A helping hand

While working on my next LAMP post, my thoughts drifted to those who are interested in using open source weblogging tools, but don’t want to play with the technology. After all, weblogging is about writing. I think it is. Isn’t it?

Another alternative to learning about LAMP and managing your own software updates is to hire someone to do the work for you. After all, there might a PHP-proficient student out there who needs 40.00 dollars to buy a text book, and here you sit with 40.00 and a burning desire to use WordPress. or Textpattern. Or b2evolution. Or Bloxsom. Or…

Instead of cash, consider barter (which I think is the better approach, myself): Tech person helps you install WordPress, and in exchange you buy them that CD or book or movie they’ve been wanting at Amazon.

As far as I know of, there is no central site anywhere listing webloggers who have technical skills, and who are willing and able to help others. So I’m starting one here, in this weblog page.

If you’re proficient with PHP, MySQL, Perl, Python, Linux, CSS, .NET, Java, or any other variation of technology we use within weblogging, and are interested in helping other webloggers get their sites going, put a note in the comments with a link to your site or resume, as well as a description of skills and weblogging tools you consider yourself proficient with. Or you can ping this post from your site, if you prefer.

If you’re interested in moving to a different environment, and need some help, consider contacting one of the people in this list. (If there is a list. There may not be webloggers with tech skills who need extra bucks, or a nice CD from Amazon. After all, aren’t we all rich, as well as popular?)

Note that I’d prefer that we restrict this to open source technologies. The reason why is that several proprietary tools have restrictions in their licenses about who can and cannot provide support for the tool. I don’t want to get into licensing issues.

Now, before you ping or comment, or contact anyone on this list, a couple of notes:

For those providing help:

When you agree to help someone, this means you have to help them. You can’t be impatient, surly, disdainful of their questions or skills, disregarding of their requests, and definitely–you can’t tell them what you think they should “need” or “want” (other than that which is necessary to run the tool, or in response to their request for your opinion).

Additionally, aside from a group of A-listers that can afford to do the ‘global hop and echo-echo’ dance, most of the people you’ll be helping won’t be rich. Keep your prices fair. Don’t cheat yourself, but don’t consider this a way of getting rich.

Take responsibility for your work. If you install a product and modify it, if it breaks because of your modification, fix it as soon as possible. Don’t push it off; don’t blow off the person; and definitely don’t blame it on the tool developers. Efforts like Textpattern and WordPress, and the other open source weblogging efforts, are difficult enough for the developers without them being blamed because you made a mistake.

Finally, be prepared to spend time answering questions and not charge for the time. You might charge a person 40.00 (or get a gift of a couple of CDs) to install WordPress and make some minor modifications, but they may have questions later–if you count every minute, then you’re missing the point of this effort. You’re helping another person, they’re helping you with a few bucks or a nice gift, but you both gain more from the exchange then just the compensation. Heck, you might even become friends.

For those requesting help:

Make sure you look at the experience and resumes and feel comfortable with the person before asking them for help. See their modifications in action, and how their own site works. Be prepared to give a good description of what you want before asking them for a quote.

Be responsible for your choice–please don’t come back to me and say it’s all my fault your site is now screwed because I’m attempting to bring folks together in this way. You are going with an open source product and getting help from someone you may not know; there are some risks involved. I personally think this adds interest, but respect that this may scare you to death.

In addition, no software is perfect. Bugs happen, and the best approach to a bug is with a sense of humor. Remember that not being able to post immediately will not result in anyone’s death or global warming. The developer has a responsibility to help you fix a problem, in a timely manner, but you shouldn’t ask them to wake up in the middle of the night to do so–unless the problem is severe enough to threaten to take down your server. This shouldn’t occur, though, because the only developers who sign up here are those who test their work, and ensure that it’s secure and using good, common sense development techniques. Ahem.

(And no, if the developer doesn’t read your mind and automatically give you everything you don’t know you want until after you want it, this is not a bug.)

Finally, don’t be cheap. If you’re not comfortable with the upfront costs, then you might check with other developers, or negotiate. But when the work is done and it looks good and works according to your request, pay up. The price may be in books from Amazon, or in bucks to PayPal–but regardless, pay up.

And ask questions if you have them, but don’t expect that buying that book at Amazon for the developer entitles you to free updates and modifications, forever. That would be taking advantage, and we don’t take advantage of our friends.

This is an experiment of trying to get those with skills to offer connected up with those who need the skills. We’ll see how it goes. If enough interest is generated, I’ll put a permanent link to this page in the sidebar.

(As for income tax and laws of the land, this is why I prefer barter…)

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