Saturday, February 13, 2010

When 'RTFW' is over-used

RTFW (Read The Freaking Web) is a commonly seen phrase in the online communications as a response to the questions which are asked without a prior research on the topic, more specifically if the topic of interest has already been discussed in the community wiki page, mailing lists or the project's website or blog. A similar acronym is 'RTFM', which refers to the phrase "Refer the Freaking Manual". RTFW is also interpreted in different ways such as "Read The Freaking/****ing Wiki", where some of the interpretations are not family-friendly. Hence the usage of RTFW is often discouraged.

Though a response of RTFW seems to be rude, it is not always. When a developer says 'RTFW', in most of the cases he means what he says. Hence it should not be taken personal, nor should it be a starter for flame wars. The volunteers who are there to help you use the phrase, when they feel that the answer is already out there on their wiki or elsewhere. A research on the web and the manuals on our own is often encouraged before throwing a question to someone else out in the space.

However, when we try to RTFW, it often leads to a forum post which also mentions RTFW. There should be some mechanism to reduce the importance of RTFWed posts and unanswered questions when retrieving the posts from the web. Another important factor is the users who ask questions are not ready to share their knowledge. They just want to be the information seekers.

This typical example shows what I meant. A person asks the question and declares that he solved it himself in a couple of days. Then some others keep asking the solution for the problem from him. No reply yet. If he has solved it, why should he avoid posting the solution, instead of merely mentioning he has solved it. Search query "NoClassDefFoundError: org/xmlpull/v1/XmlPullParserFactory" produces the above mentioned post as the second result, but information gain is zero for me. We need 'more intelligent' search engines or at least a proper implementation to reduce the importance of questions closed without solving properly.

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