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Posted on: Monday, April 7, 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, April 7, 2008 4:34:59 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [8] Trackback
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Sunday, April 13, 2008 2:09:59 AM UTC
I’ve heard my name (and it’s not even mine actually O_o) and I’m awake…

You could merely ask to use indexable words and phrases in comments;) kidding here:)

First of all, I hate everything that goes under the name “elite” be that even the computer game (got myself sent out of class for playing it during the lesson a looong time ago;)

Secondly, the point was not against having the opinion, but against the model that condemns the reader to segregation… yap, there can be some (even great many, situationally) things quite positive in distinguishing yourself from the rest of the world (that’s actually a part of being human). But it’s very difficult to find the fine line where your “elite/sheep flock” or “angel/devil” models can lead to pretty devastating results (for person’s psyche). Not to sound all doomy-gloomy and prophetic it’s just the observation. I find it healthier for _myself_ to start communication out of equality principle. You know it can motivate none the worse. That’s why I took that nick… the point was you can be one nifty sheep among others and rejoice in that:) and there’ll be no problemo with feeling rejected of any kind:) talking about model here, not being a fluffy animal;)
And I was really really kidding on utilizing thing… all your post sounds like let’s have a heaven on earth my little pretty ones but give me your money first, not that I intended to read into it or I thought it was typed out there:) it’s just emotional image _I_ got:) - big red things is so ads-like thanks you didn’t use naked female’s body parts;) - and that was funny.

Thirdly, Google is a website by definition. Just with that one search engine form page. And it’s actually nice in its functionality and simplicity. iGoogle is a mess right now:( No kidding here.

And in the fourth place, it’s TOO much time you spend online if you don’t know the genders of you 3 best pals and call your pet Asd_#ioP-0921;)
And I could furiously defend ppl’s right to keep silence up to losing my voice;) so please let the sticking leeches suck:)

In general, I do read your blog (since some opinionated blonde linked to you:) and I like your positive attitude. But I’d like to chose when and where to comment myself:) but I do think, information should be free and open and it can’t be so till everyone just wants it to be that way while silently sitting in the comfy shadows with their deft fingers feeding their greedy minds:)

But there’s one more reason for contribution I know. You can do it for yourself alone;) We used to say back in my youth days: to know something well and proper you are to teach it to someone else. Meaning, when you think you think you know, it needs proper justification. You are to systemize that knowledge yourself and formulate it in details some small ones but hugely important:) and then you can be sure you know something when you’re ready to stand up for it in front of a bunch of opinionated daring youngsters with their inquiring minds not to fight but to communicate:) Thus to make his/her way to that your elite thingy one needs to learn and practice and if he or she does that publically it can save the world of time and nerves for someone doing the same afterwards. But like with commenting code and making documentation thing thoroughly beforehand these things are for YOUR convenience. With open source, you are doing something for yourself again while helping others. And it has nothing to do with Google and feeling obliged to contribute, having today’s Internet those things will be done for you as a bonus:)

Just an opinion;)

Keep on grooving
shaunthesheep
Sunday, April 13, 2008 5:28:59 AM UTC
Wow. That was a long comment!

> All your post sounds like let’s have a heaven on earth

I’ve been accused of that one before. Many have said that I seek utopia. :) Frankly however, posts that have received these criticisms are the ones I feel the most strongly about. Chasing Utopia (even if you never find it) is good because it keeps you moving. I think I’ll continue chasing utopia / heaven-on-earth or what-ever-it-is-folks-think-I-am-chasing, unless I find a compelling reasons to do otherwise.

If you think about it, I don’t think any of my posts till date, have suggested anything that very hard to do or very impractical. Seriously.

> Google is a website by definition.

Like I already said, whatever makes you happy. :)

> In general, I do read your blog (since some opinionated blonde linked to you :)) and I like your positive attitude. But I’d like to chose when and where to comment myself :)

Good! At-least you’re commenting here. I’m going to go ahead and take that as a compliment to the post and my blog in general. Thank You. :)

> But there’s one more reason for contribution I know. You can do it for yourself alone. ;)

Definitely. I’ve written some of my troubleshooting post so that I can Google them myself later, but if that helps someone else besides helping me, why not? If we could all learn the virtues of selfishness and contribute for ourselves we would have much more free content and goodness out there.
Friday, April 25, 2008 7:24:58 PM UTC
Agree!

As to me, Google is #1 in my fav list. I know there are no surprises to read it, It's common. B'coz It's just Brilliant!
And sometime back I read a funny post titled "We believe in GOD" that expanded as "We believe in Google Oriented Development". No arguments. :)

As for contributing, I must say that the more you share the more you learn. The more you write on publicly accessible sites, the more comments/feedback you get. You get to know people's understanding on similar topics. And a lot of times those small feedback turn out to be a golden window. It changes the way you look at things, not just code, but life too.

Let's accept that no one knows all (thankfully) and hence people share. That's why there are articles on websites. The developers write the sample codes. Why? To provide you with something Readymade! You have MSDN. Why? It's a guide with some Readymade solutions! And mind you, these are not written by a machine. A Human wrote it! So, why can't that human be YOU the next time?

The catchword is: SHARE THOUGHTS, SHARE EXPERTISE, SHARE LIFE!

So, Give it a try. Do share something, just anything you can start with, that others may be searching for. I am sure the world is waiting for you.

Happy sharing!

Cheers,
Rohit
Thursday, May 8, 2008 9:44:38 PM UTC
What is a website? :)
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 7:38:29 AM UTC
Just opened http://forums.asp.net/TopicsActive.aspx in a new tab ;)
Lets see if I can help someone!

I have to appreciate the way you write..its so *convincing* !!
I wish I had that power :(

> stop saying you've got nothing to say or contribute.

Most of the time I don't contribute to a thread/blog is because my suggestion/view/comment adds nothing new to the discussion.
Either someone has already said what I wanted to say in a previous comment or my comment sounds like a spam (thanks, thanks for sharing the info, really helpful etc..)
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 3:21:21 PM UTC
> Most of the time I don't contribute to a thread/blog is because my suggestion/view/comment adds nothing new to the discussion. Either someone has already said what I wanted to say in a previous comment.

Btw, do you think this post says something that has never been said before? All it does is add my perspective of the topic and attempts to gather your contributions towards the discussion in the form of comments. The very fact that you read a blog post that you find interesting and take the pains to comment on it sets you apart and makes you a valid contributor.

> My comment sounds like spam

Maybe that’s because you use the word anonymous in your nick. Even if you prefer being anonymous, try using a nickname that sounds like it’s a real name. Might help. :)

By the way, great comments. Keep them comming.
Saturday, June 21, 2014 6:10:10 AM UTC
I suppose one of the fteuamnndal questions is what role monopolies play in the regulating of the internet today.If all users were free to choose whatever high-speed connectivity they wanted regardless of telephone, cable, or power company, then the case for common-carriers would disappear.In the US today however we don't always have multiple choices of what broadband provider we use. Mostly they are single monopolies for a given area either in telephone or cable. In these cases we don't actually have a regular market. Most of the monopolies exist because government gave them the allocations of the physical access rights they needed with the explicit understand that they are common carriers. In the same way a telephone company can't give me a better quality voice signal than someone else paying the same rate because they like me more, and they can't refuse to carry my voice calls because I compete with them, they cannot discriminate against my internet traffic based on what servers I decide to connect to.Throw out monopolies and the problem of regulating the space goes away.And on the subject of leaching I must admit to being confused. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, etc. all pay for the bandwidth going into their datacenters, right? They can't somehow magically exceed that bandwidth allotment, right? As long as they are paying for the services, how exactly are they leaching?
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 11:05:03 PM UTC
I searched a bunch of sites and this was the best.
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