I'm a big fan of helping and empowering others through my open source software contributions but I often get pings from people from around the world asking for help. These requests generally take two forms:

  1. "I'm having this problem with your software..."
  2. "I want help with my business idea..."

One thing I've learned over time is that talking to individuals privately does not scale. You have to arrange a date/time, determine a chat location/method, often to discuss a problem that can be solved in 3-5 minutes. Often business questions take an hour or more of due diligence, demand research into a particular vertical, etc. Here's the policies I've found work best for all parties.

Software Issues

All OSS support must go into a persistent, searchable public forum. No private email, no chat rooms or IRC, etc. Persistent means it can be found years from now. Searchable means anyone can search for their own problem and find related discussions. GitHub Issues and StackOverflow are my go-to solutions here.

With these traits, users can search and find solutions to their own problems without bothering you. This is a very good thing: you're happy and they're happy.

Business Help

Due to my notority and success, I've found myself emailed more and more frequently by random people wanting my opinion on various subjects (some of which I'm definitely not qualified for). Unlike software support, there's no issue tracker for building a business. Instead I turn to the example of another profession: college professors. They have classes with 100s of students, how do they provide one-on-one help to such a large group?

They provide office hours. Students can show up to the professor's office at a well-known hour in order to get help. If other students are there, they all have to share the professor's time.

This is the purpose of my weekly Happy Hour, anyone can show up for that hour and video chat with me about any subject. If others show up, you might have to share the time. We don't have to arrange a time or location, you just need to RSVP so I know to be there.

Wrapup

By providing software support in an open, searchable forum and weekly video chat, I can easily provide support to a large group of random people for free and still have time for my business, customers and family.

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