On Help Vampires

A help vampire (HV) is someone who asks for help to resolve a problem, especially on a forum or blog post, but:

  • does not read the forum posts/blog post,
  • provides little, if any, information about his/her particular situation (even if it’s drastically different than the one presented in the forum topic/blog post), and
  • provides no evidence of having spent even one ounce of energy to solve the problem, or to even narrow it down.

On top of this, a healthy HV usually:

  • has poor spelling and grammar,
  • (if in an e-mail thread) always top-posts,
  • communicates in terse statements, forcing others to assume 9 out of 10 variables to be a certain way in order for their statements, taken as a whole, to make sense.

I’ve been around in the Linux/FOSS world for several years, and I’ve seen many HVs. You can usually tell that you’re dealing with a HV because you’ll need to communicate with them with about 5 or 6 posts to actually get them to pose the right question — to just get to square 1. And by then, you’re so into the “yay, I’m helping someone!” feeling that you fail to realize the vampire fangs already dug deep inside your neck, sucking out every drop of your blood…

I see myself as a pretty nice person, because, I’ve helped out even the worst HVs, with the faint hope that one day, they would see the light and turn back into sane humans again. But, I think helping HVs is basically the same as feeding a troll — they will never learn.

Enough is enough. I refuse to waste time with people who cannot form coherent ideas in their heads!

There is so much information out there on the internet — with some simple double-quoting skills on google, you can find the solution to most things very quickly. For 99% of people, the answers are already out there, 99% of the time.

I declare, I will never feed the help vampires, on this blog or anywhere else!

P.S. I’m reminded of a reverse-HV situation, where the original poster of a forum thread, posts a very well thought-out question, but is met with answers from a mob of semi-illiterate people (some with very high post counts) who have either (1) not read the entirety of the OP’s post, or (2) not taken their medication. I’m glad that I’ve never had to face such mobs in my own threads…

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8 thoughts on “On Help Vampires

  1. omg!! wtf!!!,, dnt diss ppl, who just dont know!!! itsnot theyre fault!!!!1

    Just joking. I dismiss them pretty quickly nowadays too: If I’m feeling particularly benevolent, I might even tell them that the necessary things for getting help are English, Google and explaining well. Also, I tell a select few of the more promising ones to PM me back when they think they’re ready.

    And some HVs do learn (slowly). I used to hang out on the Game Maker novices’ forum. The reason why I was motivated to stay was because it was small enough of a community that I could observe everything. Perhaps it was a unique community in that lets in so many 13-year-olds and they learn damn fast. Perhaps it was due to exceptionally determined veterans. But there was actual learning happening, sometimes taking a user from HV-level up to even tolerable.

  2. Ha, wow, you are much nicer than me. In recent months, I would respond monosyllabically to HVs to give them a taste of their own medicine… On one hand, I was being mean, but on the other I wasn’t trolling because my responses were on topic and would inch the conversation closer, however slightly, to sanity. This had the effect of drawing in other knowledgeable posters to chip in their 2 cents to get the ball rolling.

  3. I think that “lack of clarity” and “not doing one’s homework” are two distinct issues, with the latter being a much more forgivable sin. It’s precisely _because_ there’s so much noise out there that it can be a reasonable strategy to go straight to a knowledgeable person rather than to Google, even with a basic question. It’s how the person handles your answer to the basic question that tells you whether they’re a vampire.

  4. @gcbenison

    > I think that “lack of clarity” and “not doing one’s homework” are two distinct issues, with the latter being a much more forgivable sin.

    I agree. Although, if I were to rate the “sins” on a scale of 1 to 10, “not doing one’s homework” would still get at least a solid 8. “Lack of clarity” would be a 10.

    > It’s precisely _because_ there’s so much noise out there that it can be a reasonable strategy to go straight to a knowledgeable person rather than to Google, even with a basic question.

    Au contraire! The more basic the question is, the more I start to cringe. Yes, the internet is noisy, but it is surprising how much you can filter out with judicious use of double quotes and the word “forum” in your search box, even for the most complicated queries. And as participants of the internet, having poor internet research skills (or “internet navigation skills”, rather) is inexcusable.

  5. Nicely put. The battle against Help Vampires has been going on for almost two decades, since September 1993, famously known as The September That Never Ended. I have my Eternal September students read Eric Raymond’s “How To Ask Questions the Smart Way”, but, naturally, none of them bother… 🙂

  6. @Doug: Thank you for reminding us all about the “Eternal September”. 🙂

    > I have my Eternal September students read Eric Raymond’s “How To Ask Questions the Smart Way”, but, naturally, none of them bother…

    You can’t expect to cure HVs by giving them something to read. Alas, even if you talk to them directly, I doubt that will change anything in the long run.

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