Have you tried turning it off and on again? February 26, 2011 4:47 PM   Subscribe

There are a TON of Ask Me questions about basic home networking problems -- setting up wireless, why is my cable modem not working, how do I set up a wireless bridge, etc. Is anyone interested in working on a wiki page with common troubleshooting stuff related to that? Is that something that even should go on the metafilter wiki?
posted by empath to MetaFilter-Related at 4:47 PM (43 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

That would be something great for the MeFi wiki. I just solved someone's problem with that exact question this week!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:03 PM on February 26, 2011


I'd be happy to help. So many of these questions are low-hanging-fruit deals, though... as in, I never seem to see the question before it's been answered. Will people ever look at the wiki instead of asking the question, given how technically savvy MetaFilter users tend to be? One assumes the set of users who check the wiki largely overlaps with the set who already wouldn't be asking home networking questions. Jessamyn's linked question was answered in ten minutes by two people.
posted by SMPA at 5:07 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a networking question right now. Should I wait?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:16 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


So many of these questions are low-hanging-fruit deals, though... as in, I never seem to see the question before it's been answered. Will people ever look at the wiki instead of asking the question, given how technically savvy MetaFilter users tend to be?

Maybe just for reference? Ask MeFi isn't just for the people asking the questions -- a lot of these questions come up very high in search results.
posted by empath at 5:30 PM on February 26, 2011


You could always do what I did and marry a network engineer. Problem solved!
posted by desjardins at 5:59 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm thinking this kind of question will have a lot of overlap with one of the Stack Overflow sites, either wireless networking on Super User or networking on Server Fault. Why reinvent the wheel?
posted by scalefree at 6:32 PM on February 26, 2011


I wonder if Google's index of AskMe wouldn't actually be better than a manually updated wiki. It depends on how well the wiki page is formatted, I suppose.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:34 PM on February 26, 2011


Is this the kind of stuff you had in mind?
posted by flabdablet at 7:01 PM on February 26, 2011


I've thought of that a bit myself, as well as a similar thing for the basic video questions that crop up almost as regularly. It's a good idea, and I'd be in for adding / vetting stuff.

My only concern, though, is organising it. While a lot of questions are very basic stuff, even at that level a lot of the actual solutions tend towards being manufacturer-, model-, provider-, or even configuration-specific. You'd have to think very carefully about a structure to organise that, else a single wiki page would rapidly get unwieldy. Depends how deep you'd want to go, I guess.

Something with explanations would be good - e.g.

Step 1: Have you tried turning it off and on again?
Why?: Removing the power for 30 seconds or more is sometimes necessary to properly reset the device. Although the power light has turned off, there may be enough residual charge in the power supply for the device to keep running for a short time. Additionally, the equipment at the other end (e.g. your cable provider or ISP) may take some time to drop the connection. Removing the power more than 30 seconds is usually enough time to ensure that the device has fully powered down and that the connection has reset.
On preview: The thing with forums is that you've got to know where to go - if you JFGI, there's an overwhelming range of both spam and non-spam sites to choose from. Additionally, to get the best results you need to know the keywords or terminology - technical users might, but in my experience others probably don't (hell, I miss the exact terms needed sometimes).

It would probably work best, though, if the wiki was more prominently featured on MeFi / AskMeFi, or certain tags triggered a prompt asking the asker to check the wiki before posting.

flabdablet: Good point. But
posted by Pinback at 7:05 PM on February 26, 2011


I have a networking question right now. Should I wait?

Ask away. The more questions are out there, the more information we have about what kinds of problems are common.
posted by teraflop at 7:32 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this needs to be a chapter in the metafilter bible where we compose a coherent work out of all the incredible information that has been dispensed here over the years. I'm tired of feeling like we're in the twilight zone, between the pit of man's fears and the summit of our knowledge.
posted by cashman at 7:38 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


And lo, on the 4th day Jessamyn commandeth, "Try clearing your browser cache and reloading" and indeed did twitter again utter forth many tweets unto the browser.
posted by empath at 7:54 PM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nerds.
posted by item at 8:00 PM on February 26, 2011


I'm sorry. What I meant was

NEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRDS!!!
posted by item at 8:01 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pinback: I only just stuck that up there, which is why nothing links to it. Which immediately gives rise to the question: what should link to it? Is it possible for any static collection of helpful hints to come close to the usefulness of people simply giving direct and helpful answers to every question asked, even if those questions have already been asked with minor variations a thousand times before? I don't think so.

The simple fact is that the solution to every conceivable networking problem is already out there in machine-readable form, in most cases just a google away. But to make a one-stop compendium of it that covers even the most common cases would result in a pile of information so huge and scary as to be useless to almost anybody even slightly non-technical. If building a compendium of reliable information were all there was to helping people fix stuff, AskMe would simply not be necessary.

What's missing is understanding. Threads on AskMe generally get steered toward best answers based on feedback and followup questions from the community, and those followup questions are based on people's understanding of the problem domain.

Given enough time, enough persistence and enough access to reliable information, almost anybody can understand almost anything. But the thing is, very few people have enough time to build a usable understanding of something like computer networking. Making tips and tricks collections or fault trees available is all very well, but the simple fact is that most people will never have the level of understanding required to make effective use of these things. Knowledge bases are useless to people with unknown unknowns.

AskMe is an understanding-improver for both askers, who hopefully gain some degree of insight from whatever the answers turn out to be, and for answerers, who are forced to put their understanding into some kind of order before an answer can be formulated. I spend a lot of time answering questions on AskMe precisely because I've found that one of the best ways to learn anything is to attempt to explain it to somebody else.

In short: It strikes me that building a centralized AskMe networking FAQ is an attempt to solve a non-problem. I simply can't see what's wrong with having thousands of essentially duplicated answer threads with minor variations, because I see the process of creating each one of those as beneficial to all concerned.

One of the big reasons that AskMe is such a fun and useful thing is the relationships it creates between people with questions and people with answers; in aggregate, those relationships are what helps make AskMe a genuine community site.
posted by flabdablet at 8:49 PM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Flabdalet, that's a fine point of view but IMHO there is a huge value in being able to say "have you gone through these steps on the Wiki?" in helping people to narrow down issues. Having to start all of these Asks with "OK so here's how you do a tracert...." is not actually as helpful as someone being able to say "I followed the wiki steps and here's my tracert..." right in the question.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:06 PM on February 26, 2011


You could always do what I did and marry a network engineer.

it's too late for some of us.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:06 PM on February 26, 2011


I'd love to marry a network engineer but would a network engineer want to marry me?

And yes, the personal handholding through the AskMe is sooo much more useful to a non-tech who doesn't learn easily through reading endless technical info. Even Networking for Dummies is too damn much to comprehend.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:27 PM on February 26, 2011


Yeah, just explaining how to ping, how to run a traceroute, do a dns lookup, change dns servers, etc.. it's the same stuff over and over again.
posted by empath at 9:44 PM on February 26, 2011


flabdablet, as usual, makes thoughtful points, not the least being to elucidate a mechanism by which AskMe acts to educate not only Askers, but Answerers. That's not something always recognized, or much appreciated, in help communities.

As for the on-going issue of repetitive networking questions, it's just continuing proof of what a tarpit TCP/IP is, as a base network protocol, and how the wrong side really won in the Netheads vs. Bellheads skirmishes, back in the '90s. It's ludicrous that, in the 21st century, non-technical human beings should have to know anything about network design, protocol function, or security, to get basic, reliable, secure, expected service from networks (and common network access devices) of which they are paying to be clients. As a some time techie, I cringe whenever I see some poor soul in AskMe post a question that includes some language to the effect of "I am not a computer/network person" and I want to say to all of them "You SHOULDN'T HAVE TO BE; your problem is likely part and parcel of lousy end-to-end Internet network design, and in a better world, you'd never have been so inconvenienced."

But then, sometimes, I take a deep breath, and don't post that apology, because in 99.9995% of such situations it's not immediately helpful, and I try to explain, in simple terms, how to check to see if basic TCP/IP connectivity and routing is established, if DNS is being provided, if a tracert is able to offer useful information, etc. And my decades old, personal grudge towards the IETF, and all its bastard contributors and spawn grows a mite bigger...

But to return to the mainline discussion, I think non-technical people with Internet networking problems are going to forever seek help in whatever they think are the best places to get that help. If AskMe continues to respond to Askers with networking problems in helpful ways, such folk will continue to post their quandries, and rightly so, Wiki entries or no. As flabdablet recognizes, such people are the least capable of digging through the vast depth of Internet resources which probably already cover their problem, and are looking for a "guru" to do their thinking for them, as most of us would, with any specialty technical problem supporting our existence.

No Wiki entries are going to be useful to the majority of people with network problems, automobile issues, or medical/legal problems posted to AskMe, because, if a person posting to AskMe had the capability to sift the Internet for like solutions and knowledge, they likely wouldn't be Asking, and at least 50% of the time, apologizing for doing so, as they do.

Poor souls.
posted by paulsc at 10:51 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thought occurs, though, that it might be useful to write some resource pages, a bit like that Wiki that flabdablet linked, and then once a specific question is understood, point the asker at one or more of those pages. The links wouldn't be the 'primary contact'; that would be humans. It'd be a resource, not a diagnosis tool.

Once the problem had been parsed, giving an asker specific, relevant links could save a great deal of typing/explaining. I'm thinking that, most likely, they should be very short, each covering exactly one thing... rather than trying to explain all of wireless networking, have a page on choosing a good password, have a page on why they should use WPA2 instead of WEP, have a page on things that can interfere with wireless, and so on. The idea would be to point the asker at the minimum subset of information that appears to answer his or her question, or instructions on specific diagnostic steps to take, reporting the results.

Just pulling this out of the air, but maybe pages that can be read and understood in five minutes or less might be a good rule of thumb? Something along the line of, say, "how to run a traceroute", for the various OSes, without really explaining what it's doing. Just a simple, bulleted list telling them to open a command prompt, run a traceroute, not to panic about all the * marks, and (on Windows) how to copy the result out of the window.

If people seem to like the feature, we could keep the basic pages extremely simple, but then add subsidiary Further Reading If You're Interested links. If they're unpopular...well, when the pages are that short to begin with, it's no big loss if they go unused.
posted by Malor at 11:44 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


As for the on-going issue of repetitive networking questions, it's just continuing proof of what a tarpit TCP/IP is, as a base network protocol, and how the wrong side really won in the Netheads vs. Bellheads skirmishes, back in the '90s. It's ludicrous that, in the 21st century, non-technical human beings should have to know anything about network design, protocol function, or security, to get basic, reliable, secure, expected service from networks (and common network access devices) of which they are paying to be clients.

That's a complete nonsequitur. The bells would have never brought broadband internet to people unless they were forced to by competition. And if they did, it would have cost you $500/mo and you wouldn't own any of the equipment, including the computer. I work for a CLEC and we sell internet on the 'bell model' all the time to corporations -- we own and manage the switches, the voip phones, the router, and guarantee reliability and service -- and we bill thousands of dollars a month for less bandwidth than you'd get from a $40/mo dsl connection. It's worth it to companies who depend on their phones and internet to make a living. It's not worth it to anybody with a home internet connection that they need to torrent movies and play world of warcraft or send email to their grand kids.

You don't need to know anything about computers to get on the internet even today. You can go to Best Buy and get everything installed and working for you in the same way that you can get a mechanic to change your oil, check your transmission, etc. Most people don't because it's relatively easy to do it yourself 99% of the time. I mean, most of the questions we get on metafilter are relatively easy things to fix with a 15 minute call to your computer-savvy nephew.
posted by empath at 1:17 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry. What I meant was NEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRDS!!!

That's ok. I can read your email.
posted by loquacious at 5:35 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's a good idea, as long as people don't get dickish about the resource, if it's made. Gently pointing people to it would be great, doing a variation of "Jesus, you dumb fuck, we made resource for your simple ass problem, did you even bother to look" would not be great.

People are people. Sometimes they'll look for that special resource, but more often than not most of us just want a real live person to communicate with to help us with our special snowflake problem.

Would love to help, but I seem to be going the route of "WTF, I knew this crap ten years and we're still fighting with it. Whatever, just make it work, I got stuff to do." Yes yes, I'll be turning in my geek cred card and promise not to be seen with any of you in public.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:20 AM on February 27, 2011


Would it be possible to build some sort of faq that was basically an index of links to comments marked "best answer" on a particular subject? It might make the wiki itself more concise, plus it would link back to threads with more responses in them beyond the best answer if it wasn't snowflakey enough.

One problem wit these sort of databases is keeping them up to date. I do searches for tech questions occasionally that lead me to pages abandoned in 2004, addressing things that are long since obviated by software updates, new hardware protocols, etc. An index might be easier to keep up-to-date than relying on volunteers to consistently modify an ever-changing knowledge base year after year.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:33 AM on February 27, 2011


Devils Rancher: Would it be possible to build some sort of faq that was basically an index of links to comments marked "best answer" on a particular subject?

Yes. This is how travel was done.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:41 AM on February 27, 2011


It's ludicrous that, in the 21st century, non-technical human beings should have to know anything about network design, protocol function, or security, to get basic, reliable, secure, expected service from networks (and common network access devices) of which they are paying to be clients.

AOL and Compuserve are thataway...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:49 AM on February 27, 2011


I'd love to marry a network engineer but would a network engineer want to marry me?

I dunno, look at me, apparently his standards were pretty low. *rimshot*
posted by desjardins at 7:53 AM on February 27, 2011


I think there's some value to compiling troubleshooting guides here; because there is also a parallel question stream, there's an incentive to keep things up to date.

If I'm googling around for the answer to a problem, I turn up forum posts that are written by well-meaning idiots, or are from 2003 and don't apply to my current problem, or are problematic in many other ways (and OMG the signatures…). For something run in parallel to AskMe, you would have repeated challenges to guide comprehensibility, up-to-dateness and other aspects of usefulness. A process of ongoing peer-review seems to be perfect for this kind of changeable and sometimes hard to explain material.
I imagine a process like this in AskMe:
Me: "I tried to follow the thing on the wiki, but I couldn't find the derp widget. Am I a special snowflake?"
Expert: "Oh, no, it's different in Windows 7. *updates wiki*"
Me: Oh wow, thanks!

Topics I would like to see covered include:
• Wireless networking with emphasis on making Macs, Windows and Linux boxes play nicely (what I can never find is information that's relevant to Windows 7, and a list of things that are just not possible so stop wasting your time).
• Windows malware management for non-windows users who have to deal with every virus-addled box in their extended family. There's that dude who has the awesome guide in his profile, but I don't know how often it's updated and it's, like, just one guy's opinion.
• Overcoming low self-esteem issues and actually talking to members of the opposite sex: seasonal and regional factors in selection of fedora-band accessories.
• Common travelfilter questions like "Cheap but sanitary places to stay in XYZ major city".

I definitely think that this is worth doing, but I'm volunteering to be a consumer rather than a contributor.
posted by nowonmai at 8:15 AM on February 27, 2011


I mean, most of the questions we get on metafilter are relatively easy things to fix with a 15 minute call to your computer-savvy nephew.

And not all of us have tech-savvy nephews either. Can I ennephew anyone?
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:41 AM on February 27, 2011


I will be your techie nephew. I think this may be a good place for some collected AskMes like the other collection pages. I have created a stub.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:37 PM on February 27, 2011


Go TeamFixMe!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:57 PM on February 27, 2011


As someone who spent the last two weeks struggling with an intermittent broadband connection and then another week being unable to keep a wifi network running, I applaud this.

Here are my tips, learned the hard way over the past three weeks:

1. If all else fails, your modem is probably shot. Even when the cable company says it isn't.
2. When stupid goddamn cats chew on the Ethernet cable connecting your brand-spanking-new modem to your router, it plays all sorts of holy hell with your network and if you don't notice it, you'll think your router is bad and spend half your afternoon on the phone with Apple tech support feeling like a moron instead of just replacing three dollars worth of cabling.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:12 PM on February 27, 2011


This is a great idea! Also thank you jessamyn! Years ago I had a super-noob network problem, posted to AskMe, and you hooked me right up!
posted by snsranch at 4:01 PM on February 27, 2011


Once the problem had been parsed, giving an asker specific, relevant links could save a great deal of typing/explaining.

The trouble with that is that there are so many corner cases. This gives the general-documentation writer a couple of bad choices: write to cover the most common cases and ignore the corners, or write comprehensively and confuse the crap out of most of the readers.

Just pulling this out of the air, but maybe pages that can be read and understood in five minutes or less might be a good rule of thumb?

Once again, the devil is in the details. Something you or I could read and understand in five minutes might leave my mother, for example, in a state of utter bafflement and frustration.

My mother is a language teacher by profession. She thinks I'm clever, so she sometimes gives me things to read that she thinks I ought to understand in five minutes. But more often than not, I don't; I get baffled and frustrated, and tell her I can't make heads or tails of this, and just ask her to explain it to me - and five minutes later, it's all perfectly clear.

If people seem to like the feature, we could keep the basic pages extremely simple, but then add subsidiary Further Reading If You're Interested links.

I like the sound of this feature already. However, my confident prediction is that it will end up being far more useful as a copy-and-paste source for answerers than as a reading resource for askers, and that copy-paste-and-lightly-edit will be a far more useful way to present the material to askers than simply providing links to it.
posted by flabdablet at 6:57 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's ludicrous that, in the 21st century, non-technical human beings should have to know anything about network design, protocol function, or security, to get basic, reliable, secure, expected service from networks (and common network access devices) of which they are paying to be clients.

In fact we are close enough to basic-network utopia that spending more on advertising than on support people is a viable business model for numerous ISPs.
posted by flabdablet at 7:05 PM on February 27, 2011


Yeah, just explaining how to ping, how to run a traceroute, do a dns lookup, change dns servers, etc.. it's the same stuff over and over again.

It's the same stuff over and over again for the help desk. But it's new stuff every time for the poor bunnies whose gear doesn't work, which is why help desk staff have jobs.

As somebody with natural help desk inclinations, I'd find a good set of copy-paste resources very useful. But I doubt I'd ever feel it appropriate simply to point a civilian to a FAQ or a fault tree, pat them gently on the head and say "There you go. Come back when you've done all that stuff." because I know full well they'd come back after misinterpreting 75% of it and confusing the crap out of both of us.
posted by flabdablet at 7:15 PM on February 27, 2011


Well, you can go digging for the answers, or the answers can come to you.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:04 PM on February 27, 2011


However, my confident prediction is that it will end up being far more useful as a copy-and-paste source for answerers than as a reading resource for askers, and that copy-paste-and-lightly-edit will be a far more useful way to present the material to askers than simply providing links to it.

Hmm, well, don't think it really matters either way.

But I doubt I'd ever feel it appropriate simply to point a civilian to a FAQ or a fault tree, pat them gently on the head and say "There you go. Come back when you've done all that stuff." because I know full well they'd come back after misinterpreting 75% of it and confusing the crap out of both of us.

Well, my particular riff on empath's suggestion is explicitly not to try to do diagnosis on the resource pages, but rather have specific procedures to follow. You could say something like "OK, run a traceroute to www.google.com, instructions here, tell us what you get." Presumably, if a FAQ or decision tree would work, they wouldn't be on Ask.

I'm thinking that you, the answerer, are going through a mental decision tree, however your particular one works, and the links would be ways to get askers through that tree as quickly and painlessly as possible for both of you. The if/then constructions should be almost nonexistent, limited to "click here if you're on a Mac, here if you're on Windows, here if you're on Linux." If the asker needs to think about much more than that, the page is probably too general.

If you wanted to copy/paste the instructions from the page, that would work too. Seems a little silly to just repeat what's already in a link, but it's supposed to be a resource, not a set of shackles. :)

A couple possible sticking points: answerers need to be told that the pages exist, and there needs to be an easily-digestible overview so that people can figure out if there's already a cheat sheet on something. If it's working, it'll be steadily expanded. Finding out if something is there needs to as fast as possible, so that it's more efficient than just writing it new each time. If it's at all painful, there's not much point to doing it at all.

That also means that it can't get too large... if we end up collecting pointers to zillions of "best threads", it's not going to be any better than a simple Google search. Overenthusiasm could be as much of a problem as lack of interest.

Overall, the idea is NOT to provide answers, but rather resources for generating answers.
posted by Malor at 9:41 PM on February 27, 2011


If you wanted to copy/paste the instructions from the page, that would work too. Seems a little silly to just repeat what's already in a link, but it's supposed to be a resource, not a set of shackles. :)

In general I'd expect to find myself copy/edit/pasting instructions, to make them specifically applicable to the asker. One of the things that civilians generally don't understand well is variable substitution :-)

Right there with you on the "resources for generating answers" thing.
posted by flabdablet at 11:08 PM on February 27, 2011


Definitely liking the source-for-answers thing. When I did tech support, 85% of what I needed people to do for me on their PCs fit on a single sheet of paper in my notes, not counting the GoToAssist login stuff.
posted by SMPA at 11:53 AM on February 28, 2011


I just threw some placeholder topics and categories in there, I'll probably start filling them out a bit when i'm not at work.
posted by empath at 12:18 PM on February 28, 2011


> I'll probably start filling them out a bit when i'm not at work.

Yeah, work is for surfing MeFi, not updating wiki pages!

I kid.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:19 PM on February 28, 2011


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