Will It Go Round In Circles?

I almost remember the first time I heard the term “FAQ”, and it was a long time ago. It’s a TLA (a three-letter acronym) and it means “Frequently Asked Question”.

After I learned what a FAQ was, I actually had a job where I was supposed to generate them. Technically, I was supposed to generate answers to questions that we had not necessarily received, but we called them FAQs, anyway, because we assumed we would receive them frequently, eventually. Assuming people didn’t read the FAQs first.

I always thought it was strange to predict what questions would be asked frequently and answer them before they were asked. I suppose it’s the one time we could have used a psychic on an IT project, other than predicting completion dates for development projects.

Then, I found Cruise Critic, and I was enlightened. Cruise Critic is designed for people to review cruises they’ve been on, ask questions of other people on cruises, and discuss cruising in general. So, like most hobby bulletin boards (yes, I remember computer-based bulletin boards), you get a mix of newbies and old farts. These groups do not mix well.

Here’s the major issue – there are no FAQs there, other than metadata about using the website. So, while there are many frequently asked questions, there are no answers easily found. So, the same questions come up over and over.

Part of this is that people are ignorant. Not in the pejorative sense, they really don’t know yet. This is why you have a book on cruising called “What Time Is The Midnight Buffet?” You don’t know something because you’ve never done it before. The truly ignorant don’t even know what questions to ask. This group is blissfully silent.

Part of this is that people are lazy. If you do a basic search through the forums, you can find an endless number of previous entries and responses about almost any topic. However, even without search, you can look at the subject lines and find pretty much any of the frequent questions within a couple of pages. They’re that frequent.

Part of this is that people are ignorant (again)  – they don’t understand how bulletin boards and mailing lists actually work. They’re public. You see everything, not just your stuff. (I’ve had people on my digital photography mailing list [5000+ users] complain that they’re getting all sorts of conversation and not just the specific answer to their question.)

So, a lot of the usefulness of these sites are compromised by not only the same questions, but by the same complaints when the question is asked. Repetition scares off the people that know the answer, and then the new people can’t get any replies.

Meet some of people that ask the questions.

First of all, is the clueless newbie:

  • “What time can I get on the ship?”
  • “It depends, but it is probably printed on your cruise documents, the cruise lines’ website or both.”
  • “You’re mean. Can’t you just tell me the exact time?”

This basic conversation will repeat almost daily.

Then, there is the helpful newbie who doesn’t grasp the whole picture:

  • “Since this is the Report The Senior Staff board, I can tell you we had Captain Stubing on our trip.”
  • “WHAT (*(#$*)( SHIP? WHEN?”

Apparently, someone did not know that a cruise line may have more than one ship. I’ve lost count of how many posts are in the current year’s crew discussion board don’t mention the ship or the sailing date.

Some newbies require reassurance:

  • “I just booked a ten-day cruise from Miami and I’m in the corner cabin. My family will be with me. Is this a good idea?”

What are you going to say? If your family is prone to seasickness, no. If you can’t afford it, no. f you can’t get to Miami, this might be a bad idea. How many people are in your family? How many will fit in the cabin?

Then, you have the inadvertent war starters. For example, in the Norwegian Cruise Line section, somebody will ask about removing or changing the automatic tipping (a hot-button subject) every other day, and the same firefight will break out. I know it’s the same firefight, because someone actually said “Here we go again.”

The interesting question becomes – who’s fault is this? The people who don’t do any research and ask the same question somebody else asked three hours earlier, or the people who take the bait over and over?

I’ve actually considered whether some of the “newbies” are actually just old farts laying down flamebait to watch the other old farts rise up in fury. If so, well-played. I’m sure you’re laughing hysterically somewhere.

On the answering side, you also have the usual band of suspects:

Then, we have the Admittedly Ignorant, Yet Opinionated:

  • <any question known to man about <some cruise line>
  • “I don’t know about your question because I’ve never been on <cruise line>, but I think that Carnival’s scones are the best at sea.”

Seriously, if you don’t know, shut up. I know you have an unlimited data plan, but that doesn’t mean you need to post all the time.

Next, are the Search fanatics.

  • <any question known to man>
  • “Haven’t you searched?”

If someone is asking a question, I would like to think that they searched and didn’t find an answer. It’s possible (probable for newcomers) they haven’t. However, answering a question with a question is pointless, and starts the usual ranting for answering a question with a question. (These people should be paired with in Hell are the people who start questions with, “I didn’t have time to search, so …“)

Finally, are the Scolding Moms.

  • <any question known to man>
  • “We discussed this at length LAST WEEK. Scroll back and find it.”

Isn’t it faster to just cut and paste a summary? You might remember it, since you remember when it was discussed. That may actually help the person asking the question.

The problem with this system  is that the newbies are scared away from discussions because the old farts tend to get high blood pressure and yell at them. It’s not really yelling, but it seems like it if it is your first innocent question and you just haven’t realized yet that  it’s everyone’s first innocent question.

I’m an old fart on cruising. I have my seventh and eighth cruises scheduled this year – which is no Captain Stubing, but it’s a lot more than a first-timer. I do my best to be helpful, but it does get old. Quite old.

Hopefully, someday soon, Cruise Critic will learn to post realistic guidelines on the use of the site. Here’s some I considered: 

  • The first source for information on your cruise is your cruise line’s website. If you can find this website, you can probably find theirs.
  • The more definitive the answer, the more likely it is an opinion.
  • If you have a question, you are probably not the first one. Look around first or put on your asbestos underwear.
  • Please remember this is a world-wide site, with differences in experience, culture and language. Think before you hit “send”.
  • Religious wars happen in all hobbies (Carnival vs Norwegian, Ford vs. Chevy, Democrat vs. Republican.) If you have an opinion on a specific question, please join in. If you’re just going to point someone to “your brand”, please don’t bother, it’s not helpful.

If they can have a post that you reminds you that you can’t link to Facebook always show up at the top of the topics  list, you think they could add something like this.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell someone what time he can board the ship.