Community Second Line Support

Recently a number of well known people in the Ubuntu community got an interesting email from Ross Peoples, I’ve seen Ross comment on my blog before and I asked him if I could blog about his email and he agreed. In order to do this I have to show you the email:

Hello, my name is Ross Peoples and I have been using Ubuntu for about 4 years now, on and off. I love it and I am really hoping that it will begin to take off more in the mainstream. I am a very technical person and I usually can solve most problems myself, but every once in a while, I need a helping hand. Before I continue, I want you to know that I don’t usually send out cries for help, but I feel this topic deserves some attention.

I know of several resources that are provided for support of Ubuntu, such as the forums, the IRC channels, Launchpad, as well the
documentation. These resources are invaluable for your average user that needs some help getting their documents to open or their laptop to connect to a wireless network. In fact, I think that new users are well cared for, as there are other new users that had similar problems and are willing to help. My concern is not for new users, but existing users, such as myself. The questions I ask in the forums usually go unanswered, as do my IRC questions, and even my Launchpad bug reports can go years without being addressed.

To give an example, last week, I ran into a critical problem which I posted in the forums. In the week that has passed, I have gotten only a single response from someone who, I believe, genuinely wants to help, but cannot because he or she is not an advanced user, a developer, or a support member. This is generally my experience whenever I ask for help with Ubuntu. I feel that once you have
advanced beyond the status of a new, inexperienced user that you are truly on your own. There don’t appear to be any support options for someone like me, unless I just happen to know someone who is a Linux/Ubuntu guru.

I understand that the experts don’t want to be bothered by simple questions that could easily be solved by a quick Google search or
reading the documentation. I am a Systems Administrator by day, so if anyone understands the frustration of dealing with lazy users on a daily basis, it’s me. I like to think of the above mentioned support resources as Level 1 support. So my question is, “Where is the Level 2 support?” Where can I go to ask the Ubuntu experts for help? I am always looking for ways to help support the community and I do a fair share of helping new users when I can.

I would be more than willing to help set up an effort for a Level 2 type of support for Ubuntu to help those like myself, but I do not
have the expertise to answer the questions myself. I am also web developer, and could offer my limited coding skills to developing a
site for Level 2 support. If nothing else, I could provide the hosting and a domain name for such an effort. I am willing to devote the
resources to this effort, but I need help from experts such as yourselves.

So. Does the community need a better second line support? That’s the question.

The help I’ve gotten on the most advanced topics has predominantly come from programmers, if helps if your a programmer so you can decipher some of the programmer-speek as well as have some detailed understanding of the program your trying to work with.

A few times I’ve managed to get an advanced systems admin to give answers, but not as often. They are busy people after all.

The missing second tier support is probably just a mechanic of the people we’re dealing with. Good programmers and admins are much less likely to hang about in the ubuntu forums or in the #ubuntu channel. So the standard support channels don’t help, it’s true. I can’t remember the last time I went to the forums or #ubuntu and I’m community, more likely to help when asked.

Some have suggested that this is where paid for support comes in, to pay the geniuses and rock stars to give us the advanced support we need. That at the moment is certainly too expensive for most.

I suggest that we could do with educating more people. The user days and programmer days are great, do we need some advanced admin/user days too? Should we have more classes focused on giving members of the community the tools and knowledge to find out how to fix very complex problems? I think that’ll help, it’ll certainly help bring more people up to be able to answer higher level questions in the community.

Your thoughts?