With Open Source software, finding the right place to ask for help can sometimes be a challenge. The traditional areas are either web forums, mailing lists, or IRC channels related to the item needing support. Over the years these areas have been a great source for me to learn what I needed. That is changing.
Today I had a bad experience on IRC. Something simple. I'm having problem XXX with PHP. I asked for help on the #zftalk channel (Zend Framework) because a) the code in question was running in a Zend Framework application and b) ##php has NEVER been of any use to me. I have been coding long enough to see that the problem is probably a PHP specific issue, and not a Zend Framework issue - this is why I preceeded my request with "somewhat OT:". The response I got was less than stellar. Basically I was told my request was "off-topic", and to stop trying to convince them it might be on topic.
I've seen this type of response come up more and more. ##php is useless for support (in my experience) because it is rarely on topic, and support requests usually get ignored. In the rare times I've ever had anyone respond to me there they refuse to look past the surface issues and assume only an incompetent coder would be asking questions there. When you educate them that you do in fact know what you are doing and have checked all the basics, they still make like they know soooo much more than you but you are not worth the time. In short ##php is elitist and full of, er, unhelpful conversations.
#zftalk was different. I have received great support there in the past and learned a LOT from the experts there. I will treat today's experience as an anomaly. However, I have been seeing a general degradation in the Open Source support channels for a while. There are still skilled people willing to help out, and there are still places to find this, but it is getting harder to find where and when these places are accessible.
This "off-topic" type response ignores the request for assistance and slams the door in the face of those asking for help. It can be paraphrased as "we *could* help, but we won't. Now go away and leave us alone." This isn't going to help anyone - those asking for help, or those looking to build a good community of people using the products/items in question. And the end result is that people who are told to go away do not contribute back to the community. THIS is the biggest problem that needs to be dealt with. You can't build any community if you choose to exclude those who would otherwise participate.
With IRC, my rule of thumb is that if I ask for help and receive a response, then I need to stick around long enough to help someone else out. Maybe even a few more than just one. After today's experience, my knowledge and expertise will NOT be going to #zftalk for some time. And it will almost assuredly never be going to ##php. This may not be a great loss (although I am NOT a novice in these areas), but the "not our problem" attitude is turning off more than just me. I hope the respective communities can sort things out.