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Every now and then I spend a few spare minutes on a major programming forum participating in various discussions and helping with some questions. I've been idle there quite a bit lately, mostly due to having my energy and attention focused elsewhere, but once upon a time I put a fair bit of effort into GDNet. I haven't been banned or stalked by ninja assassins yet, so apparently I wasn't too unhelpful.

I've been doing the programming-forum thing for about 9 years now. Funny story: I originally started answering questions online in the hopes of drumming up contract jobs, as I was freelancing at the time. After almost a decade and tens of thousands of cumulative posts jammed into the tubes, I have yet to earn any business whatsoever from my efforts. Not a single contract. I quit freelancing a few years ago, but the irony of that never fails to amuse me.

In any case, when you spend that volume of time and attention on helping literally untold hundreds of people with their problems, you begin to see patterns. Lots of patterns. It doesn't take long for the same questions, same discussions, and same arguments to recur... over, and over, and over.

The old, slightly cynical, hardened forum veterans will sigh and point back to past threads. Sometimes, they'll post a comprehensive list of discussion related to the topic. Very rarely, the starter of the discussion will read through the history, learn his lesson, and move on silently, strengthened by the direction of the more senior member.

Usually, though, things just go straight to hell. A couple of people will always show up for certain discussions - their pet issues, hot buttons, whatever you want to call it. They'll get in and say the same stuff they say every time. Then some other newbies will show up and say something, sincerely believing that they are original and insightful - but the veterans have heard it before.

Sooner or later, patience dwindles, people get tetchy, and someone's toes get stepped on. The thread may flare up briefly into a flamefest before being locked, or before people just quit caring and don't read it any more. But they always die.

Then the thread gets buried, disappears into the black void that is "everything beyond page 1", and is never heard from again... until three days later, when some other bright-eyed newbie comes along and brings up the same topic. Naturally, nobody learns from last time, and everyone has to run through the cycle again.

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