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Show HN: Ask a Dev (askadev.org)
288 points by tshedor 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

"Hey why use this? It's the same as Slack?" "Hey why use this, it's the same as IRC?" "Hey why use this, it's the same as a mailing list?"

These are the sorts of things people say to lazily kill any new idea.

"Hey why use this new fangled 'google.com'? It's the same as Alta Vista." "Hey why use this new fangled 'google.com'? It's the same as grep."

People say this stuff because it makes them feel smart.

Folks, not all software that allows people to communicate via the Internet is the same.

> People say this stuff because it makes them feel smart.

Or because they really don't see any new value. When launching a new product, it isn't the general public's job to get on board with your vision. It is your job to communicate the value in a way that connects with your audience, and makes them want to use your product.

> Or because they really don't see any new value.

Value is a misnomer. There's no inherent value in 90% of the stuff that blows up. What's the "value" in Facebook? It's even hard to see today, think about how hard it was to see in 2006.

"Value" is the same nonsense idea as "solving a problem" that startup wantapreneurs are so obsessed with -- what problem did Snapchat really solve? What problem did FB solve that Myspace didn't? What problem did Google solve that Yahoo didn't?

Sometimes it's just about being different (Pinterest), being controversial (Snapchat), being novel (AirBnB), and having fun (reddit). Sometimes it's about cleaning up UX (Facebook), or making things just a bit easier to find (Google). But above all, it's about the right place, right time, and right execution. Fortune favors the bold.

It seems like you're going out of your way to avoid describing the value these products provided. Especially in your characterization of Google.

Pinterest provides entertainment, product discovery, and community.

Snapchat enabled a new type of communication by removing self consciousness.

Airbnb provides quality lodging at low prices.

Facebook provided authenticity, exclusivity, and increased information density through timeline.

Google provided far better search results.

> Pinterest provides entertainment, product discovery, and community.

This is kind of a non-statement. You could say that just about any internet based social network startup provides "community" and "entertainment" -- and yet many completely fail. This is quintessential grasping at straws and a posteriori reasoning.

> Snapchat enabled a new type of communication by removing self consciousness.

So did Yik Yak, so does IRC, so do anonymous forums, so does Kik. Again, this is kind of a ultra-general non-value value proposition. Why Snapchat got funded has nothing to do with the idea -- and everything to do with traction.

> Airbnb provides quality lodging at low prices.

So does hotels.com or (if you haggle a little) Craigslist.

> Facebook provided authenticity, exclusivity, and increased information density through timeline.

The timeline wasn't around when FB launched (back then we had the wall). I'm not even sure what "information density" means (or if it's even a good thing), it seems like 20-20 rear-view justification for FB's success. MySpace probably provided more authenticity, anyway (I could customize my page way more).

Maybe more specifically, the value of all these networks lies in the network part. The tricky part is convincing the people that will use it to become part of the product.

> So does hotels.com or (if you haggle a little) Craigslist.

hotels.com doesn't work as well as airbnb for rural areas and even in cities, you don't get to see anything about how flats are set up in the local area. The idea of trying to book accommodation for an anniversary weekend seems utterly mad. How do you comb through results? How do you pay? How do you view the reputation of the place? How do you know there aren't going to be animal bones all over the walls?

Yes, you can ask all those things and go back-and-forth. Yes, you can set up a separate paypal payment, but all of that is time spent and additional worries.

Just to hone in on one example, do you really not see any benefit to using Airbnb over Craigslist for short term rentals? Even in the beginning? I can argue the other side, I think quite clearly, but I first want to make sure that's actually what you're claiming because it seems so demonstrably untrue.

Solving a problem and providing a new, better way of doing something are really two different sides of the same coin. Put differently, you don't have to solve an explicit problem. You can also solve a latent problem.

Who are you to judge "wantapreneurs"? Of course, there is something such as "value"!

The original comment could then still hold, though. Yes, it might be like Slack/IRC/whatever, but better.

> Solving a problem and providing a new, better way of doing something are really two different sides of the same coin.

I'm going to contend that they are two fundamentally different things. Inventing the internal combustion engine and working at Honda on their 2019 model are two very different things.

This seems like a strawman. No one is arguing that the 20th iteration of a major auto model is providing a new way of doing things.

I am admittedly stretching the argument thin, but I still hope you see my point.

I'm not really sure what your point was. But you seem to think that doing something better is not solving a problem. Sure it is, just a slightly doesn't problem. Your car analogy... The original problem was a carriage needed house to be pulled, the solution was the combustible engine. The next problem was the engine want fast enough. Then the engine used too much gas. Then the problem was it cost too much. Perhaps working on the 20th iteration of the engine isn't as hard as inventing the engine in the first place, but there are still problems to be solved, and value to be added. Sure, the winner isn't always better, sometimes they just have better marketers. But most of your original examples the succeeder did something better. Yahoo want a search engine and it was noisy. Google was simple and it find stuff. MySpace had a spam problem. Sometimes the new thing is just easier to use, or looks nicer, or it does one small thing the other doesn't.

I don't. What's the difference between solving a problem and finding a better way of doing things?

Whenever you can make a point by stretching an analogy to an extreme, I think it's possible to imagine stretching the analogy the other direction. In this case, the distinction seems to be a matter of degrees, rather than a fundamental difference.

The way I remember it, Facebook removed customisation, giving users one good page design. In Myspace people had to think about what tiled wallpaper and brutally large sound file to include in their page. Seconding everything shafyy said.

Or maybe they are curious about what differentiates it? Maybe they are asking questions to learn more about the motivations behind the project? Maybe they don't know why they would want to use it, so they are asking to see if they are missing something. There are lots of reasons why people might ask the same question. Just because you might ask those questions to feel smart, doesn't mean that everyone else asking them is doing so for the same reasons.

Our goal is explicitly not to communicate via the Internet. Sure we'll promote online and use a Slack group to organize our mentors, but we're not taking on SO or IRC or Slack.

There's something to be said about coworking spaces and working remote from a cafe. We crave the company of other people.

This is where Meetups.com fits in. But this area has kind of migrated away from the traditional discussions (which now happen on places like here, Reddit, Slack). There's usually too many recruiters, managers, vendors and sales people involved. I'm not saying these people are necessarily bad for the environment, but to cater for a particular type of discussion - they detract from it.

How many conferences or meetups have you attended where a significant portion of the audience doesn't understand what's being talking about on stage (usually because "business" and "technical" tracks aren't broken up)?

I think there's definitely a space for this to succeed in. Look forward to attending.

I am asking sometimes similar questions because I just can not allow to spend half a day to do the research on these kind of very obvious questions - meanwhile the author could answer them in two minutes.

These kind of questions are a good indicator about the documentation quality of a project. They are valuable input that can help you to put your project presentation on a much higher level.

Also from "inside" a project it is very easy to forget about the most obvious question a person might have looking at it for the first time - these questions are the best signal for exactly that happening.

There is no reason to interpret any kind of question in a hostile way - it only shows that you must be living in a personal environment of too-much-aggression. Take a break.

We are living in an age of upcoming aggression and ongoing regression of human brain capabilities (too much poison everywhere) - we have to stay aware of that and actively try to overcome these emotional aberration (and, of course, constantly work on the causes) - it is not easy, but if we all try it, we can all win.

I get why phrased like that it can sound condescending, but really, "what do I use this for" can be a perfectly legitimate and innocent question. Personally, if I ask this, most of the time it's because I'm genuinely intrigued and would like to understand it better, not to put the author down.

Don't forget the most famous one, "Why use this [Dropbox]? It's the same as FTP or email"


Man that has to be framed and put on a wall for all entrepreneurs trying to catch a break.

My original message could not be more strongly emphasised than by reading the "but hey I can just use FTP" in that thread.

Here's the bit that I love the best:

"It does not seem very "viral" or income-generating. "

That must be the quote of the century. DropBox is one of the MOST viral and revenue generating ideas there was - but here on HN when DropBox is announced, the idea killers all pop up quickly with "Hey this thing is the same as some unix utility and won't make money".

Just magnificent.

Also classic: "you can already build such a system yourself quite trivially by getting an FTP account, mounting it locally with curlftpfs, and then using SVN or CVS on the mounted filesystem"

I love this - it's such a techhead way of thinking - you don't need an integrated easy to use product, all you need to do it type 40 arcane commands for exactly the same thing - it's trivial!

It's not the same as FTP, because FTP is a technology, not a hosted service. Slap an interface, apps, and integration on top of FTP and it's similar.

"Hey why use this new fangled 'google.com'? It's the same as Alta Vista."

Because it does not accept money to change companies' rankings.

"Hey why use this new fangled 'google.com'? It's the same as grep."

Don't be silly, you can't grep the whole internet.

Thing is, if you can't easily come up with a retort to these, then the criticism may be valid.

> to lazily kill any new idea.

efficiently kill a new idea. The point is the idea isn't very new, it's just another, competing, standard..

> It's the same as Alta Vista

But it isn't - read the page-rank paper. Google produces better results. It isn't at all comparable to grep.

> not all software that allows people to communicate via the Internet is the same

Neither is it all significantly different.

Almost the first thing I look for with every project/product is a 'Compared to' chapter. This gives a good indication the author(s) is aware of the problem space and existing solutions and gives me the confidence I'm not looking at 'Yet Another Solution' for the same problem but without the lessons learned by existing solutions.

> "Hey why use this new fangled 'google.com'

Anyone who saw the original google home page after using Alta Vista back in the 90s would have immediately understood that the minimalism was its great benefit.

"Like X but we've fixed deficiency Y" is a fine way to market a product or service.

And if someone asked you why to use Google instead of grep, would you not have an answer?

I think in general, "fuck the haters" is one of the most important lessons there is to learn in life, the sooner the better. Still working on this myself of course.

It's more surprising to see these replies because this is clearly not "software that allows people to communicate via the internet."

Remember that guy that wrote here on HN that Dropbox was useless because you could basically set that up yourself with an FTP server? :D

This is a great start — finding good mentors is too hard.

My favourites so far:

1. Stephanie Hurlburt has a list of developers willing to mentor others:


Some resources from that list:

- https://ishansharma.github.io/twitter-mentors/

- https://mentorlist.herokuapp.com

2. I've used and enjoyed Codementor's “find an expert” for paid help:


I think IRC does half or more of this. Usually there are channels for specific things with a lot of varied experience and expertise. For instance in the #xml channel on Freenode, some very heavy hitters in the XML world frequent the channel. It also allows you to contribute back for the more basic questions that might get asked.

I like the personal contact in the abstract but it suffers from huge latency (have to wait a long time for an event and my questions probably don't last that long), and doesn't scale across domains e.g. In the #drools channel, I can talk to the guy that implemented the Defeasible logic decision plugin.

It's hard to overstate the value I've gotten out of Freenode IRC over the years. The #postgresql channel is chock-full of contributors and PG gurus willing to generously spend time explaining concepts and best practices. A real gem. Same thing with #clojure and #haskell . ##networking is great as well. Pretty amazing to drop into the same channel for 6-7 years in a row and see the same faces every time.

One of the first things I used to teach devs on our team was how to ask questions on IRC to get the answers they were looking for. When you're working with niche tooling, building personal connections and relying on the community becomes irreplaceable.

Wish people IRCed mode, wonder what the trend with that has been recently with Slack taking over.

> Pretty amazing to drop into the same channel for 6-7 years in a row and see the same faces every time.

This... shout outs to darkf, nedbat and aria from Node JS

It amazes me how these people continue to help others and blessed to have them repeatedly help me on so many occasions

I still am not sure the best way to "IRC," I remember back in the day having it running in a program on Windows but lordy knows what the "preferred" method is now.

I've noticed that StackOverflow now has a chat feature which is very IRC-ish and relatively helpful, if a bit empty at times.

The great thing about the "protocols instead of services" design philosophy is that there is nobody to tell you what the "preferred" method is, you just use whatever you prefer.

For infrequent use, perhaps try Freenode webchat: http://webchat.freenode.net/

The "preferred" method is to use some sort of bouncer (znc) along with running a CLI client (irssi, weechat) in a session manager (screen, tmux) on a remote server. Weechat includes its own bouncer, and I would recommend somebody to start with it over irssi. I only fairly recently switched to weechat from znc + irssi because I wanted to try weechat.el as I wasn't happy with the state of using screen in eshell, and I don't have it as configured as my irssi was yet but I'm happy with it. Next up, switching to tmux from screen...

Quassel is also an alternative, for those that prefer a GUI-client

> but lordy knows what the "preferred" method is now.

Who is this 'lordy', and why are they telling you what your preferences are? IRC is just a protocol. You can use the old clients you used to use[1], keep a command line client running in a screen session on some vps[2]some shiny web based client[3], or you can write your own in a couple of days if none of the other options appeal to you. I took the last option[4]

[1] https://hexchat.github.io/ [2] https://irssi.org/ [3] https://kiwiirc.com/ [4] https://eigenstate.org/software/ircmyr

"Preferred" way to IRC is to run a client just like you did in your yesteryears. Nothing ever changed.

I've found IRCCloud to be nice. Browser-based.

The first step up people generally make from the webchat is something simple like hexchat, although I don't know what the state of windows binaries is these days. Used to be that you could only get precompiled windows binaries by paying.

I prefer command-line irc from a vps, I use erc because I'm an emacs fella, but I've enjoyed irssi as well. Don't forget to cloak whenever possible!

Mostly the same thing. Many have bridges between the two. Some features don’t work though. Also on Slack, many use their real names/pics and the communities seem more friendly compare to IRC, at least for now.

Invite to these slacks please

#clojure, #machinelearning and #math on Freenode have been fantastic resources.

I always try and encourage people to use IRC over Slack (which I've found to be a bit of a timewaster).

What I personally don't like about IRC is that you basically have to be online all the time (or at least have some bouncer)...

Otherwise you can't scroll up and read what's going on, if there are people already talking about something.

Also this creates to long lists of idlying people, so you can't really have an overview of who's really online there.

I wish self important mean nerds, who were abused in school, IRCed less. #python and #golang have become horrible, at least last I checked.

Isn't this wish rather selfish as well? Rather than spending time, becoming a contributor yourself and effectively showing them a better way, you want them to disappear.

It is. Have you done that? Does it work?

Becoming the example that people want to emulate? Yes, it does work, but it's a lot harder. The key is to do it in little increments everyday. The more influence you have, the more you'll be able to sway a person's opinion. Growing this organically is the challenge.

This does happen a bunch. I was always dreading asking question in #nginx back in the day, and #bash could be pretty rough too, but you learn to grow a thick skin.

Well #golang is a good test for thick skin. I thought mine was thick, but no.

Valid points, absolutely.

IRC and Freenode are great...if you're already in tech. About every third freelance client I speak with needs help with simple stuff - understanding how to get a host. Understanding how to point DNS to a service like Squarespace. They don't have that one tech friend to help them or know where to ask for help, despite the constant and saturated availability of chat rooms/forums.

So while we'll provide dev-to-dev mentoring, I really hope we reach this audience too.

The target of this service is very much NOT people who would know how to use IRC and know where to go on IRC to ask a question, nor is the type of question which this service is aiming to answer easy to ask over text.

We used to have college freshmen learn to use IRC by seeing someone else using it and getting a five minute "here's how".

I think the missing part is "seeing someone else using it".

What kind of programmer can't figure out how to use IRC?

If this is the target audience. Who will be there to help?

I think there's a flipside to that latency, though - you may have to wait awhile, but once you connect, there's almost zero latency. When you're face to face with a person, you're not wondering if they stepped away from the keyboard to get a cup of coffee, or investigate whether their cat knocked over a christmas tree, or if their internet went down. You know their work didn't just page them with a critical error. The conversation goes much faster once it starts.

And that’s what I love about IRC — if there’s a topic I’m interested in, I can hop into freenode and find a channel focused on it.

> my questions probably don't last that long

If they don't last that long they were not worth bothering other people with, in the first place. Do your job yourself before asking for help.

I mean, programming is a knowledge-based job and you're expected to be able to learn on your own. It's not bad to ask for help once you honestly did your best and still cannot understand something, but giving up in the first paragraph of a man page and hitting IRC immediately is all kinds of bad.

A nice idea, would have loved to have a mentor while I was coding my first Javascript mudball. Only problem I can see is clearly the human factor eg. there can be only one mentor mentoring one person at the time. (unless you're doing lectures of course)

I think the biggest thing mentors can influence on is the culture of doing things and I myself have always been fascinated by the level of proficiency some older programmers have. It seems so natural to them which makes me want to try to emulate it by doing things better and learning more. Best role models I have had have been funny, cheerful and smart people who loved what they do and taken pride in doing things right.

Heh, I like the image of a nascent programmer coding up a little mudball of a program. Thanks for that.

I agree with the mentality, way of thinking and approaching problems being one of the best things to learn from mentors. It's not something a blogpost on the latest tech can teach you.

I had been to some NY local meetup like this before. That didn't work out well. AFAIR, probably two or three devs would be there to help answering questions like "how do you do this in Django" sort of thing, since a lot of people found face-to-face help valuable.

So what didn't go well even when there was a low volume of seekers? Say there was only five people seeking help, and two volunteers to help. If someone had a "good" question, the helper could be stuck by the seeker's side for a while. 1-1 model would be nice. If you were a frequent seeker, you could build a bound/friendship with a helper, so that helper would more likely come to help you since he/she would be familiar with your questions already. See the problem there? Then for the newcomers, they came in finding themselves lonely in the corner, desperately trying to get someone to help. Eventually I found some helpers like to spend time have causal talk with certain seekers, while spending much less time on others, which was very unfair to those who came to seek help.

IRC has both noise issue and focus issue. Too many chitchats going on in the background, and too many people trying to answer the same question (which is a great to see people are happy to help), but all end up arguing. So sometimes, I just message privately to keep the conversation healthy and productive.

Either way, for quick questions like "how do you do this" or "what does this error means", IRC/Slack/Discord/Stackoverflow works fine. Face-to-face is a better option for as long as there is an adequate helpers available and when helpers are discouraged from causal talk to avoid the Dining philosophers problem.

Would love to see a chapter in NYC maybe with a more broader languages and frameworks. For example say I am currently struggling with Spring Boot framework and Stackoverflow.com is a good place to tailor my question there but sometimes we don't necessarily get our questions answered in a timely manner there. Having someone who has plenty of experience with Spring Boot could guide me on the right direction. Sure I can always hire a freelancer for his/her time but this might seem an overkill for just a question or two.

Indeed a welcoming solution. Come to NYC as well.

We've gotten a number of requests for mentors in NYC (and Boston) but no mentors yet. Please holler at us if you're on the east coast.

Nice work. Just a note to say I’d go twice a month if there were events in Los Angeles! I run a small tech-centric nonprofit and could definitely use this kind of help exactly.

Forrest, side question, does your non-profit have a website? Can you share if so? If no site, good way to get in touch with you? Been looking for volunteer opportunities in LA.

You might also want to check out Hack for LA. Community-led civic nonprofit projects. They meet weekly in the Arts District and on the Westside. http://www.hackforla.org

Learn teach code hosts a lot of intro / study session type classes around LA, not exactly the same format but they are helpful. https://learnteachcode.org

I'm open to mentoring in LA. I don't have a space to offer, though.

If you're interested, please drop us a line at askadevorg at gmail . We're starting in public spaces for the time being (i.e. coffee shops), so no space no problem.

I would go if there were something similar in Bangalore.


I think this would also be great in NYC as well. And if it's registered as a true 501c3 charity, there are plenty of resources in the city to get grants and community center space for the lectures and such.

This concept has amazing "franchising" opportunity.

Definitely would love this in NYC!

This is pretty cool, I like the overall concept and spare design of the website. I do have a few notes about the user experience.

I'd suggest making the current city more obvious. I spent my first minute looking around trying to figure out how to choose a location before I noticed the small, low-contrast text next to the events that says the city name.

It also took me a minute to figure out if the people shown were the people running the event in my town or the people who run the website. Oh, and the "+see more" button for their skills was annoying because for most of the people it only revealed one more skill and didn't really save any room. I think you should reserve that control for people with truly long lists of skills.

This reminds me of a strong meetup in (at least) New York City called Hacker Hours. It's a great welcoming community that has nurtured a lot of people new to technology.

The meetup itself is not very structured in an almost perfect way for a lot of people. It provides an intimate yet very public experience for people to learn in a very safe and open space.

The pay forward mentality really helps communities like this stay strong and is critical.

for people self learning there are a lot of resources to solve problems / make things work / advance along the "correctness" spectrum, but the resources for beginners around deployment, testing, devops and design / refactoring best practices are not quite as good, at least from what ive seen.

reading and understanding stack overflow examples or the docs is one thing: you can know what the code does and play with it yourself to get the right answer. but when i'm trying to refactor my spaghetti code because i had no idea how confusing stuff gets when programs get bigger or how to structure stuff, or when im trying to figure out the best way to configure or deploy an app or manage dependencies, the only resources are often blogs -- which are generally amazing and which im very grateful for, but can have conflicting advice, be tough to understand, assume knowledge that i dont have. from my limited experience even the docs are not that helpful when it comes to stuff like how to scale or structure apps, as they assume a lot of knowledge and arent as thorough as when describing core functionality. having a human being help wade through this would be super valuable

not saying im not incredibly grateful for all the blogs and online resources out there, the educational resources around software are incredible and ppl are so generous w their knowledge and time. just trying to say that for ppl like me who are just getting comfortable with docs, googling, stack overflow etc but dont yet feel they can manage an app "in the wild" yet, this would be a great resource

Any relation to the other AskADev?


https://codeselfstudy.com/ is a similar concept of a broader scope. The group meets twice a week, and draws a nice mix in backgrounds. Attendance numbers are usually in correlation with the available space (usually cafes).

[edit]: primarily based in the SF east bay.

I never would have become a functional program if someone had sat down with me regularly for 3 months to think through these types of problems. Learning how they thought about them and debugged them made becoming self-taught so much easier. This is great!

This is fantastic. We need more mentorship in software development.

If there's interest, I'd like to start a north/east bay meetup (maybe Berkeley would be a convenient meeting point?)

I love the logo. Making something as scary as a { look friendly.

I like the concept. But I do like when I use capital i when I refer to myself. I don't know why they don't like capitals.

I'd be interested in one here in Auckland, NZ

Apparently the CDN (media.licdn.com) used for Nichole Barret's avatar is blocked when tracking protection is enabled.

Just FYI, if anyone related to the site reads this.

Great catch. The site was quickly hacked together this weekend and I should've just localized the assets. I'll fix that up.

I'll run one of these in Downtown Denver Colorado!

Thanks very much, we'll take you up on it. Please reach out to askadevorg at gmail.

I would go to this, happily on both ends of the conversation.

I'm in the Denver area and would be into helping out.

I'm in Denver and would love to help out.

Would absolutely love to do this in Austin. :)

Austin is prime time. Please drop a line to askadevorg at gmail.

Is there any equivalent on the east coast? I may want to join such an event if it does exist here.

If you want to help someone, just hang out on IRC and look for people asking questions.

Would be good if people did this for Toronto :) I'd be there constantly

I would be interested in hosting "office hours" electronically

A simple but fun design.

I'd love to do something like this in Melbourne, Australia.

We'd love to have you. Please hit me up at askadevorg at gmail.

After this catches on, you should also make an askadev.out.

Will office hours be archived to prevent repeating questions?

We don't have plans to archive, no. Our focus is on the relationships; StackOverflow does well with uncovering repeating questions.

Loved the logo :}

"Can I use ES6 in a webpack file?"

Why would I use Elasticsearch 6 in a webpack file?

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