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Free software and human nature

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clivel12/10/2019 21:21:21
298 forum posts
13 photos

Some years ago I wrote a little cross-platform application for my own use. It could be run on either Linux or Windows as I used both platforms about equally at the time.

Thinking that others might find the application useful I set up a simple website and offered the application free (and open-source) to anyone who came across it.

Over the years the application has become fairly popular in its niche category, and as a result of numerous requests for new features and enhancements, it has grown and grown to the point that it is now a far cry from the little application that I started out with.

I also regularly receive requests for support. Fortunately not too many, maybe three or four a week on average. But I do try to answer each one promptly - the same day if possible. However, what has really surprised and disappointed me is the number of people who simply just don't bother to acknowledge my replies. After spending anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes with a personalised email and sometimes detailed explanation, I don't expect accolades or undying gratitude, a simple "thanks I got your email, that worked" would suffice, but even that seems to be too much trouble for many of the people I reply to.

It is as if my emails are disappearing into a black hole. It happens so frequently that at one time I wondered if spam filters were to blame, but after writing to the intended recipient a second time to query if they had received my first response most simply replied that yes they had.

So, you maybe wondering why I am posting this now if this has been happening for years?
Well, one of the most enduring requests has been for a Mac version of the application. But not having had access to a Mac I was unable to do anything about it until recently when I was able to borrow one. Creating the Mac version was no trivial task, mainly due to my unfamiliarity with the MacOS, but still, it came together surprisingly quickly and soon seemed ready for release - just some final testing to do. To assist with this I recruited some volunteers by posting on appropriate online boards. I received about 30 responses, of which about a third disappeared as soon as I had sent them the download link - that black hole again.

For the most part the program came through with flying colours, except for one rather crucial bug that only manifested on some machines. As I was unable to duplicate the bug on my computer it required a significant amount of time and effort to isolate the problem - it turned out to be in the 3rd party cross-platform library I was using. As it would be sometime before an updated version of the library would be available I came up with a work around. I contacted all the volunteer testers, those who had experienced the bug confirmed that it was no longer an issue. I had hoped that those who had not initially experienced the problem would also spend the 15 minutes to confirm that the new version was not causing any issues for them, but all but one had disappeared down that black hole and were never heard from again.

Human nature is strange, I guess that people just don't appreciate free.


Colin Wilks12/10/2019 23:13:51
30 forum posts
2 photos

Hello Clive

Like the NHS, many do not value what is free. People seem to be less considerate of each other in anonymous cyber space than when face to face. Depressing to think that perhaps the internet discloses our true selves?

jimmy b13/10/2019 05:37:38
658 forum posts
38 photos

I have noticed this too.

In my day job, I very rarely get a thank you reply if advice works but if it doesn't, they a quick to reply!

Nicholas Farr13/10/2019 07:29:16
2405 forum posts
1188 photos

Hi Clivel, it happens on this forum often, someone asks a question and gets a bundle of advice from various people and! not even so much as a "Ta" for the effort for the help.

Regards Nick.

Old School13/10/2019 08:23:06
344 forum posts
29 photos

I used to write a coloumn every month for a website did it for years, use to ask what do think would like more information etc. I could count the responses on one hand. The only people who really appreciated it where the couple who ran the site, I was told by them how well it was received a few people also told me how much they liked it.

Over the last year or so I have slowly wound it down no one has asked why or they are going to miss it. So I am not going to bother anymore unless I feel like writing something.

Andy Carruthers13/10/2019 09:10:41
279 forum posts
23 photos

Where the cost is zero the demand is infinite...

i write articles because I enjoy imparting information and feel good about contributing something to those forums with whom I feel an affinity. I have received a great deal from others contributions and want to give something back, the universal law of sowing and reaping applies

Cornish Jack13/10/2019 09:39:33
1158 forum posts
163 photos

It's the sharp division between 'old style' common courtesy and today's 'entitlement' culture'. Time was, "Please" and "Thank you" were standard currency, imposed in childhood and remained as adults. These pleasantries are now dismissed as unnecessary. I recently 'phoned the Council to thank one of their staff for having arranged a replacement 'wheelie bin' at short notice. The lady was absolutely amazed -" We NEVER get thanked by the Public". Such a sad commentary on Society!

Closer to home and the OP's well-founded comments, it woukd be nice if one could expect conclusive responses from forum members re. Sales and Wants - not at all universal, unfortunately!


Robin13/10/2019 13:01:29
353 forum posts

I point email support requests to the FAQ's or make them ring me if it is complicated. I will chat for hours, it's like care in the community, helps keep me sane. face 22

Sam Longley 113/10/2019 13:24:15
774 forum posts
26 photos
Posted by Colin Wilks on 12/10/2019 23:13:51:

Hello Clive

Like the NHS, many do not value what is free.

The NHS is not free. I worked years paying for it, within my taxes.crying

That does not mean that I use it as though I am entitled to it though.

In fact the less I have to use it the better.

Edited By Sam Longley 1 on 13/10/2019 13:26:16

Vic16/10/2019 23:43:19
2556 forum posts
14 photos

When I first started using email I wrongly assumed that people would not only reply straight away but would check their email often. I check my emails frequently and still reply promptly but sadly most others don’t and even some friends won’t reply. I use an iPad mostly and you instantly know when you have unread emails without even opening the mail app.

clivel17/10/2019 00:53:45
298 forum posts
13 photos

Thanks for all the responses - I was feeling frustrated, it is good to know that I am not alone.

However there are two sides to everything, and what I have since realised, is that for every ungrateful git, there have been many more people who have been very pleasant to deal with, some of whom have since become regular correspondents and if anything more like friends.

I just wish there was a way to separate the good from the bad before wasting my time on the latter group.
But, as some wise person once wrote: "it is better to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death", probably a little overdramatic with regard to email courtesy, but the principle still holds.


ega17/10/2019 11:09:19
1781 forum posts
152 photos

I am a very satisfied user of a free, simple notes app called Rdex. Amongst other things, it helps me keep track of workshop equipment on PC and Android phone. Here is the link to to the author's website:

In this kind of situation, apart from thanking the provider and giving "feedback", I "pay forward" ie, try to do something for someone else.

Neil Wyatt17/10/2019 11:29:33
18108 forum posts
713 photos
77 articles

Things cut both ways. Sometimes you can get distracted by other problems and simply forget to acknowledge assistance. With email, sometimes the technology itself gets in the way.

I've realised a few times my own failure to acknowledge assistance, and felt very bad about it, especially if have been unable to send belated thanks through losing contact details.

I've always been someone who love hoarding bits, but of later years I've realised just how much more pleasure comes from passing bits on to someone who needs them. Especially if they respond by giving me bottles of beer!

Usually people I've helped have responded positively; there was one person I did a favour for who didn't acknowledge it, but later they contacted me asking for me to repeat it. I did, but I won't do anything for them again.

Main thing is to make sure anyone helping you out never ends up out of pocket unless they expressly don't want their costs covered. In these cases I do like the idea of 'paying forward' as ega suggests, also if I do a small job and someone feels it has a value but the cost was negligible, making a donation in a charity box is a good way for both parties to feel happy about the transaction.


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