Learning to program all on your own can be hard, really hard in fact. Sometimes it helps having a place where you can ask questions when Google just isn’t giving you what you are looking for. There are also benefits in using a community to answer programming questions (a topic I will cover in an upcoming blog post).
To assist in choosing a community, I have compiled a list containing details about various communities and my experience in using them. As I haven’t been to every community out there, I would appreciate if you leave your own recommendations and detailed experiences as a comment below.
The list only contains ActionScript communities, but some of them cover other programming languages or topics as well. But remember, if you want to ask a question on a specific topic, you will get much better results asking in a community that specializes in that topic.
For instance, if you had a Java question, you could ask it on the Kirupa forums in the Other (Java, C, C++, etc.) section, but I recommend tracking down a forum with its main focus on Java. Similarly, Box2D and Flixel questions could go in a standard ActionScript forum, but will likely get better answers in their Box2D and Flixel forums.
The Kirupa Forums are my “home”; my forum of choice.
In the beginning, I bookmarked every ActionScript forum I could find, from ActionScript.org to an obscure section of the forums at ArmorGames. Not sure which forum was “the best”, I would sometimes ask the same question in several places (in my defense, I didn’t know any better).
I eventually started using the Kirupa forums more and more. I don’t remember all the reasons why, but one major factor was that I often got better responses there, and would often get tied into long conversations. But in the end, the reason I finally settled down at the Kirupa forums is the same reason that I use ActionScript; it’s not necessarily “the best”, I’m just used to it. I’m very comfortable there, and have had no reason to switch to a new forum.
The Kirupa Forums are just the right size. There are enough experienced ActionScripters (and even helpful beginners) to answer nearly every question within a day or two of its being posted. The questions that usually end up unanswered are the poorly written ones and “not-really-questions” like “i need to make a music player in flash cs5 that uses xml. help plz.”
Sure, in a larger forum there are many more people answering questions, but after a few hours your question is already on page 2, which as we all know is where forum threads go to die. By then, no one except Google searchers will find your thread! Personally, I’m not a fan of huge forums.
As Kirupa.com is the only forum I’m familiar with enough to give a full review, I don’t know how other forums compare. Let me know what forums you have used, and how you feel about them in the comments below and I’ll add your experiences in here.
Although I haven’t gotten deeply involved with this community, only using it on occasion, I feel it is a brilliant and magnificent way of asking and answering questions.
Unlike “traditional forums” where responses appear from top to bottom in chronological order, the best answers on StackOverflow “float up” to the top. There is no “chit chat” or “small talk”; even the comments that aren’t actually “answers” are small and out of the way. It’s questions and answers, pure and simple.
In the beginning, your powers are quite “limited”; you can’t “upvote”, use links in your answers, or give those comments that aren’t direct “answers”. To earn more privileges, you need to earn points by asking and answering questions well. Unlike Expert’s Exchange (mentioned below), these points don’t go away, but serve as a guard to keep spammers and “low quality askers/answerers” out. But as soon as you have racked up enough points to gain the trust of StackOverflow, you are free to ask, answer, and even edit across the site.
There are more things I love about StackOverflow’s q/a system, but they are beyond the scope of this article and will have to be saved for another blog post.
Be careful with this one. Experts Exchange is a paid service, and in my experience people tend to “expect more” out of a service they spent money on. I have more than once ran into people with the mindset “I payed good money to ask a question here, and you have the audacity to accuse me of using the wrong publish settings? I don’t need this kind of treatment!”
Note that this is only my personal experience. I have had positive responses as well, and others may also have had different results with EE.
Second, Experts Exchange really wants to earn money. It’s not enough that people have to pay to ask questions there, but if you have ever stumbled across them on Google, you know that you can’t even read answered questions without a paid membership. (Exhibit A)
You don’t need a paid membership to get started at EE; you can still see and help answer unanswered questions with a “free account”. If you answer enough questions each month, you get a “free one month membership” which includes asking questions and viewing answered ones.
But if your amount of answered questions per month dips down below the minimum, you are back to a “free account” until you “earn enough” by answering questions. This is regardless of how many questions you answered in the past. The “monthly minimum” isn’t high, but I still find what they are dong to be tacky and close to extortion.
The good news is, if you answer enough questions, you get a free t-shirt. :)
Even though many have moved on to “better technologies”, there is still a slew of great Flash developers on Twitter, especially in the “game development” crowd. You can learn a lot from the things they tweet, and even start some pretty nice conversations.
Remember that many developers have busy lives outside of Twitter. If you do use Twitter to ask questions, as in all communities, sometimes it’s better to ask a “crowd” of people (in this case, Tweeting to all your followers), rather than bothering a single person with your problems.
You would be surprised how often people ask for programming help on Twitter. If you are a fan of answering questions, keep an eye on the #as3 and #flashdev tags if anyone needs help. Some Twitter applications, such as TweetDeck, help you “monitor” tags and receive instant notifications when someone uses it in a Tweet.
The 140 character limit could be quite limiting, so sometimes it may benefit to invite the user to continue the conversation via an IM service such as Skype. If you don’t like giving out your Skype username online, create a new account used only for assisting people with ActionScript. This will also keep your programming contacts separate from your personal ones.
I’m not an IRC person; I have used it, but I don’t frequent anywhere. If anyone knows of any good IRC hangouts, please share them in the comments.
TODO: Insert conclusion that leaves readers inspired to go out and find a community to settle down into.