Open Source

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 jackwallen.com.

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