FAQs/REFs/COMs, Legitimacy (was Re: Style/History of FAQs (was...))


nagasiva (tyagi@houseofkaos.abyss.com)
Mon, 5 May 1997 11:15:03 -0700 (PDT)

49970505 AA1 Hail Satan! NULatix!

Joe Bernstein <joe@sfbooks.com>:
#...I'm a bit unclear on what the purpose of certain recent remarks is.
#As it happens, I don't do FAQs out of altruism. I started
#the news.groups one because I was really tired of answering questions
#at length over and over; this I understood to be the point of FAQs....

this (reduction of redundancy) is what I recently suggested was one of
the important and overlooked motivations and uses for the 'FAQ', yes.
I suspect it is the original usage, but cannot be sure.

#I certainly stuck with it at least in part out of sheer pride - I mean,
#as soon as it was clear that I, a relative newbie, would be *allowed*
#to do the thing, I was on the phone to my brother "Golly, I'm writing
#the news.groups FAQ! I'm so thrilled!"

anybody can write one who has the technical ability. it will be
accepted by the news.answers folks as long as it is believable and
is formatted correctly. thus there isn't any further process of
'allowing' or 'authorization' as far as I know (perhaps exceptions
are made for moderated newsgroups). I agree there has developed,
over the years, a certain amount of (I'd say often unwarranted)
prestige and authority attached to FAQ-writing, and peer-pressure
does tend to keep competing FAQs from developing.

#The soc.history.ancient FAQs
#that I haven't done yet will probably call for enough research that I
#could make a plausible case for selling a moderately expanded version
#as a book, and I already list the news.groups one on my resume (which
#needs all the help it can get).

this is what I was warning about as regards previous Writer-motivations
and the problems of Corporate Sponsorship, yes. I cannot know of your
particular case, but writing a FAQ to sell a book sounds like it may
have the potential to be poor service to the newsgroup and to other
posters in the field. it might not turn out that way, but there is
certainly greater danger therein.

#So I didn't really appreciate nagasiva's comments some while back to
#the effect that altruism was The Only Right Reason to write FAQs and
#other motivations were Bad Things.

I don't typically enter into absolutes. I state things strongly
because I have strong feelings. I suggest that altruism and a desire
to decrease newsgroup noise are more likely to lead to a file which
a variety of people can use and will achieve the purposes of both
providing additional reference and curtailing redundancy, especially
if the writer takes advantage of the number of marvellous examples
and the one or two 'FAQs on How to Write FAQs' (these are usually
REFerence documents, depends on to what 'frequently' relates).

where 'FAQs' become apologies or polemics (note that this especially
applies to fields esoteric or theoretic!) I consider them a travesty,
deserving of the promotion of several competing 'FAQ's for the forum.

#I was also confused by certain comments that implied "commercial" FAQs
#were Bad.

they will always be suspect and deservedly so. I would think even the
corporate sponsor would wish the reader to be discerning. any file
could be called a 'FAQ' and remain a disguised commercial. that doesn't
mean that all of them are so, only that there is a more vested interest
in slanting the presented data and thus are advised to exercise
conventional research caution in their review.

#We actually had a sign on our wall for about a year saying "Frequently
#Asked Questions"; all it ever wound up holding was the date of Jordan's
#next book, so eventually it came down.

sounds like a successful (if limited) use of a FAQ, yes.

#...if Kodak can make its customer service reps' lives more interesting
#by saving them some of the "Oh, you have to keep the film from
#exposure to light?" questions, more power to Kodak!

I agree completely. the only danger is if the information is slanted
toward the corporate interest ("you should only buy Kodak products",
omission of reputable competitors, etc.) in field-oriented subjects
rather than those dealing only with the company's products.

#Me, I'm just waiting for the first "When do you open?" phone call of
#the day.

there are voice-mail systems (e.g. for libraries) which handle precisely
this 'FAQ' data in a sonic medium. the telephone systems which do this
are prime examples of medium-specific, noise-redirection systems. this
is one of the more valuable aspects of FAQ-creation (and, I had understood,
the original, though I'll wait to hear more from those who are supposed
to be researching this :>).

#(Granted, a commercial FAQ masquerading as traditional is no good, but
#you know, Pillsbury sells cookbooks right now, and they don't get much
#attention compared to normal cookbooks; I don't think this is something
#anyone needs to worry very much about. Probably it would be nice if
#the news.answers moderators were prepared to intervene in cases of
#spectacularly awful commercial bias in FAQ posting - "The Up-to-Date
#and Complete Software Guide" in some non-MS comp.* group turning out to
#be a Microsoft front, say. Should this ever come to pass.)

as far as I'm concerned the 'exposure 'FAQs'' are really REFerences,
and, where attempting to market, COMmercials. I doubt you'll be able
to get the news.answers crew to begin more than rudimentary content
analysis. given what the acronym 'FAQ' has come to mean (anything
from commercial to noise-reducing-file), I gather they are hard-pressed
to do more than restrain the obvious farces.

#Anyway, now I'm to understand that the traditional Q & A format is the
#Better way to write FAQs.

it is more representative of original applications and structures as
far as I know. the acronym DOES expand to 'Frequently Asked Questions'.
ostensibly this could mean (and I have composed several files along
these lines but not had them formatted and posted to news.answers) that
the file ONLY contains a list of questions which are frequently asked
within a medium or field. pleasantly, these questions could be followed
by a variety of responses (preferrably identifying it when they are
incomplete or biased and why). it would all seem to depend on the
motivations for writing the FAQ and what the file is intended to do.

generally I prefer the terminology 'REF(erence)' and 'FAQ', discerning
a data-document containing one or more perspectives covering a subject
field from a list of questions commonly encountered in exploration of
a subject or communication channel, possibly accompanied by responses.
there are distinct advantages to maintaining this distinction, some of
which have been explained quite eloquently by previous posters (how the
file is used and the type of info-structure which serves these usages).

#Maybe for some subjects, not for others.

I hope I have made very clear that my interest and experience is as
regards theoretical subject matter, though I can see practical FAQs
leave room for argument in this realm also (since there may be
innovations and disputes as regards technical applications and
solutions even in the practical forums).

#In news.groups, we spend a whole lot of time on a reasonably arcane
#process that a whole lot of newbies have to deal with. It would make
#*no sense at all* to answer every question individually without trying
#to give some sort of overview of how things work and why they work that
#way. We're not satisfied with that overview, but it's still necessary.

then you are creating a REF which is intended to be an introduction to
the process and forum of your interaction, yes.

#And those of us who worked on the FAQ ...had plenty of collective
#experience with which to figure out what topics were most
#repetitiously asked about....

given that you were out to cover a subject which *is* contained, since
you are defining it, it makes alot of sense that you would cover the
ground you have with such a file, yes. it even qualifies as a 'FAQ' by
conventional standards if it proceeds in question-response formatting.

#Meanwhile, when I initially started discussion of FAQs for
#soc.history.ancient, three of the ideas I put forward - a guide to net
#resources, a guide to books on various regions, and a guide to books on
#various languages - won considerable support.

so people want REFs, yes. these types of files are excellent newsgroup
facilitation devices.

#The only one people objected to was a set of answers to standard
#fringe concerns; in other words, the only one people didn't like
#was the only one that constitutes a "traditional" FAQ by these terms.

it sounds like you didn't have to address redundancy and noise. I'd
wager that your newsgroup is rather low traffic and doesn't suffer
from a high turnover rate. these characteristics are what led to
the formation of 'FAQs' in the traditional sense as I understand it.

#...I joined this list to get useful tools to work with.... if you're
#going to tell this list that different kinds of FAQs vary in
#legitimacy, would you please be so kind as to give concrete examples
#and explanations so we can have a *proper* flamewar? I've just
#offered you some to choose from...

my understanding is that a 'flamewar' consists of a series of ad hominems
and tangental remarks aside from the subject at hand, not a controversial
or intense disagreement. :> I will not engage flamewars.

'legitimacy' is a disputed category as regards FAQs and news.answers (the
only real authority present, and that because it regulates its content
based on formutting and rudimentary content standards for the purposes
of service to the Usenet and Internet community).

it can be argued from many perspectives, and all of these arguments are
important to consider when constructing a 'FAQ'. the factors which I
am able to isolate include the following:

* the readership and their qualities with respect to the subject
* the use to which the file is to be put
* the formatting and organizational structure
* the content or substance being communicated

legitimacy pertains to all of these factors and can therefore be argued
with a variety of emphases depending on the bias of the speaker. if the
readership is bound to be unfamiliar with the subject, then the file will
necessarily be introductory in tone, organized according to the purpose
of the file (dissuading redundancy or expanding the knowledge-base), and
placed in a location which serves the presumed goal (often posted, but
at times intentionally sent to people with a note to any channels to
which they had posted, especially in the case of traditional FAQs
designed to reduce noise).

alternatively, it can be argued that the category "FAQ" can only be
meaningfully and legitimately applied to a file which CONTAINS
frequently asked questions by some measure (whether within a subject
field or some communication forum). by this argument, anything else
should be designated as a REFerence device so as not to add to the
degeneration of the acronym 'FAQ' and its 'legitimate' usage.

my understanding is that presently the news.answers crew does not
screen for legitimacy based on anything but a cursory review to be
sure the content is serious and related to the title, and that it
conforms to the technical formatting requirements.

tyagi@houseofkaos.abyss.com (nagasiva)
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