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Since I have been involved in Fedora development, I have spent time in some of the Fedora IRC channels over on irc.freenode.net where a lot of the Fedora development takes place. Last week there was some discussion about the main #fedora channel, where end users come to seek help. So, I decided to hang out there for a week and see if I could help out.

First a bit of background for those who don't know anything about IRC. IRC (Internet Relay Chat), is a realtime text chat or conferencing. It's quite handy to communicate with a group of people at the same time. Fedora users IRC quite a lot, as you can see from the Communicate section of the fedoraproject wiki.

The #fedora channel is full of activity most of the time. It usually has between 250 and 350 users on it at any given time. Many people ask a quick question or two and then leave. Some people have involved questions and stay for a long time. Some people are redirected to other channels or resources.

During this last week, I only noticed 2 users that were being excessively anoying, which I think is pretty amazing. There were a core group of people who were always answering questions. Of course it was impossible to pay attention to the channel all the time, but the transitory nature of people coming and asking things made it easy to look back in and answer a few questions, then go back to something else.

There were a large amount of questions from users about media codecs, installing items that are not shipped in Fedora for legal reasons and the like. Luckily the livna.org repository was the answer for many people. There were also a number of questions about upgrading and life cycle of Fedora. Many of the people in the channel were happy to point fedora users at RHEL or CentOS for longer support needs. Also, I found it interesting that there were some users asking about Fedora 8 test 1, which was just released. There was also a large number of users using the binary nvidia or ati drivers.

After hanging out in #fedora for a week, I do have a ideas for things that might help everyone out more moving forward:

I think more fedora developers should come by the end user support channel. It does good to see what kind of questions and issues your user base has from time to time. Due to the nature of things it's easy to come answer questions for a while and then leave.

Something like an IRC bot might be useful in the user channel. It would need to be setup so that end users couldn't mess it up or find fun in taunting it, but there are a number of links posted over and over and over again that a bot could help with. Also being able to post bugzilla links to bugs would be nice. (The bugbot in the fedora-devel channel does this, very handy).

I know there has been talk of a fedora pastebin site, and that would be nice to have. Being able to paste the output of a command for others on the channel to look at in their web browser is invaluable. People seem to use all sorts of hosts for that. It would be nice to point them to a fedora version.

Perhaps it would be possible to do events for end users occasionally. Something like a targeted tutorial, or a Q and A session with a developer of a high profile Fedora package (kernel or xorg or gnome-desktop or KDE or games). This would be also a good chance for a Fedora SIG (Special interest group) to pull more interest.

The initial issue that caused discussion about the #fedora channel was to relax the requirement that a user be registered before being allowed on the channel. I think we could try and relax that requirement for a while and see how things go. I was pretty surprised how well behaved people were for the most part.

Anyhow, not sure I will always hang out there, because it can be time consuming, but it can also be fun to help other folks just starting out with Linux and Fedora to realize how fun it can be.

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