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Brad Fitzpatrick

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Use the mailing lists [Aug. 3rd, 2007|11:55 am]
Brad Fitzpatrick

The volume of email addressed directly to me with questions (usually trivial) about various projects has gotten bad enough that I've had to make this page:


Now when I get an email, I can just reply with that. I still don't like it, but it's better than deleting their emails. :/

I seem to recall a page elsewhere on the Internet that said this same thing (perhaps a bit more politely than I did?) but I couldn't find it so I had make my own. Any pointers to similar pages, or tips on how to improve mine?

I should probably recruit some moderation people to deal with the Mailman moderation queue (which I can't seem to turn off?! where is the members-only-can-post option?). Or is it rude to just bounce (forward as their from address) their email to me to the list directly?

[User Picture]From: daeken_eulogy
2007-08-03 06:55 pm (UTC)
http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html might be the page you were thinking of, or at least has good info.
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[User Picture]From: brad
2007-08-03 06:58 pm (UTC)
Yes! That's it, thanks! Seems it's gotten a bit longer than I remember, though.

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[User Picture]From: daeken_eulogy
2007-08-03 07:01 pm (UTC)
I think you're right, but I think it's justified with the overall drop in quality questions on IRC and mailing lists ;)
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[User Picture]From: octal
2007-08-03 07:02 pm (UTC)
I would rewrite it to be solely positive ("Please use the mailing list, so that the answers can be available to others later, and possibly questions can be answered by someone with more time than the primary developer.) and skip the apology.

Maybe also include the URL FAQs, and suggest reading mailing list archives before asking the question even on the list?
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From: edge_walker
2007-08-03 11:59 pm (UTC)

What he said, except I’d keep the apology after turning it into a neutral explanation. Something like this:

You’ve probably been sent to this URL because you mailed a project maintainer directly to ask a question about his/her project. We like to hear from users, but unfortunately there are now too many support requests and no longer enough time in a day for the primary developers to answer them all. It is in your own best interest to use the mailing list instead:

  • The project maintainer(s) are also on the mailing list, and they’re more likely to answer you there as it allows others to also learn from your question.
  • Your question might get answered by fellow users, affording the maintainer(s) more time to hack on the code (perhaps improving the thing that’s currently confusing you or you’re finding lacking).

Note that currently, you must join before you can post. Nobody is reviewing the moderation queue! We are aware that this is inconvenient and we plan to remove that requirement in due course, but this requires stronger anti-spam measures to be put in place first.

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[User Picture]From: popcultureicon
2007-08-03 07:12 pm (UTC)

Jameth says "Hi"

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[User Picture]From: bostonsteamer
2007-08-03 10:04 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a question for Geek Etiquette.
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[User Picture]From: taral
2007-08-04 01:29 am (UTC)
I have a patch to mailman that enables members-only. It has a small annoyance, but it works.
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From: ext_38426
2007-08-04 02:05 am (UTC)
Yeah, yours is a little terse, and the main feeling I get out of is, you're not paying us money, so don't expect much. I don't think that's what you intended at all.

I like the Moen/Raymond one, but yeah, considering the people that ask questions now, it would probably just make them turn away in frustration. Not saying that's good or bad... ;)

I'd start of by saying that really, it's great you're asking a question, and we want to help. But this is the best way to do it. Something like:

One of the greatest strengths of Open Source software is that everyone gets to contribute. Helping people by answering their questions is just another way people can contribute. If you have a question, please ask the whole group of people on the mailing list instead of singling out a specific person. If you do this, then you help distribute the work involved in answering questions, and you will likely get a better answer, too!

This also has the nice side effect of storing your question, and people's answers, which might very well help other people too.

The best thing to do is search the archive to see if your question has already been answered. If it hasn't been, or if you need more help, feel free to ask the people on the mailing list.

When you ask your question, remember to give as much detail as possible. Very Generally:

* What exactly are you doing or trying to do?
* What exactly happens when this fails?
* How exactly were you going about it?
* What exactly were you using when you tried?

Notice the "exactly" theme. Detail really helps people to figure out things, even when it seems they should just be able to easily "know" the answer. Take the time to help the poor folks on the list, to help you.

That being said, please, ask away!
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[User Picture]From: brad
2007-08-04 02:13 am (UTC)
Good stuff! Thanks!
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From: ext_38426
2007-08-04 02:38 am (UTC)
Happy to. Thanks for the compliment. It's a strange balance, trying to remind/educate people about what they need to do, versus giving them so much information that their brain-thang just pops, and they run away screaming. Then, taking that, and balancing it against the people who are used to the Open Source ways, and not sounding like you're being all silly patronizing on them.

Crazy how politics seems to permeate everything any more.
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[User Picture]From: askbjoernhansen
2007-08-04 05:39 am (UTC)
"where is the members-only-can-post option?"

Maybe upgrade Mailman? The one we use for pm.org have that option I believe.

- ask
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