Forum:Asking The Developers Before Asking Biostars
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Entering edit mode
10.7 years ago
Arnaud Ceol ▴ 860

Dear all,

While most questions on Biostar are requests for methods and advice, many of them are also related to usage and installation of software and databases.

In the last case, the first thing to do is, to my opinion, to ask the developers/maintainers of the software/database. Most of the time, the group is more than happy to answer the questions. I'm wondering in how many cases this has been done before to post a question on Biostar. I think this could be a "must do", and when no answer has been provided, it could be mentioned in the post. In addition, if an answer has been provided, Biostar users would sure be happy to know about it, so it may be posted together with the answer.

I believe such behavior may help:

  1. ensure the right people (the developers of the application/database) are asked first,
  2. help the Biostar community know about the best answer,
  3. keep track of the follow up provided by the databases and developers (by the way it may also be good to know for referees).

Any opinion about it?

meta • 5.3k views
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12
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10.7 years ago

We actually discussed this with Istvan about a year ago, and have been pointing users of our software here for support. We then have a tool that monitors the RSS feed for specific keywords or tags and then notifies the appropriate people to come answer it. (rss2jira) We do try to be clear that bug reports don't belong here and patches and such should go on github.

This has had a number of positive effects. The answers to commonly asked questions about our tools are now publicly accessible, indexed, and on a site where lots of people can find them (as opposed to buried away in some obscure mailing list archives). It also drives traffic to Biostar and makes lots of users aware of the community. Finally, several people who have started out asking questions about Breakdancer or Somatic Sniper here have gone on to become regular contributors to the site.

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9
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10.7 years ago
Emily 23k

I man the Ensembl helpdesk and try to keep an eye on BioStar, answering any Ensembl questions. I think it's our responsibility to do so, and other developers should do the same thing. Sometimes, only we can answer the question or give the most up-to-date answer.

Personally I think that Ensembl-specific questions belong to our helpdesk and dev list, and more blue sky questions belong here. People posting to both helpdesk and here get my goat; if I'm quick I can answer both with a bit of copy/paste, but occasionally it results in duplicate work with someone else answering on here as well as me answering on helpdesk.

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I've tried to encourage other project teams to monitor this more actively, but it's not happening as much as I'd like. I think it would be good for them to be proactive like you are. A few times I've even taken questions from here and fed them to the appropriate developers but it hasn't been very satisfying.

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Dual posting on any of StackExchange, BioStars, SEQanswers, or project specific mailing lists (unless cross referenced) annoys me for the exact same reason - duplicated effort for the community answering. I make a point of commenting about this when I notice.

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5
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10.7 years ago
zx8754 11k

When we seek answers, we want them now - Biostar provides this by its Biostar Traffic - Just How Many Bioinformaticians Are Out There?. We could ask developers/maintainers, 1st they might have moved on, 2nd if and when they reply.

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I agree that small-scale developers might have moved on, or might not get around to replying to emails, but I think the large-scale well-maintained projects have a responsibility to the community. They should answer their help emails (we aim to answer initially within a working day, even if that answer is just "I'll look into it") and they should be on here looking for relevant questions about their resource. I can understand why that's not really possible for small-scale developers, but for projects like Ensembl, it's vital.

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4
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10.7 years ago

This is probably the right approach for bigger projects (UCSC, GATK), where they have an official support person who is paid to field these type of questions.

Otherwise, buttonholing the developers is a distraction to the very people who are producing something of value. Why not just post it here for people who have actually volunteered to solve problems?

I would rather simply post the question here, see who responds, and then as a last resort click the "via email" link you see above.

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Entering edit mode
10.7 years ago
Arnaud Ceol ▴ 860

I tend to relate it to "What have you tried before", i.e. show that you tried with the official resources before to ask the community to give you some time. I also think it is a good way to identify dead projects.

It is also really good to see that official resources (like ensembl) are aware of and following Biostar.

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My experience: Someone sends an email to Ensembl helpdesk asking how to do something. I give them a couple of suggestions as to how to do it. They give reasons that they can't use my suggestions. I then say, well those were all the weapons in my arsenal and maybe they should rethink their reasons not to use my suggestions; otherwise I can't help.

They then post the same question onto BioStar, just the original question. Someone writes a response suggesting one of my original suggestions. Someone else suggests the other. OP gets back explaining why he can't use them. Everybody gets bored because they've given a decent answer to the question and they can't see why the OP can't do their suggestions, and they can't see why they bothered to write an answer that the OP already knew wasn't feasible but didn't bother to mention in the first place. Nobody responds any further and the OP doesn't get the answer he wants.

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0
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10.7 years ago
Mary 11k

I just saw this note on a discussion board for a tool and it made me laugh and think of this thread:

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/gitools-users

Hi dear Gitools user.

Please use this mailing list to ask questions you may have specific questions regarding Gitools and it's use. For more genereal (bioinformatics) problems, consider if BioStars may be the appropriate site to ask for help.

Thanks

It all comes around. :)

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and sometimes, the UCSC redirects people to seqanswers or biostars: https://groups.google.com/a/soe.ucsc.edu/forum/#!msg/genome/ZhV-mjQoOYc/1ITH5yHm34AJ

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