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Rails Hotline (live phone help with RoR) (railshotline.com)
189 points by stevefink on Apr 26, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

It does seem like this would be a lot easier if there were also chat (or even if it were chat-only). If you're talking about code, it would be really helpful to be able to paste in snippets or links to resources.

#RubyOnRails on freenode is basically this.

Give the #RubyOnRails users a way to paste a link (shorturl?) to people who come into the channel asking for premium help.

Make a game of it for the users, have a bot which reports the user stats (which users can auth via privmsg/ctcp password).

edit: a bot which reports stats on a request basis only, and privmgs all interactions with other users! no channel spam!

Agreed, some questions are more easily answered through chat and #RubyOnRails on freenode is a great place to get help.

However, I think the cool part is that it's not text. Personally I've find it to be really helpful when I'm stuck just to talk through the problem with somebody else. Often just the act of vocalizing dislodges the log jam.

"Often just the act of vocalizing dislodges the log jam."

Got my next product idea: mashup of SAM and Eliza as a developer help line

"Often just the act of vocalizing dislodges the log jam."

Hence the rubber duck debugging method:


I don't think it's the vocalizing per se.. it's really about thinking through your problem with enough depth to explain it to someone else.

Thanks for the ups guys.

As I said on the site I owe a lot of our success to the generous spirit of the open source community and wanted to give a little back.

If you're interested in volunteering to take calls: http://www.railshotline.com/apply.html

chap, as I've mentioned before, I think this is yet another great way to contribute to open source. It's not always about writing code - projects like this are just as valuable as someone who works full time on documenting open source projects, writes code or creating user interfaces. thanks for a fresh idea!

Really great idea. Other opensource community should learn from this.

Thanks! If anybody else is interested in getting a community hotline setup, we've been working on making that really easy.

Shoot me an email: chap@pockethotline.com

Reading this and pockethotline.com, and thinking about your offer to help set up other community hotlines: what about a Founders Hotline? Call to talk to a real live business founder, whether to get some advice, get a recommendation or opinion for a particular service, bounce an idea or pitch off someone for feedback, or just get a different perspective. And the "experts" would get the benefit of hearing from some interesting people doing interesting things, and having a nice conversation with a fellow founder, as well as the recognition and networking you mentioned elsewhere.

Like StackExchange, I think it would make sense to take this idea and bring a more abstract platform together. Niche communities (such as Ruby on Rails and Founders) can be created based on community involvement and volunteer willingness to help. A premium model can surely follow for certain communities.

The only issue I forsee with this is that such a hotline would get spammed up with idea-mongers who refuse to share anything without signing an NDA, and who equate a TechCrunch link with a guarantee long-term success.

So say "no" and hang up. :) Easy enough to add a FAQ making expectations clear.

So, I guess this is like going to Freenode#RubyOnRails, but for people who don't know what IRC is?

You should absolutely, totally, utterly figure out a way to charge for this service.

The major distinction here is voice is much more personal and one on one than IRC. IRC can be intimidating for a novice, and let's be quite frank, many times people's IRC persona does not reflect who they are in real life. As someone who's been contributing to major networks such as EFnet for many years now - I've learned IRC can be a great tool for learning, but it can also be downright aggressive and humiliating, particularly to the majority of users who this service would be targeting.

A voice on the other hand is more personal, synchronous and on-demand. I think there's value there and that it's possible to charge for that additional value.

EFNet and Freenode are quite different, however.

I know it's a bit OT but if anyone really does want to charge for offering skills in this way, you should check out a startup called www.minutebox.com which offers pay-by-the-minute video calls which are intended to work like this.

Props to these guys for doing it for free! I hope it works out for you.

Looks to me like they plan to use this particular hotline as a demo of their service for providing other similar hotlines for businesses. Seems like a great plan.

One thought: you currently suggest that the experts who volunteer get paid for their support. As an alternative model, you might consider providing credits for priority support. In other words: experts answer the easier questions so support staff don't have to, and then those experts get priority access to ask trickier questions and/or bug reports. Developers really want to interact with those experts anyway, without opening themselves up to handholding-level support questions, so everybody wins.

We need to make that more clear on the site, we don't entend the volunteers to get paid, but rather rewarded with discounts, early access, and recognition from the communities they help.

Ah, I see. The last item on http://www.pockethotline.com/ has a big dollar sign and starts with "The expert earns rewards", so yeah, more clear would help. Re-reading it, now I see that you meant the dollar sign to attach to "and you save money on support", which makes sense.

As an aside, you may also want to make it more clear why your service works better than existing croudsourced support, such as community forums. I think you can tell a pretty compelling story there: less effort to maintain the community resources (since you do the work for them) and phone support rather than forums/lists/etc. The idea of talking to an expert on the phone often seems far more appealing than sending off a mail or a forum post, at least for certain types of questions.

Copy+Pasting your awesome response above...

Maybe replace the dollar sign with a giftwrapped box.

Seems like a promising idea, and I have no absolutely intention of knocking it.

But ... you have to admit that it's a wide-open target for parody: picture the earnest young Rails beginner calling (from Chennai, of course) and getting DHH. From there it slides into some kind of ChatRoulette nightmare involving DHH, _why, Zed ("fuck this shit! Just use Python"), a werewolf, ...

This is a neat idea and I commend you for the effort this has taken and will continue to take. I have some questions for you about how you perceive people using the service:

How do you bridge the code-to-voice gap; that is, someone calling in with a question about coding and you have to describe something that requires a lot of code syntax. Do you pass that off to some sort of e-mail type discussion or screen-sharing process, anything like that?

This seems like it could be a great consulting-style opportunity, but also an awesome way to get new developers over the stumbling blocks they experience commonly when picking up new languages.

edit My curiosity on this stems from past experience, doing phone-based coding or tech support to family or friends - it has always been a major challenge for me to verbally describe some more complex tasks, and 9 times out of 10 I find myself saying, "you know what - I'll just swing by and show you, it'll be a lot easier and faster for the both of us". (I am not a very good auditory learner/processor - I need tactile or visual assistance, and teach others better using the same methods.)


Obviously, some questions you're going to need to work through the code, so we can always move the conversation to text.

So far lots of the calls have been about documentation and best practices which are pretty easy to talk through.

Agreed - maybe an Rails environment similar to http://tryruby.org/ for Ruby IRB?

an, if only herokugarden lived on, that would be ace!

Integration with some kind of web-based collaborative editor or similar seems like a huge win here.

Neat idea.

What do you suggest for non-US volunteers (and callers, although I suspect that is harder to solve, at least for free)?

Seems like you have several independent problems there. First, issues of timezone, language, and similar. Second, technical issues of long-distance and connectivity. You can pretty trivially solve the second set of issues with VoIP and other means; however, that doesn't address the non-technical problem. To address that one, you might consider making it easier to connect with people in the same general locale, which would also solve the second problem.

Idea:Record calls and make them available to others through the website. Less repetition of questions and you will be available to have a much wider outreach.

Great idea. With some simple transcripts and text-based search, it could be a great searchable tome of information one day.

Just called in and talked to Chap. I wanted to make sure he got to see the idea and know about before it got lost. He immediately made the jump to transcripts and text-based stuff.

Chap: Recording calls with skype forum post: http://forum.skype.com/index.php?showtopic=477581

Good luck!

Thanks for the call!

I love the idea of sharing recorded calls to help more people.

And as a rate-limiter, there could be a requirement that you transcribe earlier conversations to get "credits" for service. That is, every 100 words buys you X minutes of advice.

The Rails community is serious about outreach. Good on ya!

Just used the service and had a great chat with Chap, one of the founders. There's something qualitatively different when you're talking to someone using voice - it makes it easier to articulate some of the bigger questions that aren't just syntax or "help me debug this" type of questions. Anyway, I think this is a great idea, and love that these guys are making it happen. Kudos.

Wow. I saw this and thought, 'genius.' What's it going to cost.. $50/ 20 minutes.. that would be more than fair for an expert.


It better be free so long as they're not picking up the damn phone. :)

I'm assuming they're getting overwhelmed with traffic after being linked here and other high traffic properties. With only two volunteers on staff, there's only so much you can do. I am sure they are rapidly going to look into adding volunteers if the volume stays persistent (and/or hopefully grows even larger).

Perhaps raising the price would help keep demand from outstripping supply?

Sorry man, was helping somebody else. Call me now!

I just finished a pleasant, brief, helpful conversation with _chap. Thanks very much for setting this up for the community.

Good to talk to you too.

If you can think of a way to bring this together with railsmentors.org, ping me. I'd love to see what we could do.

These guys are brave!

Ok so how many prank calls have you gotten? Anyone mistakenly call thinking it was a phone sex number?? Rails does have a lot of connotations...

haha awesome.

I'm not sure if it was intentional or not (to grab attention) but the blue text with drop shadow on that red background hurts my eyes.

Nope, suppose to be white.

I'm guessing you're browser is automatically creating a link to that phone number and using some default stylesheet. What browser are you seeing that?

I see it as white, but the Skype plugin for Firefox changes phone numbers to highlight them.

I have it installed at home, will try it and then get back to you. Maybe some phones do that as well?.

Just tried it, it doesn't look blue, but it does look awful with the Skype plug-in.

I called, no hold time. Good stuff. Though I am an excellent holder.

Called and was walked through my problem with a working solution!

What is a rail shot?

do they offer quiche as well?

Has Rails become so complex that people need a hotline?

Seriously, downvoters, I'm curious as to what motivated this. What's the need for a hotline? If there are problems, is a hotline really the best approach, or does it suggest that there's some larger underlying issue that makes it necessary?

People used to tout Rails as being stupid easy to use. I.e. http://www.amedias.org/img/java_vs_rails_books.jpg

So, just how complex has Rails become? What are the difficulties people run into?

It's not about the complexity of Rails, it's about helping a learner get comfortable at their own speed, outside of the usual channels of support. It's about creating something that will unexpectedly delight people. No one expects free phone-based tech support for an open-source project.

This is ridiculously awesome. I think your reply did not contribute much of use to the conversation, and I think that's why you got downvoted (wasn't me, I can't downvote).

Thanks very much for the response.

No one expects free phone-based tech support for an open-source project.

That's true, but there are various reasons for that, one being that it's rarely needed. Now, offering it despite any demonstrated need is an interesting experiment, but it also suggests that the typical paths for learning and support are lacking.

I think your reply did not contribute much of use to the conversation, and I think that's why you got downvoted

I asked a question with an unflattering (albeit realistic) supposition.

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