exactly the issue I keep seeing.

Example 1: Questioner asks for help identifying a problem binary on "Ubuntu 20". The response is a detailed treatise on the different numbering systems used by traditional deb-based Ubuntu and the different, shorter numbering system used by the snap-based Ubuntu Core distribution.

Example 2: Questioner asks for help installing a package on Ubuntu that they previously used on Linux Mint. The response is that the person should not be asking here because only supported Ubuntu flavours are allowed. The questioner did ask about Ubuntu, but the commenter seems triggered by the use of "Mint" in the past tense within the text.

Outcomes

  • The time spent commenting on the correctness of the question often doesn't actually help solve the question, nor does it provide a useful answer
  • The person is left feeling like they aren't welcome, we're not friendly, or we aren't willing to help unless they're 100% perfect in grammar, Ubuntu versions etc.

Why is this happening?

  • Possibly people are jumping in too quickly to answer questions, without reading them fully.
  • Maybe people are re-using boilerplate responses, which aren't always useful in all situations.
  • Our neurodiverse brains tend to push us to perfectionism rather than answering questions.
  • Something else?

Often it's very easy to take a moment to re-read a question and comprehend what they're really asking. Perhaps they're not technically competent, or English isn't their first language. They're likely upset and frustrated that something isn't working. Correcting them doesn't help.

I completely understand that we want high-quality, readable, comprehensible questions, and answers. However, I think some people in the community are pushing a little too far in terms of getting everything perfect, rather than focusing on answering the actual question.

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  • 2
    I've observed the same, and additionally I've seen boilerplate requests for clarification where no clarification was required.
    – vidarlo
    Jun 13, 2023 at 10:27
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    I totally agree with this (sorry for the self-promotion), but I asked about your second example about 5 years ago. It's sad to see this is still an issue :(
    – Dan
    Jun 13, 2023 at 11:15
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    It sort of irritates me if a user asks a question like how to print something in Ubuntu 20 LibriOffice draw and gets replies about being ignorant for not saying if he is using Desktop, Server, or Core. Often such details are apparent and the commenter looks a little too fussy. Then we all suffer from guilt by association. Jun 13, 2023 at 12:25
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    @C.S.Cameron You are asking about the LibriOffice package which does not exist on Ubuntu. Unless you are asking about LibreOffice, your comment is off-topic, thus should be deleted. (Sorry, couldn't help it!) Jun 13, 2023 at 18:04
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    I will sheepishly admit that I HAVE BEEN GUILTY OF THIS in the past. We all learn and improve. I spend rather less time online now, and I tend to go back, re-read, and edit much more now. I don't (knowingly) use boilerplate any more.
    – user535733
    Jun 13, 2023 at 21:12
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    We seem a bit obsessed with lecturing others about the StackExchange concept. "Why is this happening?" Psychology may be relevant. Something about our attachment to, our bond with this site, that is very much characterised by power imbalance. Perhaps Stockholm Syndrome is a bit of a crude suggestion to make, but I don't have a more nuanced insight into it right now. Also, our relation with SE is not as innocent as we may think. These sites are addictive. Many of us might have became addicts, and our lives, unacknowledged, are impacted by it.
    – Levente
    Jun 13, 2023 at 21:26
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    As someone who regularly sorts by "Newest", I agree that it's unnecessarily pedantic and unproductive to critique on obvious mistakes about things like version numbering. If someone puts "Ubuntu 20" and the context is clear they aren't using Ubuntu Core, just propose an edit to fix mistakes just like you would for grammar and spelling mistakes. We're not here to make people feel stupid, we're here to help.
    – Nmath
    Jun 13, 2023 at 21:36
  • Agreed - and I don't think I can add much more. I usually just ask for clarification and edit in the version I think the poster means (if I'm at pretty sure based on available info), and I'm not afraid of pointing out boilerplate in the comments and flagging those as "not needed". Jun 14, 2023 at 6:36
  • I agree, I see a certain boilerplate comment all over the place that, even to me, sounds rather condescending, especially since often it is irrelevant or obvious which version is being used.
    – Esther
    Jun 21, 2023 at 17:45
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    I think an important rule should be that we assume good faith. If someone asks about software x, assume he's attempting software x on a supported Ubuntu release until proven otherwise. Remember, we support using Ubuntu for tasks, not only the base operating system.
    – vidarlo
    Jun 26, 2023 at 19:04

2 Answers 2

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I'm addressing one side of this.

Please refer askubuntu.com/help/on-topic, Ubuntu and official flavors of Ubuntu (ubuntu.com/download/flavours) are on-topic on this site. The on-topic link provides alternate SE sites for non-Ubuntu OSes. This isn't a Linux site - SE Unix & Linux covers Linux

This is a comment I saw under a question where nothing in the question indicated that it wasn't about Ubuntu - and the question was about a basic Unix utility that is part of base Ubuntu install.

I think we should establish that we have good faith. If the question doesn't clearly indicate that it's not about Ubuntu, via for instance mentioning other operating systems or mentioning versions that never shipped with Ubuntu, we should assume - and answer - as if the question is about Ubuntu.

Let's assume it's about Ubuntu. If we need to ask what Ubuntu version, assume it is an supported one. Assume it's Ubuntu - until told otherwise.

Remember that we're supporting use of Ubuntu. Not only the very basic things, but topics as wide-spread as macros in LibreOffice and shell scripting in Bash - it's all part of Ubuntu.

In addition to the support aspect, please remember that we are providing a knowledge base for Ubuntu users. How to write a bash for loop is useful knowledge for Ubuntu users. That it's useful knowledge for Slackware users doesn't change this. You suspect that the asker runs Slackware, but nothing in the question indicates it? Why is that important? The answer will be applicable to Ubuntu!

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  • Very well put, I thoroughly agree! 🤗 Jul 18, 2023 at 7:52
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Can I say at the outset that I am not a big fan of the semi-automated addition of text as comments driven by some sort of user script, the so-called 'boilerplate' text.

Just to quote a little from the Comment everywhere page, which speaks (amongst other things) about when you should comment:

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

Note that these explanatory, bulleted instructions are pretty low-key and aimed primarily at gently guiding the author of the post into the production of a better post.

If, in the interests of getting through larger volumes of posts, you use a standardised set of responses you run the increased risk of:

  1. Inadvertently appearing to be giving hostile and peremptory instructions rather than the low-key guidance that our 'Comment everywhere' documentation asks for.
  2. Missing the exact nature of a question that will often not be a good match to your boilerplate text. It is not always necessary to know exactly what version of Ubuntu the OP is using for example.
  3. Alienating new users of Ubuntu and Ask Ubuntu by what they will often view as brusque, impersonal comments directed at their work.

So if you are using boilerplate text to add comments to Ask Ubuntu questions just consider from time to time if your quest for efficiency and the ability to easily motor through large amounts of questions is also causing some pain to the people we are actually all here to help.

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  • Yes, it's a delicate line. One option I sometimes go for is to use a boilerplate comment, but then edit it afterwards to remove or alter some parts that might come off as "harsh". But I think the underlying problem here being that the boilerplate comments could be better worded and more welcoming to begin with. Aug 8, 2023 at 8:35
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    Those boilerplate comments are a symptom of a chronic issue, and they are trying to eliminate the additional work that has to be repeated on this site ad nauseam. It's only fair to revisit the suggestion of adding some of these information-requests, at the minimum, into the help center, or even better, into some onboarding introduction.
    – Levente
    Aug 9, 2023 at 16:10

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