History, incubation and inspirations

Many times I have found myself needing to know about a technology with which I’ve had little experience. If I have time to spend learning something new, and if I think I’ll use the technology in the future, then I will enjoy learning about it in depth, but often times, working against a deadline, I have no time to learn, or perhaps I do not expect to ever use that technology again.

An example of the latter would be my limited experience with the Perl programming language. I recall when I was working for Danforth Diamond in 2005. I had to modify some of the old Perl scripts they had on their server. I spent a week working with Perl, and it was the only week that I have ever worked with Perl. I would have loved to have been able to quickly hire my own private consultant for all of maybe 20 minutes, to ask some basic questions about the language. As it was, I wasted days tracking down information via Google, and reading tutorials that did not quite answer the exact question that I had in my head.

My brain fought against me – it knew that I was not planning to work with Perl again, so it was resistant to learning it in the first place. I was stuck in a situation where I had to read through multiple articles about strings and escaping and how to handle variables inside of strings – many wasted hours. My life would have been much easier if I could have turned to someone who had a lot of experience with Perl, and handed them $20 for maybe 15 or 20 minutes of their time, to be allowed to fire away with questions like, “How do I put a variable in a heredoc string?” and gotten instant answers, answers that were tailored to me, answers that gave me exactly the information that I wanted, and nothing superfluous.

Hoping to get fast answers to my questions, I started posting on various forums. I have sometimes gotten fantastic assistance from various programmers on these forums. One of the greatest things about the Internet is how much people are generally willing to help one another for free. If you are trying to learn a programming language such as Java, it is surprising how helpful people will be on sites such as Java Ranch. And if you are trying to get answers to your questions about WordPress, it is wonderful how much good information you can get over at the WordPress forums.

And yet, over the years, I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with free forums. I find it frustrating when I post a question that is altogether unique, but someone mistakes it for a common question, and so the only reply I get is “RTFM!!!!!” When people offer you free help, sometimes they are wonderful, but sometimes they attack you for aspects of your project that are beyond your control. For instance, I was once asked to fix a Javascript slideshow that depended on jQuery for funtionality, and when I posted some of the code to a forum, the only response I got was “Do not use jQuery!” But it was the lead programmer on that project who had decided to use jQuery, and I didn’t have the power to change that. I only had the power to fix the problem that I had been assigned.

We all seem a little stupid when we are learning a new skill. It doesn’t matter how smart we are. We ask what the experts think of as painfully dumb questions. Asking those dumb questions is essential to our learning process, but it is understandable that answering such questions may seem tiring to those who know a great deal about a given subject.

Hoping to get some high quality answers about Perl, I signed up for Experts Exchange. At the time it cost $9.99 a month (as I said, this was back in 2005). Nowadays it costs $12 a month. The fact that it costs money seems to introduce a level of seriousness to the conversations that is often absent on the free forums. And yet, Experts Exchange suffers a fatal flaw – none of the money goes to the people who answer the questions! The corporation, Experts Exchange, keeps all the money to itself! This limits the usefulness of the site. What I needed was an easy way to hire an expert for all of maybe 20 minutes, and give them some money, so they would take my dumb questions seriously.

Such experiences as that lead me to start imagining a site like the one we are now unveiling. Our hope is that this site will become the place where you know you can put up an appropriate amount of money and get the exact information that you need, with nothing superfluous.

We all need help sometimes. I can imagine a few common scenarios for using this site:

Perhaps you are a WordPress beginner, and you’ve got a bunch of questions that you urgently need answered, and you are not getting answers fast enough over on the free forums.

Or perhaps you are an experienced Web designer but you do not know how to read or write PHP code, and right now you’ve got a client demanding that you fix a PHP problem. All you need is to hire a PHP programmer for all of maybe 15 minutes so they can fix an easy problem in your code.

Or perhaps you are an experienced PHP programmer and you simply need an extra pair of eyes, to find the problem in a block of code that looks perfect to you. I have been in that situation many times. I recall I once wasted 30 minutes trying to fix a problem – I was getting a blank white screen in the browser, and no errors were reported in the PHP error log. I looked through all the code and it looked perfect to me. I could not see the problem. Finally I tracked the problem down to here:

for ($i=0; $i < count($arrayOfPosts); $i) {
$post = $arrayOfPosts[$i];
$stringOfTitles .= $post->post_title . "<br />";
echo $stringOfTitles;

Yes, the $i at the end of the for() statement needs to be $i++. As it was, I was facing an infinite loop.

Every programmer has occasionally run into a problem like that, where the code looks perfect, but it doesn’t behave perfect. We know we are missing something, and sometimes the wisest thing to do is simply ask someone else to look at it.

This site is here to help everyone who runs into these kinds of problems with their WordPress projects.replique montre suisse
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I think Darren’s experiences are different than mine, and he began to imagine a site such as this one simply because he is such a widely recognized WordPress expert that he gets bombarded with a lot of questions from people who are just learning the software. But I’ll leave it to him to write about his own train of thought.

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10 Responses to History, incubation and inspirations

  1. Jeff Donner says:

    Lots of great insights here – thanks Lawrence.

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  3. Jonathan Nieto says:

    Nice reading!, thx!

  4. Pingback: Closer To The Ideal » Blog Archive » WP Questions, a site where WordPress experts can answer WordPress questions, for money

  5. Luke Latimer says:

    I really think you have a great idea here. I used Experts Exchange for a while as well but as you have pointed out, their model truly is flawed. The way you have focused on the platform as opposed to the actual product is a much better way to go and I’m sure this will be a winning formula.

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  7. Ben Helps says:

    Hmm, I like the concept of the site, but…

    How are you going to make it work? Do you pay on receipt of a correct answer? If so, do you only pay the full amount to the last comment that contained the final piece of the answer puzzle? Or do you distribute it across all the helpful comments that lead to the answer?

    Or, do you pay someone who convinces you they have the answer? In which case it becomes another bid based site like RentACoder, GetAFreelancer, Guru, etc.

    Just food for thought – In principal I like the idea.

  8. lawrence says:

    I thank everyone for the kind words.

    @Ben – so far, the site seems to be working. To answer your question, we do allow the asker to split the prize money among answerers. In fact, so far the majority of settled questions have seen the prize money split among multiple answerers.

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