December 20, 2014

You've Got Questions. That's Understandable.

Android QuestionsAndroid developers, particularly newcomers to the platform, often have a difficult time getting assistance with their questions. The Android Google Groups are the official spot for technical support, and they are the only real avenue for engaging with the core Android team. However, those groups are rapidly getting swamped – too many questions, too few answers. Here are some ways to increase the odds that your question will get the attention it needs.

First, consider whether the Google Groups are the place to turn for your question. Most likely, your question can be asked on the Groups, but it may get lost in a sea of other questions. There are many other places where you can get your question examined. Some are classic (anddev.org), some are a bit homespun (JavaRanch forums), and some still have that shiny Web 2.0 look to them (StackOverflow). And there are certainly other places, particularly if you have a specific area of interest, such as hardware modding or porting (xda-developers). And, while I lack ready examples, I sincerely hope that there are burgeoning communities for developers beyond the English-language resources I cite above (if you know of any, post them in the comments!).

Next, be sure the question needs to be asked. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Google Groups’ search facility is fairly well broken, though once it is fixed, start your search there. After that, you can still search Google itself (curiously, Google Groups seems to have its own search engine…), or turn to the archives of the other communities, or head over to various hardware and software wikis. There is a decent chance your question has already been asked and answered.

If your question has little to do with Android, make sure an Android forum is the right place to ask it. Plain Java questions can be better handled in more generic Java discussion areas (e.g., other places on JavaRanch). Questions regarding integrated third-party components, such as Apache HttpClient or the JSON classes, may be better asked in their own forums. And, if your problem is with some third-party component you have integrated yourself, you probably want to start with their support system.

Then, if you do post your question, be sure to be complete. It is very easy for your question to be ignored if it lacks enough detail, or is difficult to understand. If you are inquiring about some crash in your application, post the stack trace (from adb logcat or DDMS) along with the relevant stretch of source code. Be sure that we know which line in that source code corresponds to the point of the exception. If your question is about technique, try to give us the latitude to provide suggestions – don’t pre-suppose some answer and wonder why we cannot help you get that answer to somehow magically be correct.

Specifically with the Android Google Groups, please consider subscribing to them via email. Even if you do not necessarily want to receive the emails, if you post via email, your posts may appear more quickly than if they are filled in through the Web forms.

Please try to minimize cross-posting, particularly within the Android Google Groups. Pick a group, post your question, and wait. If you do not get an answer in, say, 24 hours, feel free to “bump” the post, or try perhaps a different group. If you feel this is all going to take too long, bear in mind that all of these public forums are volunteer operations – if you want faster service, you will probably have to pay for it.

Your patience with those trying to provide answers is greatly appreciated. Nobody, not even the core Android team, is paid to answer questions. Our other responsibilities may cause stress that get reflected in our responses – I, for one, apologize in advance for when I do this.

Bear in mind that niche questions may be difficult to get answered. If there are only two people on the planet with the information you seek, it is rather likely they may not be watching the forums where you are asking the questions. Android is new territory for just about everyone, including many of us trying to provide assistance.

Once you have answers, consider if there are ways you can better memorialize them. Post them on your blog, add entries to a wiki or to AndroidSnippets, or even just provide some inbound links to the discussion to help them be found in search engines. You might even consider trying to answer questions of your own, in areas where you are comfortable.

Android’s developer community will continue to grow. Our support resources will grow as well, but may lag at times. The more you can help yourself, the easier it will be for the community to help you.



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