Linux

Open source etiquette

Over a decade of using Linux and following open source mailing lists, Jack Wallen has seen many trends come and go. But one thing that doesn't change is the necessity of following proper etiquette in the open source community. Here's some advice on how to be the best Linux list member you can be.

I follow a lot of mailing lists...all of them either Linux or open source in nature. Some of these lists I have been following for years. And from those lists I have seen trends come and go. I have seen technologies blossom and die. I have met a lot of people, some wonderful, some not so wonderful. But the one constant that I have noticed throughout this journey is that the Linux and open source community hold some common bonds. One of those common bonds is etiquette.

Recently, in the Ubuntu mailing list, someone made a post that went something like this:

I installed Ubuntu. Can't figure out how to get anything running or installed. Will someone help me get Windows back on my machine?

As you can imagine the flames started flaring. I immediately posted a simple, "Have you asked this list for help with Ubuntu?" No reply. The list then started blasting that the user was asking for Windows help on a Linux list and then members started blasting one another for being discourteous and rude. And of course there was the usual "top posting" comment made.

Now I know some of you look to TechRepublic for help with your Linux and open source needs. And, as you have learned, there are many here with outstanding skills who are more than willing to help. And here you don't generally have to worry too much about your posting skills. But outside of the safe harbor known as TechRepublic you might not be so lucky. So I figured I had best offer some advice for those of you who might venture out into the world of Linux/open source mailing lists. Here's my top advice.

  • Be concise. Get to the point. Many of the members on the lists are hard at work coding for one company or another. Some of those coders take breaks to check these lists to see what's going on and how they can help. They don't have time to read through your life long journey to Linux.
  • Be specific. Before you post your problem make sure you have collected the relevant data. If you have a video problem make sure you know the video card you are using, the driver you have installed, the version of the kernel you are using, and which release of the distribution you use. The more relevant information you give the more likely you will get help.
  • Do NOT top post. I am torn on this one. But ultimately I never do this on lists. What is top posting? Top posting is replying to an e-mail where your reply sits neatly at the top of the reply email. Instead, either reply at the bottom of the e-mail or in line. The main reason for this is so people can follow the thread of conversation that has taken place. Even though this may sound trivial it is taken very seriously in Linux and open source mailing lists. You will be ignored if you top post constantly.
  • Do not insult people's grammar. Yes, there are grammar police all over the place (I get busted by them ALL the time). But the one thing you must remember is that many of these lists are populated by people who use English as a second language. So mocking someone who may wind up saving your skivvies some day is not the best way to make friends.
  • Do not post off topic. This is another issue that resides just under top posting for most annoying to avid mailing list denizens. Keep your posts on topic. Of course there will be the occasional off topic post you will need to get out. For those instances make sure you start the subject with "OT:"
  • Do not hijack threads. If a thread spawns a new topic for you, post that new topic in your own thread. Never steal someone else's thread from them.
  • Emoticons do not sweep away an insult. You can not reply, "But didn't you see my ;-) indicating I was jk? OMG! WTF?" You see where this leads?

The above list should keep you happily posting in Linux and open source mailing lists for years to come. You may think that some of the above suggestions seem silly but remember most Linux users are geeks (I am proud to admit my geek-dom) and geeks tend to be sticklers for rules and order. When you break those rules and disrupt the order you will be seen as a hindrance for the growth of the list. So on those occasions when you need to venture away from TechRepublic for help, and you go for a mailing list, make sure you follow the above guidelines. You won't make many Linux friends otherwise.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

20 comments
CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Your guidance should be followed regardless of whether one is posting an open source question, a proprietary question, or a bird watching question.

gedece
gedece

What most people don't understand is that jumping to a supposed offender's throat is as rude as the thing that made them angry. One of the wisest advices I've ever received was "Don't feed the Troll". Posting something and getting ignored is far worse an answer than anything you can say to somebody, so it's beeter to keep that in mind next time.

Jaqui
Jaqui

no html formatted email? Yoou knowexactly what will happen when you send html email with fancy colours and fonts to the list. :D

jdclyde
jdclyde

I have personally found that people in the open source sites are VERY happy to help you, as long as you have already put in a best effort already. If someone hasn't even done a simple google search and comes begging to be spoon-fed an answer, the poster is not deserving of anything. RTFB is about the only answer that they will get. People in the windows world are used to zero level people that put in zero effort, as it describes half the user base in the market.

Jaqui
Jaqui

is that the TR search is useless, so doing the research to see if your problem has a solution on the sit isn't possible.

Jaqui
Jaqui

but human nature is to jumpon them for screwing up, so it happens even though it shouldn't.

jlwallen
jlwallen

you got me on that one. i can't believe i didn't include that.

jlwallen
jlwallen

i can't tell you how many times i have seen the "RTFM" reply. one would like to think the norm is that people do RTFM before they attempt to get help. but as we all know, that is not always the case.

Jaqui
Jaqui

I myself don't like html email, simply because the plain text is usually easier to read. I've seen some [b]really[/b] bad colour combinations used in emails.

jdclyde
jdclyde

http://justfuckinggoogleit.com/ having the "f" word on the page was what set the alarms off. I am sure when the admin that babysits the proxie/firewall goes through and sees what was blocked, they will save it for their own future use! :D

JimInPA
JimInPA

how come every time I click on one of your tiny URL links I get the corporate "This site is blocked due to network policy" screen. Jeez, your gonna get me fired :D

jdclyde
jdclyde

but you can BUY a book that is better. The problem is developers are NOT writers, making their efforts dry and very advanced. If they would even include a few working examples of how to put a command together with all the possible switches..... On of my favorite books is "the cisco cookbook" because that is all it is, working examples. I would LOVE to see something like that written for linux. Edited to add: the complexity is NOT an excuse to be stupid and lazy, expecting people to spoon feed you an answer, and people that do that SHOULD be looked down upon. If I have a PAY support with someone, fine, I will handle it all. If this is a free service, you should have expended at least a minimal effort first before expecting me to do your work for you.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

Many people would not try that hard! Example, I got a call last night from someone I know. This person had a virus, worked with Comcast and Mcafee support, and the problem was not resolved. I told him what to try, and let me know (about 10-15 min of the conersation). Suddenly he wanted years worth of OS knowledge and just kept asking and asking everything under the sun -- how does a HDD work, how does virtual memory work? How does -- Get a friggin book already! Anyway, the point is that many people do not WANT to learn anything until something happens, then they want to know everything to save support costs. once it 'works' again, they dont Want to learn anything -- just point, click, and work like its supposed to..

Jaqui
Jaqui

the man pages are written for advanced users, not end users. That is the fault of the documentation writers not the user. When I started with GNU-Linux, it took me 4 years before I could actually understand the man pages.

lastchip
lastchip

To a new Linux user, (in the main) the man pages might as well be in a foreign language. It *is* a major problem for a novice to understand them, as generally speaking, they are written by developers, for developers. The Internet however, often includes "walk throughs" on common tasks, that really are written in Janet and John language. This is something I'm trying to encourage at my own Linux User Group. Sometimes "geeks" just don't understand why anyone should not understand them. But once it is explained, are often very cooperative in changing their ways. In fact our small web site is very active in such writing. Almost everything is written, with the intention that a beginner should be able to understand the content. Clearly, as the concepts become more advanced, it becomes progressively more difficult to achieve that aim.

FXEF
FXEF

Sometimes man pages are not as clear as they should be. However, probably you question has already been answered somewhere on the Internet, so Googling for an answer should also be part of the RTFM process.

Jaqui
Jaqui

the ascii text art tags are actually impressive. I've seen one that is an electric trolley bus. [ the person promotes use of clean electric transit vehicles as a personal activity, not a company product. ] The only problem with the text art is that they can often add triple the length to a message.

jlwallen
jlwallen

it's those pesky sig tags that i hate the most. and when they are animated it makes me want to scream. what are people thinking when they add an animated image to every email they send out?

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