7 mistakes to avoid when participating to Debian mailing lists

You’re eager to start contributing to Debian, your first action is to subscribe to some high-profile mailing lists (like debian-devel and debian-project) to get a feel of the community. You read the mails for a few days and then you find out that you could participate to the discussions, it’s a simple first step after all. True enough.

That said, it’s not as easy as it looks like. There are many mistakes that you should avoid:

  1. Don’t fall in the trap where your mailing list participation is your sole contribution to Debian. If you want people to give credit to your messages, you should already be doing something else for Debian.
  2. Don’t participate more than once a day to a given thread. There are many people subscribed, you should leave room for other people to express their point of view. You can always follow up one day after and reply to several messages at once if you believe you still have something new to add to the discussion.
  3. Don’t reply to off-topic threads. Someone asked a simple question and someone else pointed out that his message was off-topic. Don’t reply, or if you really need to, do it on the correct list or with a private response.
  4. Don’t ask questions unless it’s useful to bring the discussion forward. Development lists are not here to fill the gaps in your knowledge. We already have debian-mentors for this. Furthermore there’s no better way to learn than to find yourself the answers to your questions. :-)
  5. Don’t believe your opinion is so important. We’re all very opinionated and discussions that consist only of contradicting opinions tend to go nowhere. Thus don’t give your opinion unless you can back it up with new facts or another experience.
  6. Don’t participate to all threads. There are surely some topics where you are more knowledgeable than others, participate where you add the most value and leave the others threads to the other experts (and learn by reading them).
  7. Don’t hide your identity. In Debian we like to know each other. Use your real name and not some anonymous nickname. You need to be able to stand up behind your words, otherwise you’re not credible.

I have myself been guilty of several of those when I started… I invite you to follow my recommendations to ensure our mailing lists remain pleasant to read and an effective discussion place.

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Comments

  1. Seung Soo, Ha says:

    I would say that most if not all of these points are valid for other mailing lists too!

  2. - don’t send/use html e-mail
    – avoid top quoting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posting_style#Top-posting)

  3. I’m not credible if I don’t like to use my real name online? Really? I always thought it’s important what we do, not who we are…

    • What you do is important for sure, but if you’re just starting out and don’t have any history then it’s better if you can stand up with your real identity. It shows some confidence in what you’re doing.

      I take some pride from my free software work, and I somehow expect others contributors to do work they are proud to be associated with as well. :-)

      Hiding your identity leaves the doubt that you could be ashamed of what you are doing.

      • For sure this is true but being semi-anonymous in the beginning can help people overcome their insecurity of being newbies.