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?

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No Responses to “Community Second Line Support”

  1. Franck says:

    Hi,

    first of all, I must say my company is paying Canonical for support, and we have been very happy with it. The fee (for one server) is far from expensive from a company point of view, and someone doing daily ubuntu servers admin can certainly get the budget for a small support fee (555 € per year for a 9/5 support service).

    That said, I still get problems where I need help and that the support contract does not cover.
    For example, help regarding unsupported packages from universe, or problem that involve cross products knowledge.
    Take an example : a lot of our customers insist that we use proprietary VPN software clients, and most of them are only available on Windows. So we must keep some Windows PCs just to be able to access our customers vpn… But most of these proprietary VPN software are based on IPSec. So getting a linux client to connect to them should be possible… But it implies knowing IPSec, knowing the proprietary software vocabulary and configuration (to translate it into plain IPSec configuration).
    I made several attempts at getting help on this, but never succeded. On these occasions, I often went back to Debian forums, or to the specific software mailing-list.

    So yes, second level community support on subjects like this one on Ubuntu would be great…

  2. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do feel his frustration. I don’t consider myself a beginner Ubuntu user anymore, so I find myself posting progressively harder questions in the general forums.

    Which, most of the time, go unanswered. The developers are too busy – which is a good thing, they shouldn’t have to be relied on for support.

    I agree there probably needs to be some other support system for more advanced users – but what, I don’t know.

  3. Sometimes the answers can be found via google, but even that is a hard, time consuming task. I suggested something awhile back that could help solve this problem, but then theres still the wider problem of advanced support.

    Having a level 2 forum would be a good answer but then you risk new ubuntu users flooding that forum with questions.

    I say, set up the forum and see what happens

  4. seb says:

    I fully agree with Benjamin, I’m not a beginner any more but I’m not sure myself if I should call me power user. If so, how is it defined?

    I consider myself a computer power user,
    and a Linux/Ubuntu advanced user.
    With my limited HTML/CSS and close to nothing coding skills I’m yet willing to search the net for hours, read dozens of bugs, fiddle in the command line, compile packages from source once in a while and wait in IRC for answers.
    I’m not afraid of all that and consider myself teachable.
    But as the others I sometimes reach a point where I’m sure the issue is beyond my and a beginners knowledge and I lack a place to ask the higher ups.

    Some of the issues I’ve encountered could have been solved easier if there where good examples (CLI) or good work flow examples. With good I fancy richer on detail as a beginner would require and still understandable for a non programmer…

  5. James Cape says:

    I suppose the short answer to the original questioner would be “the site you want to build is called ServerFault, sorry”.

  6. seb says:

    Hey, I didn’t knew that site. Thanks

  7. I guess there is also Stack Overflow

  8. marx says:

    I’ve learned the most by breaking things and then fixing them. I came to Ubuntu after years of Debian and RedHat.

    Second Tier support: For me this is a tough question; no one paid me to learn how to safely run an anonymous FTP server (just one example). Much of what is in my head and my notes got there “the hard way”. Should I give away this knowledge? I think I should since most of what I’ve learned has been free to me. But there is this thing called “consulting”. At what point do I become a “consultant”? For me I will draw the line when the user I’m trying to support has obviously not read what I recommend they read. So pay me to read for you.

    Just my nickel, er fifty cents now…

  9. Do you need second tier support?

    I answer this the same way I answer pagans when they say “do we *really* need a pagan temple?” Some will insist no! often emphatically.

    But if ONE person needs it, then it’s a need that needs to be filled.

    So yeah, you need more support. Also nicer support. But it’s likely not to come from the community. I’ve been installing Ubuntu as an alternative for windows a lot lately for customers. They get my cell phone number and I direct them away from anything “community” related. I’m their line of support, it works for them because their problems are solved relatively quickly and it works for me because they pay me.

  10. Maybe both types of support need to be improved. And, in your case, maybe Canonical could investigate making people official Ubuntu technicians, so it doesn’t feel like people are paying just anybody (not to undermine your efforts)

  11. They have that it’s called certification.

    In any case I agree with you. And I don’t feel it’s undermining my efforts at all, no factual statement ever does.

    Of course in my case my customers know me and know that I am giiving them the right advice.

  12. shamil says:

    If your self teachable, then try to solve the problem yourself of course. But, even for self teachable sometimes you just get confused when all you can find is documentation that doesn’t clarify, requiring you to ask a question.

    Optionally, i just don’t post on linux forums much unless i really have too. And, when i do post a question. Who’s answering the question? Is it someone who considers opinion to be fact and truth, or someone who considers the legitimacy of hearsay to be correct. I lament if such people answered questions for me.

    Basically i just like someone to asnwer my question who knows the difference between their butt hole and their nostrils, which many people in the ubuntu forums just don’t.

  13. Robert Schroll says:

    Yes, something is very much needed. Unfortunately, I don’t know what.

    My case in point: Upon upgrading to Karmic, I was dissatisfied with the new handling of the system bell. After a bit of searching, I found a Launchpad bug describing the problem (https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/metacity/+bug/486154). Several of us were willing to get our hands dirty fixing this, but we couldn’t get anyone to even tell us *what* had been changed to produce the new behavior. Eventually, we were able to put together a patch that solved some of the issues we were having, but that’s sat ignored for nearly a month now.

    It seems to be that something is very wrong if we can’t get a response from someone knowledgeable on Launchpad. (Perhaps it’s something we did. But if so, it would point to a need for better education about reporting bugs.)