Form letter for off-list support requests

I get a ton of people writing to me off list because
they’re either too embarassed or have a problem they
think is too minor for the list or they are working on
some model in secret they don’t want to share or they
have data they can’t share. So I came up with a form
letter reply; I figure I’m not the only one and this may
be useful for others.

  • Bob


I only provide free consulting for Stan on our public users list,
which is linked from our community page:

As a group, the Stan developers try to answer all the questions that
come to the list. I’m not usually the best person to answer modeling
or sampling questions, so it can be helpful to ask the wider group.

If you have data or ideas you don’t want to share publicly, please
don’t send them to me, as I am not going to sign an NDA and do not
want to receive anything that I’m not allowed to share. I would
suggest simulating data and/or simplifying the model and asking a
question about that.

If writing to the public list doesn’t work for you, I can recommend a
company that does Stan consulting:

Stan Group

  • Bob
1 Like

Good idea. If/when we moved stan-users to Discourse we could include a
general message like this in the pinned introduction to the forum.

It’s funny, I almost never get emails like that. You have to stop being to polite, Bob!

I used to get these requests when I spent more time gently helping people deal with their problems on the mailing list. I suggested shared authorship a few times when the topic was interesting and close enough to what I do and people always balked so not sure what response is really appropriate. All the reasons Bob mentions have simple solutions—read the manual, use fake data, just ask the question, share a related model with a similar problem but not your secret model. Maybe a big “meh” is really the appropriate response although the form reply is much more professional. +1 to you Bob for keeping us classy.

Not responding is rude. Responding individually was a losing battle.
So the form letter was the best I could come up with. I was
trying to suggest concrete alternatives. I could say RTFM, but
that’s so obvious it’s just going to be annoying for people to hear;
also, it’s not always so easy if you’re lost on several fronts.

  • Bob

RTFM is really not the right solution either—that’s clearly not what
people are getting at. I think people genuinely want help but it’s rare
you’ll run into someone who wants to make the trade-offs involved in either
paying for said help or collaborating. The form letter is a great response
to that situation.