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


Jeff Knapp (
Mon, 5 May 1997 17:56:42 +0000

On 5 May 97 at 11:15, nagasiva wrote:

> Joe Bernstein <>:
> #...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.

This is why I started mine, too. was being drowned in repetitive questions ("Did Marina
Sirtis Do Porn?" would appear weekly, if not more often) so a FAQ was
needed. a.s.m. sorta had a FAQ, when I stepped in, but it was no
longer maintained and it was only circulated by people who happened
to have a copy of it, which wasn't many.

As far as origins, the FAQ on FAQs has this to say:

In 1982, while acting as an official NASA presence on the
gatewayed ARPAnet mailing list SPACE[-Digest]/ news
groups, [Eugene Miya] tired of seeing "dumb answers" to recurring
questions. The situation as Eugene saw it was that the answers
to these questions were are often poorly thought out,
inconsistent, and uninformed. Furthermore, the posters of the
questions often weren't trying to find the answers from books,
magazines, or other references. They also weren't paying
attention to previous answers to these same questions. Rather,
they were just taking the easy way out - email the question and
wait for the answer.

Eugene therefore decided to start a series of monthly posts in
1983 to rectify this sorry state of affairs. The mechanism of
periodic postings was also a way to provide information to those
who didn't have access to the archives.

> 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.

An interesting point, and not entirely untrue.

I do enjoy the "prestige and authority" of being a FAQ keeper, mostly
because anyone who start sto post to the group would prolly have read
my work.

On the other hand, I think competing FAQs are most often not done
because they're too much work. I don't know that anyone who
maintains a FAQ will say its not a lot of work (Well, except
maybe Terry who hasn't updated his faq since 1994 ;-) and as such
people won't try and compete, mostly because of the time it would
take to come up with a document. went through a semi-ugly split a year ago when it
broke off into the moderated group rec.arts.movies.erotica. Before
the split there was lots of screaming and yelling that my FAQ was
useless and inaccurate (forgetting that many industry insiders has
e-mailed me saying it was one of the better works on their profession
they read) so I told the dissenters to put their money where their
mouths were and right a CORRECT and USEFUL faq is mine was so wrong
and useless... and nothing ever came of it...

> 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.

I think what was being said is I write a FAQ, it is big and useful,
maybe somewhere down the line it might make it as a book, because it
is soooo big and useful.

After all, isn't a book just a static copy of your FAQ, but with a
definite monetary gain attached to it?

We're not upset that rtfm keeps static copies of our FAQ on file; but
we get upset when Walnut Creek or Seth Godin sells them and we get
nothing in return....

... so if someone has the ability to parlay his initially altrusitic
work into some pocket change, I can't say I'm upset.

But, to agree on the converse, if someone was to write a FAQ with
the sole purpose of turning it into a book, then I'd look askance at

> #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.


> 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 can see this point

To me, altruism is a good thing and should be nurtured, especially
as the Net gets more and more commercial. Sharing is a wonderful
thing, and so few people are so apt to do it nowadays in any world,
be it academic, professional, etc.

I don't like FAQs written by people who have a professional interest
in what they're writing about. It generally makes them somewhat
beholden to the industry/subject they're writing about and may end up
with a whitewashed FAQ.

However, if someone approached me and asked me if I wanted to flesh
out my FAQ and turn it into a book (while allowing me the right to
keep the web pages, Usenet postings, etc. up) I just might take the
money. Mostly because I see it as someone paying me to distribute my
FAQ; and that in and of itself is not a bad thing(tm).

> #...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.

I agree. See my above comments.

I find Q&A Tech Support bulletins to be very useful, but I would
never call them FAQs -- I'd call them Tech Support Q&As :-). FAQs
(to me) are altrusitic in nature, and generally propagated by Usenet.

The Kodak Q&A serves Kodak's purpose of lightening the burden on
*their* service reps; the alt.photocopiers FAQ lightens *my* burden
by helping me find information about a field I may know little about,
with probably little commercial slant.

[snip the rest since I'm just not up to replying on the semantics and
sublties of document classification right now :-) ]


Jeff Knapp

Something funny, I hope...
Late Ms. Bouvier (video-will): Now let's get down to business...
Hutz (voice dubbed in): To my executor, Lionel Hutz, I leave
Marge: Mr. Hutz!!!
Hutz: You'd be surprised how often that works, you really would.
-- Lionel Hutz, The Simpons, 'Selma's Choice'