Ron Guerin writes:

> I don't think spending an evening wandering around Google and hitting
> dead links is a substitute for proper documentation.

I would agree there - googling is very much a last resort.  And the
whole point of open source is that we all put back in whatever way we
can, so a collaberative documentation effort can pay dividends very

I'd also say that "search the archives" is no substitute for a proper
FAQ.  I remember the days when newsgroups and mailing lists DID have
FAQs.  Then search engines came along and everybody saw them as a
substitute for an FAQ.  And for a few months people were correct.  For
a few months a google search would be just as quick and effective as
a real FAQ.  But after a couple of years, a google search is a complete
pain.  HUNDREDS of results pages with people asking the question you
want answered and the response is invariably "do a google search of
the archive."  The original answer to that question is ZILLIONS of
pages down the list and unless you have a few months to waste you'll
never find it.

"Search the archives" equates to "nobody can be bothered to maintain
an FAQ because nobody has realized just how useless a google search is
when dealing with a large archive where most questions are answered with
'search the archives.'"  The qmail list is one of the worst I've seen
for this.  Yes, if you have a lot of time to spare you can eventually
find the answer.  But "search the archive" is never going to be as
quick a solution as "the answer is in the FAQ."

Time for some analysis here.  Maintaining an FAQ takes time and effort,
so it's very tempting to abandon it in favour of "search the archive."
But searching the archive takes each of the HUNDREDS of us who are
looking for an answer far more time and effort than it took somebody
to maintain the FAQ.  If one takes a naive view as an FAQ maintainer then 
it is obviously to the maintainer's benefit to tell people to search
the archive.  But unless the archive maintainer is an expert in
EVERYTHING, he or she will eventually have to spend a LOT of time
searching an archive about a completely different topic because the
FAQ for that has also been abandoned.  We're talking "iterated prisoner's
dliemma" here.  There is a cost to maintaining an FAQ but there is a much
bigger cost to having to "search the archive" for the many other topics
one does not understand fully.  Mutual co-operation really does pay off...

My apologies if I've offended anyone, but it's late, I've had a lot of
wine, and I've wanted to get that one off my chest for well over three
years. I even put my money where my mouth is.  If there is an FAQ (on 
whatever) and I have something useful I submit it to the maintainer.  But 
all too often the FAQ has been abandoned in favour of "search the archive."

Paul Allen
Softflare Support

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