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openSUSE:Mailing list netiquette

tagline: From openSUSE

This netiquette is a recommendation of how to write messages to the openSUSE mailing lists that are easy to read, reduce the amount of text and number of messages, help mutual understanding and avoid flames.

If you have been pointed to this page after posting a message the reason is, probably, that you made some common mistake that we all did, at least once, so don't feel alone and continue reading. It will help all of us openSUSE mail lists users.

It is pointless to post an email that only warns about posting style.
New openSUSE email users will feel unwanted and go away, and that is exactly what we don't want.
If you don't want to read an email, then just skip it. If you want to answer, but prefer the posting style described below, state that at the end and link to this article for explanation.

Why we need netiquette

A mailing-list consists of many members. The 'just-readers', the ones searching for help, the people who provide information and, perhaps the most common ones, people who may be put into several of these categories. Often someone knows something which the next one does not, and so on. Therefore, the mailing-list is built to be a place in the community for exchanging information and experience between its users. To have the mailing-list and, hence, the information exchange most readable and liquid, some rules have been made.

These rules are explained in the following document.



Do it yourself

First of all before you write a mail to the mail list, please try to find a solution by yourself. Support portal offers different ways listed in section Non interactive. That can be faster and you can learn something along the way.


Use a descriptive subject

The openSUSE mailing lists receive hundreds of emails every day. So, if you have a question or a problem to solve, please use a subject that summarizes your issue and also gives some details about the body of the message. Here are some good examples of subjects from real messages to openSUSE mailing lists:

Good subjects 1) Scroll horizontally by holding down Alt-key doesn't work
2) MD5s match MD5SUMS file, but not installation MD5 check
Bad subjects 1) Major problem
2) issue


Much more about good and bad subjects:


Signatures

Signatures in emails should be not longer then 4 lines long.

Information: McQuary Limit


Quoting

When you reply to a message, please quote only the relevant passages to which you are replying. Indeed, you can quote only a few words that are essential to identifying the passages to which you are replying. Everyone on a mailing list is served by one mail list server and receives all messages quickly, so you can ignore old rules written in Usenet times when answers sometimes came before questions.

  • Short about wholesale quoting. It takes time to quote properly, but you "waste" your time on many other activities that mainly serve to be accepted in a society, so why to exclude this one.
  • The quoting HOWTO gives a nice introduction to the art of mail quoting.

Use bottom-posting or interleaved style to answer

Common to both styles is that you quote relevant sentences from the previous message and give your answers under the quote. These are the styles that are commonly used on the mailing lists - first the question (quoted) and then the answer.

Bottom-posting

The bottom-posting style is used when an answer relates to a single question or statement in the previous message.

This means that you reply underneath the quoted text. It leads to a natural flow in messages that have quotes from previous posts.

Interleaved style

The interleaved style is used when you answer multiple statements from a previous message. That way, the reader first reads the question and then the answer.

Why we prefer these two styles

We are often discussing topics that include comments to:

  • the output of a command, configuration files, or program code that contains multiple lines, and multiple comments are interleaved with original text
  • groups of tests performed to troubleshoot a problem, and we need to use a style that will allow us to insert comments between quotes of the original message, with a summary or another proposal at the end of message.

The fact is, we live in different time zones, so giving one option, then waiting another day for the answer to give another proposal, would be a waste of time. The discussion would stretch over days. So, we are trying to avoid this by offering more options at once with answers that are interleaved with the original proposals.

Time and practice brought the general consensus that this is a better way to communicate on the lists. However, other lists can have different operating conditions and they can consider some other posting style as appropriate.

General rule is, if the message is the natural conclusion of a thread, and there no more replies are expected, then top posting is adequate. For instance, if you want to say "Thanks, that answered my question", it's better to post this at the top of the page, in long threads, as answer to your original post. Reading the subject and the first lines gives the info that solution is found. It is also unnecessary to quote more than a few lines, only enough to identify the solved problem/condition.


How it looks

Threading.png

Changing the subject without opening a new thread

Very often a long thread splits into several topics (for example if there are several answers to the same problem). In this case changing the subject may be necessary. One widely accepted method for this is a subject like

Re: kde icon blinks (was: is that an Xfree problem?)

Later reply posts usually remove the (was: ...) part. This allows to change a subject, but keep thread structure intact. If the discussion led to a totally different subject, you may stop, open a new thread and go on. On the other side usually others wont follow you and still discuss in old thread, so use thread splitting wisely.

Also, do not simply hit Reply to a message and change the subject to start a new discussion. When you do so you break the thread that was in progress making it hard to follow in the archives.


Don't be aggressive

This applies to new and old openSUSE mail list users.

Most of the people on the list are friendly and helpful. They use their free time to help others, so even if you are angry because you can't solve some problem, please, calm down and then post your question. It will help you to tell what is the problem without aggressive and abusive language, and it will help readers to understand what is the problem.

To answer the question one has to know a few details about the problem. Don't be upset because there is a question asking for more information. We would like to help, but not everybody has a good crystal ball to see the things that are not written in email, so we have to ask.

Understand that the audience is passionate about openSUSE, posting that you hate openSUSE, Linux, the mailing list, or other closely related things, will most likely get passionate responses, don't take things too personally.

Mail lists are used by a lot of people whose first language is not English, nor do they know computer related terms. This sometimes leads to misunderstandings in excess of the normal misunderstandings that can happen in email exchanges.

Don't be aggressive to new posters, but instead help them on their way to become a part of our community, sometimes a private email may be appropriate, to explain something, but mainly it is not wanted and if it has answer it is interesting not only for poster, but also for many that read the list archives, for instance after looking for answer on Google.

Personal attacks or threats of any kind are unacceptable on any openSUSE mail list.


Personal and mail list answers

Rule of thumb: If the user has sent the reply to you and to the list, then respond to both the user and the list. If the user has only responded to the list, then respond to the list.

Replies to the posts (emails) that you receive through the mail list should go to back to the list so that others searching the archives at a later date can benefit. In case when your reply is not related to the thread use direct mail.

Some people don't like it when they receive a reply to a list post direct to their email address, but they will make this clear by setting their 'Reply-To' field such that attempting to respond to them will still default to the list. To override this choice would generally be rude. Those that set their email software to direct your reply to themselves, personally, are indicating that they want a personal reply, in addition to a copy you send to the list -- you should always send a copy to the list so that all may benefit, but those directing your response to them, personally, should have their wishes honored. This is usually handled automatically when one replies to 'All'. Those wanting individual responses often are more advanced users who keep one copy in a special list-box, while having personal responses that are directed to them given a higher priority for review. Those that don't want multiple copies are able to filter out duplicates based on the message ID, so should never be bothered (unless they *want* to be bothered, by duplicate messages appearing in multiple locations. To be on the safe side -- since each user is able to specify in their email, their choice of where they want you to respond, it is best to not try to second guess them and respond to 'all', which will send a message to the list and to the author (unless they indicate they they have configured their email software to indicate their desire NOT to receive a personal copy). Most email software allows these options to be configured on a per-list basis.

When you use Reply-to-all, users that don't want to receive duplicate copies of a message have the option of configuring their software to delete extra copies of messages that have the same message-id, so they'll never see a duplicate message. They should use this -- since such members are usually more expert users and know how to configure their email software to automatically deleted duplicate incoming messages. However, there is no way for a user who wants a message to be routed two different ways -- into the original mailbox for the group messages, AND into their personal mail box, if the two messages are not sent, since messages sent directly have their headers set as coming from the person, while messages going through the list have their headers set to indicate they came through the server.

How to know where answer will go? It is easy, there is address field at the top of your mail program. You can see in example what you should look for:

This is answer to the list.
Everybody on the list will get a copy of this message, but the person you responded to may not see it if it is buried in many answers to unrelated topics -- while answers sent to them directly can be flagged as "personal" messages that get a priority response.
Answer-to-list.jpg
This is answer to the person.
It is also called direct, or personal mail.
Nobody else will see the answer.
Answer-to-person.jpg
This is answer to the list.
Everybody on the list will get a copy of this message, and the person you are responding to will get a direct copy that they will see in their personal mailbox (in addition to being able to see the message, 'in context' in the list-specific mail box, as most advanced users, separate out list mail by mail-box so they can focus their attention on one topic at a time).
Answer-to-all.jpg
This is also an answer to the list, but notice the reply-to field that the user has set. This indicates their preference that they prefer you to send your response only to the list and not bother them with a separate reply. Email was designed to allow everyone to setup their choices *unobtrusively*, so that replies can be made automatically, without a lot of thought being given about every persons' different wants or tastes.
It allows them to decide and to explicitly tell your emailer how to respond by default, making the 'right choice', automatic, worry-free and saving everyone a lot of headaches.
Answer-to-list-requested.jpg

Off topic content

Most of the mailing lists are specialized to a specific topic. Please do not post off-topic messages to them.

Topic is what people what to read, and that is the reason they subscribed to the list. ie. ordered mail list server to send them only specific emails. Topic is subset of interest in openSUSE, so anything outside of defined topic is not on topic, even if it is openSUSE related. Post to the opensuse-project list about some hardware support is off topic, as project has opensuse@opensuse.org and opensuse-kernel@opensuse.org, where such discussion has to start.

openSUSE lists are about openSUSE project and distribution, so anything outside that, no matter how important can be for Linux, or world in general, is in general not welcome. There are rather rare occasions when general computing question can be on topic, like secure UEFI boot as it affects ability to install openSUSE on hardware with such support.


Cross posting

That is when the same message is sent to two or more mail lists at once, like when we CC two or more people in a private message.

As in any advice given in this article, there are exceptions, but they are rather rare. Majority of email lists users don't like cross posting in any case, and those that have to use it first apologize to the list subscribers when they think that cross posting is the only rational option.

Problem is that not everyone is subscribed to all the lists that are the target of cross posting, so answers often land on only one of the lists. Conversation is broken as the readers can see only messages that are posted to their list, often stumbling on answers without previous questions.

This is imposing a lot of additional work to follow conversation, like looking another list, or mail list archives, and try to locate missing messages. It is obvious that such messages are ignored whenever is possible, so if you need an answer, don't cross post.

Another problem is that some people are subscribed to multiple lists, and they don't appreciate multiplied email volume as that is either more work to follow, or just more noise in the mail box.

In openSUSE there are few lists that need subscription to post on them. That are opensuse@opensuse.org (user to user help list) and language counterparts that in general are opensuse-$LANG@opensuse.org , where $LANG is two character language code, like de for German, fr for French, and so on. So German language list will have email address opensuse-de@opensuse.org. Cross posting that includes any of them will create the broken thread problem and your posts will be most likely ignored.

Other lists are protected with spam filters and don't require subscription to post, so they can be used to cross post without the broken thread problem, but even then use it only when it is absolutely necessary. Note that:

  • Many people don't like cross posting, as before anti spam filters all lists were subscription only and cross posting was always source of problems, even when applied with consideration to readers.
  • Some people are subscribed to more then one topic (list).
  • You still have to follow rule that posts must be on topic for each list you plan to cross post.

So if you are not sure, start with question on one general help list, like opensuse@opensuse.org and then, if that is required, move message to one or more specialized lists. Don't forget to include link to previous discussion that is archived at http://lists.opensuse.org/opensuse/ . No one is obliged to hunt down where previous discussion has happened, so in order to get answer help those are willing to read about your problem.


Conclusion

This is how we make our lives easier while being as effective in helping others as time permits.

We don't mind occasional posts that don't lean to netiquette, specially if someone is in a hurry, new to our mail list, using a mobile device that lacks functions, but permanently breaking rules will not make you any friends.


See also

  • Mail clients is a list of a few mail programs used to read email