Free Software, Not Free Support: My Reply Template

Over the last weeks I have seen a few people tweet or write about the burden of open-source maintainership or being a public person in a programming community.

The topic of open source maintenance responsibilites has become bigger over the last years and having previously burned out on OSS work myself, I find it important that the stress of demands on people contributing their free time is something that needs to be talked about.

As an open source maintainer myself I get my fair share of e-mails and Twitter direct messages asking for support with specific problems.

For many years I usually reply along the same lines that I provide only free software and not free support. Maybe this is helpful to others and an encouragement to stand your ground:

Thank you for your message, unfortunately my limited time doesn’t allow me to help with support requests for my open-source projects, especially when they are done in private and my answer doesn’t benefit others as well.

Please ask your question in a public forum such as Stackoverflow, Doctrine or Symfony Slack or Mailinglists where community members can help you out and both question and answer will help others.

This is intentionally formulated to avoid talking the questioner down for asking an open-source maintainer for help in private, because they might not be aware of my time constraints or about open-source and support. That is ok, no one can be all knowing.

Instead my main argument is to move the support to a public forum, so that the community of free users of my software can help each other and provide something “free” in return.

Additionally this “nice and defensive” phrasing is robust for almost any kind of message and I rarely need to adjust it after copying it into an e-mail or a Twitter DM.

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