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Posted on: Monday, 07 April 2008 by Rajiv Popat

What's your favorite web-site?

Over the past couple of years I've asked this question to a countless number of people in presentations, meetings, seminars and in day-to-day-discussions. Most of them have been programmers and most of them have responded with an answer that shouldn't surprise you.

Google.

Technically speaking, Google is not a web-site. It's this thing, that makes other web-sites exist; but if you want to call it your favorite 'web-site' just because that's where you spend most of your online time, go ahead and call it your favorite web-site. Whatever makes you happy.

None the less, the fact of life is that Google is an awesome content-enabler. Being the kick-ass search engine that it is, If the content is out there, it crawls it, indexes it and makes it available to you when you need it.

Ok, that single sentence above is the soul and essence of this entire post. Seriously. Take a pause. Read the above sentence again. Slowly. Did you get it? Did you get the hidden punch word in that sentence? Let me clarify.

'If the content is out there'. Or should I say, if 'we' (the collective sum of all users who use Google and this thing called the Internet) 'choose' to put the content out there.

Of-course, like a lot of Internet users, you could continue to assume that 'someone else' will put the content there or Google will just get you the content even if it's not there as long as you continue to call it your favorite web-site; but then, in the long run, that won't work.

Here's how Wikipidea defines a leech:

In computing and specifically on the Internet, being a leech or leecher refers to the practice of benefiting, usually deliberately, from others' information or effort but not offering anything in return, or only token offerings in an attempt to avoid being called a leech. In economics this type of behavior is called "Free riding" and is associated with the Free rider problem.

Modern protocols and communities ban a leech from getting the benefits of the community once a leech is discovered. But Google and the Internet in general, are a lot more forgiving which is probably why a lot of us don't even feel guilty about not contributing to the wealth of content that's available online. We continue leeching away, day after day.

If you fall in this category of non contributors, may I suggest that you spend a just a tiny bit of your time to take a stock of relevant, useful and valuable content you've contributed online, that Google is indexing and making available to folks who need it?

No, I'm not talking about your Orkut or Facebook Profile which allows people to Google you by your full name or your blog where you primarily write about how much you love your dog, how much the world sucks and how much beer you had last weekend. Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with writing about all of that. But that does not count as a valid contribution to your favorite search engine, the Internet or to the world in general.

In my previous post about being opinionated, someone commented that caring about others while earning your own bread and butter is difficult and not everyone is capable of expressing their opinion articulately even if they might be able to have their own opinions. I also got a few similar emails which essentially said the same thing. Here's what I have to say to all those reactions:

Bullshit.

No seriously, not being able to express your own opinions articulately in a blog post is completely fine and acceptable. But then, you can still contribute. Here are multiple ways of contributing wrapped up in a are-you-a-leecher-test. If you answer no to all of these questions, chances are, you probably are a leecher:

  1. Are you regularly spending some time in technical user-groups or forums asking intelligent questions or answering them?
  2. Are you writing a technical blog where you are sharing your findings and your ways of doing things with others?
  3. Do you own, work in, or contribute feature patches in an open source project?
  4. When you find a bug in an open source project that you are working with, do you report it elaborately, try to suggest a fix or maybe even send a patch with the fix?
  5. Do you write for code-project or any other technical web-sites?
  6. When you buy a new book or a new cell phone do you write and post your reviews to help others?
  7. When you read a blog post that moves you or you disagree with do you care to leave a comment that adds value to the ongoing discussion?

As much as I disagree with 'Shaun The Sheep' and his comment on my earlier post, here's my official reply to his comment:

I’m glad you have an opinion on how difficult it is to 'have an opinion and express it'. I'm really glad you are expressing your opinion loudly and fearlessly. I’m also really glad that you participate in discussions and have what it takes to leave a comment on a post that moves you or even on a post that you disagree with. Good to know that you’re contributing and not just leeching. That means that you're amongst the elite group of selected few. I genuinely and honestly hope you continue to contribute. Now go ahead, pat yourself on your back.

Scott Hanselman also invites 'lurkers' to join the on going conversation on his blog:

I feel like we've (that means me and you, Dear Reader) have a little community here. When you comment, I am happy because I feel more connected to the conversation as this blog is my 3rd place. I blog to be social, not to have a soapbox. I'm even happier when the comments are better and more substantive than the post itself. I would take half the traffic and twice the comments any day. If you're a "lurker," why not join the conversation?

Commenting on blogs, is just one way to participate and contribute. Keep an open mind and I'm sure you'll get countless opportunities to add to the wealth of information that's out there. You can add your thoughts and perspectives to the variety of discussions that are going on in the whole wide web. You'll be amazed at how quickly you can feel connected to individuals you have never personally met and communities you have never physically been a part. You'll also be amazed at the wide open holes where information is just not available out there or missing on the Internet.

To some of my regular readers, a few of my troubleshooting posts might sound out-of-context to the over all theme of this blog. However, I've seen countless individuals come to this site through a lot of these posts, simply because the information wasn't available as easily as you would think:

 

I've been amazed at the lack of information that Google has provided for problems that I've had in the past. Was it because Google was incapable of crawling and getting to this information or was it because this information just wasn't there? Allow me to Illustrate:

I could go on with countless examples from this site itself but that's not the point. The point I'm really trying to make is that the Internet is not this perfect treasure of information we usually think it is. There are missing holes which we, dear readers, can fill every-time we find them.

It's important that as we continue to 'Google' stuff and get some information or content for free, we also take a stock of how much value we have added to the whole online eco-system. Every time you see a conversation going on in a blog somewhere and you feel you can participate and add value, take some time and give in some effort to do so. Every time you have an answer to something you can't Google easily, document it and give Google a chance to index it. If you don't, the future of your favorite search engine and the Internet will not be as bright as it is today.

 

Jokes apart. Seriously, if you've written something (software, code, articles, posts, answers to questions in forum or anything else) that's free and has helped a few other individuals you've already joined an elite group of contributors in the online eco-system. Congratulations! If you haven't, may I suggest that you stop being a leecher? Start thinking of ways of participating and contributing. You'll be amazed at just how many people are listening and willing to participate with you.

To be honest, the world or the Internet won't really come to an end tomorrow morning if you don't contribute or participate. There are a lot of discussions happening out there and if you play the role of the shy loaner sitting in a corner, who has nothing to say, give or contribute in any small or large way, you are the only one who is going to lose out in the end.

I've already listed multiple forms of contribution in the are-you-a-leecher test above. If you are a leecher, pick one of them or just find your own form of contributing and start now! And by the way, for your own sake, stop saying you've got nothing to say or contribute. That's the single most lamest excuse I've heard for not contributing. 

Now go out there and write that post you've always thought you would write, start work on that open source project you were always thinking of working on or releasing, answer a few questions in a user group or do whatever it is that you are comfortable doing; but do 'something'.

The Internet brings the whole wide universe to your desktop. Don't just leech off it! Add to it, give it a whole new perspective and leave your mark upon it. Make a dent in the universe that sits behind your monitor; in whatever big or small way you can. I wish you luck.

posted on Monday, 07 April 2008 16:34:59 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [8] Trackback
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