Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
With different support resources offering frequently conflicting advice, how do you decide who's right? Which tech support resource do you believe?
I was researching a question on the internet, and I find it very strange that what one expert recommends another advises against. I refer to various posts on discussion forums and advice sites such as yours, all of which are most helpful not often contradictory. One finds those who swear by a product and others who don't reckon much to it. That leaves novices like me rather bewildered to who to heed and who not.
Who do I believe?
I understand the frustration. When all you're looking for is an answer, it's puzzling to come up with various differing opinions.
I'll try to explain why I think that is, and what I do when faced with it myself.
It almost goes without saying that computers and politics are very similar. People have strong opinions on what is, and is not, the right way to approach the problems we face. Start with the Mac/Linux versus PC debate and work your way down, and almost every aspect of computing from hardware to software to networking and everything in between is open for debate.
And that's frustrating if you're not the least bit interested in the debate, you just want to get your work done.
I think one of the biggest reasons that you see different opinions is based on people's different experiences. Specifically:
Direct Personal Experience - Their opinion is based on their direct experience with something. This is sometimes the best source of accurate information if viewed in the correct perspective.
Over Generalization - The person who has a bad experience with something, and then based solely on that bad experience proclaims "this product is crap" is taking their single experience and assuming that it is generally true. It might or might not be - it's absolutely human nature to do that, but it's also statistically inaccurate. It's a data point of one. If a million other people have had wonderful experiences with a product, it might not actually be as bad as that single experience would indicate. But that person is, rightfully, going to hold and express a negative opinion.
Hearsay - Recounting the experiences of others can be good or bad, depending on how objectively those experiences are taken. If I tell you that product X should be avoided because my buddy had a problem with it, that's not nearly as valuable a statement as saying that the product should be avoided because I regularly hear of problems from many different people.
Another major reason for differences of opinions are differences in values.
I might pick product A over product B because it's easier to use, and as I evaluate products for use by my readership I believe that ease of use is very important. Someone else might pick product B over product A because it does a slightly better job at whatever it does. That person values the incremental improvement over the ease of use consideration.
As a gross, yet often common example, you'll often hear people disrecommend software from Microsoft simply because it's from Microsoft. The software might, in fact, be the most appropriate solution for many people, but you'll find people recommending other solutions, often very strongly, simply to avoid using Microsoft software.
And to be honest, I can't really argue with 'em. Not on Microsoft specifically, but there are indeed companies who's products I now avoid simply because the products come from those companies. For assorted reasons that I personally feel are valid those companies have somehow placed themselves on my personal blacklist.
And again, I think everything I've just described is human nature. We may want to be objective, but we all see the world through our own experiences, priorities and values. The result is that we may come to different conclusions.
So, none of that helps answer your question:
Who do you believe?
The short answer: the person, persons or group that most closely matches your own needs or values.
Which, of course, is easier said that done.
And that's where some work comes in.
When looking for an answer, don't just stop when you think you've found the answer. Take a few minutes to get a sense for the person or community providing that answer. Does what they say make sense to you? Do they appear to have an understanding of the issues you're facing? If you're inexperienced, do they regularly pose solutions in ways that you can understand? If you're experienced and looking for more technical solutions, does what they provide match your own experience and do they have a clear sense of what they're talking about in general?
When relating experiences, are you finding more "this didn't work for me, so the product is crap", or "this didn't work for me, so be careful"? Are the reports of hearsay based on reasonable data, or almost urban-legend-like friend-of-a-friend conversations? Naturally the more reasoned and objective the opinions, the more trustworthy they would be.
I know that, personally, I value my own experience with products highly, but I do try to do so with an open mind. I rarely say something should be avoided because of my own single experience, or because of one or two reports. However, because I do have a steady stream of reports of issues coming in, then that's absolutely going to color both my opinion, and my recommendations.
The most glaring example I can provide is the my position on the use of free email services. It wasn't until I'd received repeated and consistent reports of people losing everything as accounts were hacked or otherwise lost that I formulated my own strong opinion on the subject. My personal experience has been nearly perfect with every free email service I've used, but it became clear that there's a much larger and more common issue that warranted action.
Ultimately, the answer is to spend a little time and find a few resources that you feel comfortable with. Or, as you search for a specific solution, take the time to evaluate where you end up and make sure that the resource matches your own needs and values.
And, hey, if I'm one of them, that's great. But if not, I know that there are many, many alternatives out there that might also be appropriate for you.
And keep your eyes open for new resources. This is the internet, and there are new sources of information almost every day.
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