Sigh. Here I’m going to sound like one of those celebrities. But I thought I should lay down some ground rules, so here goes.

Yesterday, I received a 1,063 word email from a non-profit organisataion asking me for advice on whether or not they should use Rails or Django for their new project. They begin with:

We found your answers and profile on Stack Overflow. We’re reaching out to you because we’d like your advice on a new nonprofit project, [name], and the language/app framework we should use to develop it.

We have a fairly small budget to build the framework and to do betas of the first seven sites, so it’s crucial we pick the right framework. We are trying to choose between Django and Rails, and we want to make the right choice.

Quite obviously, my answer is going to be heavily biased in one direction. I’m sure you can guess which one.

Before yesterday, I’d never even heard of this charity, nor spoken to the person who sent me the email. Basically, up until this point, we’ve done nothing for each other. Their questions obtusely relate to Rails, and definitely doesn’t relate to what I get paid to work on.

So I read the email anyway. It explains what the charity does and what they’d like their new platform to do. Then at the bottom, they ask if I could “take a look at the high-level requirements” and link me to a Google Docs Spreadsheet. Inside this spreadsheet, there’s 32 very wordy questions, like this one:

We need the front ends and backends to run fast. Many of the backend pages will have fairly intensive reports drawing on lots of data from user pages, such as nonprofits being able to run reports of total donations over periods of time, recent donations, etc. We think speed is a top priority.

Each question, by my estimates, would take one hundred to five hundred words to answer adequately. So at a minimum, around 3,200 words of mine to answer their questions. This is from a complete stranger in a private conversation between myself and them. Do you know what other situation this happens in usually?

Oh yeah, paid consulting. But there’s nothing in the email that indicates that I will get anything more than a warm and fuzzy feeling from answering it.

Like I said before, this is not related to anything that I do. This is extra work. It’s in a private conversation, so my answers won’t benefit anybody else. If this question pops up again, chances are that I will have to answer it again, and that’s not cool.

These kinds of emails are basically a three-times-a-week deal, and I’m over it. While I enjoy helping people for free, I will only do so in a public forum where other people can benefit from the answers. If you want to contact me privately, then I will ask for some sort of reward for it, because very few people are going to benefit from it.

These kinds of questions have no regard for my time, and all I get from them is a feeling of being used for my talents. Kind of like a whore, just without the money changing hands thing.

No more.