Getting Involved In Mailing List Conversations

Getting involved in mailing list conversations is an ideal way to share information that you have, pose questions, and contribute to the pool of knowledge and information available on open source software projects. Generally most mailing lists will have some written rules for participation, but there may also be conventions that are unwritten for participation.

Having an understanding of the written and unwritten rules for mailing list conversations will ensure that you never stop over the line. This can sometimes be difficult as people from different cultures, different levels of experience and even with different expectations are all contributing in real time.

The following are typical expectations for mailing list conversations that are posted on technical websites.

Posting Styles

Since these are very specific, technical and project related mailing list conversations it is rare that any special text is required. Most email posting lists or mailing lists will require that all correspondence is in plain text and not in HTML. This makes sense as plain text is the best way to cut and paste actual code if you are posing a specific question or answer.

In addition line wrapping is usually set at a character count. This is designed to keep all the mailing list conversations uniform in size and design. The replies are usually provided above the response when needed and they will appear in a box that clearly designates a quote from another user.

Stay with the Topic

It is critical to stay within the original topic with the reply. If you are going to go off topic it is best to start a new discussion to avoid confusion for the other users and contributors. You can note that the second or alternate topic is being discussed on another list, which makes it easy for other interested users to follow both lists and discussions.

Start discussion topics wisely and try not to duplicate existing or archived discussions. A quick search of the list by keywords or tags will help decide if there is an existing list that covers the topic.

In addition, avoid privately emailing answers, solutions, ideas or other questions to only specific users in the mailing list conversations. The entire purpose of mailing list conversations is to share information, so private communication, at least about the list topic, is not helpful in that regard.

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