"The Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

(?) The Answer Guy (!)

By James T. Dennis, tag@lists.linuxgazette.net
LinuxCare, http://www.linuxcare.com/

(?) InfoRocket, Experts Exchange, Answer Guy and Netnews

From Margaret Pesuit on Tue, 21 Mar 2000

Dear James,

I hope you don't mind my contacting you, but I was going through the Linux Gazette and I noticed that you had a lot of good advice for those having problems using Linux platforms.

There is a new site (www.inforocket.com) where people with questions on Linux and other computer-related issues pay people like you to answer them. You can click here http://www.inforocket.com//index.phtml?mod=categories&category=computers to see all of the computer questions. In the column to the right is the amount the person is willing to pay to have it answered. If you want to answer a question, you need to register https://www.inforocket.com/index.phtml?mod=regrocket, and then you just bid to answer it, specifying how much you would like to be paid (if more than the amount offered). Then you will be e-mailed if the person wants you to answer it.

There are several questions on the site that I think might appeal to you. If you are not interested then please disregard this e-mail. Again, I hope you don't mind that I contacted you.

Thank you,
Margaret Pesuit

(!) Hmm. eBay (http://www.ebay.com) meets Experts Exchange (http://www.experts-exchange.com).
You don't seem to have a section devoted to Linux. The site is Lynx-ugly (though not quite Lynx HOSTILE, just ugly).
Most of the questions seem to go for less than $10 and have somewhere between 2 and 230 bids outstanding on them. I notice that there is currently one $50 question with 237 bids on it.
When Linuxcare sends me in they charge a couple hundred dollars an hour for my services. When I was doing my own consulting (sole proprietorship) I was charging a bit over $100. The "big fifty question" I saw there (how to edit an MS-DOS AUTOEXEC.BAT file) would take less than ten minutes to answer by voice. (I'm fairly confident of that answer since I used to do voice line support for Quarterdeck, then Symantec. Many of those calls involved editing CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT and my average call time was 10 minutes --- a bit longer than my associates, but with much lower recidivism).
On the surface that would seem like a reasonably good deal for me. If there were enough of those questions I could make $300/hr. But wait! I'm not alone up there. I'm in competition with those other 200 bidders, many of whom offered to answer this question for far less than the requested $50 (many offers were as low as $3).
Considering the speculative risk factors (non-payment, under bidding, etc) it doesn't look like a viable financial model to me.
Let's compare this to Experts Exchange which has been around since 1996.
At Experts Exchange you're bartering "expertise points" to exchange your knowlege in some areas (or other forms of participation) with that of others. Thus you answer questions about MS Windows to earn points and get answers about Linux or UNIX. (You apparently also earn points for "taking surveys" and "visiting advertisers").
The FAQ at Experts Exchange humorously suggests you can use your expertise point ratings as "tangible evidence of their expertise." They even say that with a straight face and go on to say: "This evidence may be used in resumes or letters of recommendation..."
(I don't think they're kidding, but they SHOULD BE).
I hope that it's obvious that I don't do the "Answer Guy" column in Linux Gazette for any financial renumeration. (There isn't any).
I don't write the occasional article for the Linux Journal, Linux Magazine, sysadmin Magazine, etc for the $100 check I get out of it. (In fact I've forwarded some of those off to the FSF http://www.gnu.org, in the past, and I try to send them at least $100/yr out of my own pocket). I didn't spend over two years researching and a year writing my first book for the couple grand that they gave me in advances. (That book won't generate any royalties until it pays off all of the advances --- that's what an "advance" in the publishing industry is all about!)
I have other reasons for doing this.
I gained most of my expertise by reading netnews, participating in free mailing lists, playing with the software (more recently) by searching the web for answers to other people's questions. Doing "tech support" for the free software and open source communities is my way of expressing my gratitude to rms (Richard M Stallman, the founder of the "free software" movement as we know it), Linus Torvalds, and the thousands of unsung heros that actually write all this software.
Of course my writing has brought me considerable indirect benefit. I've gained some recognition (a tiny glimmer next to the bright likes of Stephen Tweedie, Alan Cox, Eric S. Raymond, and Jordan Hubbard). My reputation certainly has garnered me many of consulting clients and job offers. (Of course, I've known the founders of Linuxcare, my current employer, since long before they started this venture; but I hope that my work here helps them is some small way).
Ironically I didn't come up with some "idea" of being "the Answer Guy." I just offered to help Marjorie Richardson (former editor of LG, currently senior editor of Linux Journal http://www.linuxjournal.com) with technical questions that strayed into the editor's mailbox. She forwarded questions to me (about a dozen in the first month) and I copied her on the reply (as a courtesy, so she'd know that they hadn't just been lost).
A couple months later I noticed that my answers were being gathered up into a column and that I'd been dubbed the "answer guy."
[Let me tell you, for a guy coming from USENet netnews, it's pretty scary getting an appellation like that. I've tried not to disappoint my readers but I still feel a bit nervous about being called THE Answer Guy!]
Anyway, I'm sure that some of my readership might visit your site. Some might even try it. It does have the advantage that there are more people answer it than questions to my column (it's more "scalable."
However, I'd also suggest that people remember the old reliable USENet netnews. Those who didn't know about them should learn a bit about this old Internet and UNIX lore.
USENet is free. It consists of thousands of newsgroups which are propagated to servers all over the world. It's been around for about 30 years, and is accessible even over UUCP (an old store-and-forward system for mail, files and news that can use dial up serial, packet radio, and various other transports). Most better ISPs still offer netnews service.
There are dozens of specialized client programs for accessing net news (tin/rtin, nn, trn, etc) and netnews protocols (mostly NNTP and NNRP these days) are supported by Netscape Communicator and by emacs (using its Gnus package).
Despite the popularity of /. (http://www.slashdot.org) I still think that web based discussion forums are slow, clunky and a far cry from Netnews.
Netnews is still around. I haven't had much time to drop in on it for a couple years (100 LG Answer Guy questions every month, writing a book and working for a startup will really cut into your other hobby time). However, I decided to shuffle off to another 'screen' window to check it out.
Wow! I just saw a post in comp.unix.shell by Barry Margolin. The amazing thing is that I remember him from back when I spent a lot of time in tin. He's the closest that comp.unix.shell has to an "Answer Guy!"
And I could resist jumping in to answer a few extra questions while I was there. It's refreshing. Of course I long since dropped my own newsfeed into the house, so I had to telnet out to my ISP. I've never run tin there, so I had to fire it up, and subscribe to some newsgroups (to create a new .newsrc file) before I could do that.
Here's some of the newsgroups that I perused:
Be sure to read the FAQs for any newsgroup that has one before you post there. You can find FAQs for most newsgroups and many topics in general at: http: with no content for me).

Copyright © 2000, James T. Dennis
Published in The Linux Gazette Issue 52 April 2000
HTML transformation by Heather Stern of Tuxtops, Inc., http://www.tuxtops.com/

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