Sometimes I worry that I'm becoming one of those grizzly old Unix geeks that gets sick of all the young kids who are invading what used to be great technical mailing lists. Some people just don't get it. There are fairly basic rules that, when followed, go a long way toward making mailing lists useful communities for everyone involved.

I'm considering setting up a standard reply to messages posted by people who obviously need help. I probably won't, but if I did it would contain a few simple suggestions.

  1. Learn how to report bugs
  2. Learn how to ask smart questions
  3. Don't change the Reply-To address when replying. If the person who responded to you wants the traffic to stay on the list, there's probably a good reason for it. When people do this to me (reply directly to me, rather than the list) I simply ignore them. Usually they'll re-post their question to the list. When they do, I answer it.

It's really not that hard. These people just don't realize how much work they're expecting a group of strangers to do for them. In some cases it's downright rude.

Posted by jzawodn at May 07, 2003 10:06 PM

Reader Comments
# Arcterex said:

This is a subject dear to my heart. I even have an e2 node for it.

on May 7, 2003 11:42 PM
# jim winstead said:

and then there's the little things like not taking the time to trim quoted text (including the list signature, for those mail programs silly enough to quote that). i blame microsoft outlook's default quoting style for the rampant growth of that.

but i can't honestly say that such bad behavior shocks me any more. i've found the best way to handle it is to just not let it get to you too much, and try to set a good example.

on May 8, 2003 12:21 AM
# kasia said:

This isn't new.. people couldn't follow these simple things 10 years ago either.

on May 8, 2003 05:14 AM
# Jason said:

Those who follow the rules would follow them regardless of if the rules are there.

Those who break the rules break them regardless of if they are there.

on May 8, 2003 06:50 AM
# Eric Hancock said:

I don't see any way out of this, other than heavy doses of publish shame.

Even experienced developers in my company will send out infuriating mail like "My cvs isn't working. Can someone fix it?"

on May 8, 2003 08:49 AM
# Joe Grossberg said:

Well I have read esr's essay and recommended it several times. I also enjoyed Simon Tatham's piece on reporting bugs. I wish someone would have pointed me to the two documents at the very beginning of my career. No one did.

Thankfully, I asked coworkers for help instead of lists. This spared RTFM flames, but I can easily see my newbie self posting a stupid question in the "My script doesn't work. Can someone help me? I'm on a deadline and need an answer ASAP." format. Not because I would have been a jerk intentionally, but because I didn't know any better.

The question in my mind is, how do we get other people to see these? If they're all selfish, lazy and obnoxious newbies, maybe it's hopeless. But I suspect that isn't the case for every person who rudely asks for help.

Assuming some aspiring hacker or user is well-intentioned, but totally ignorant about "the right way" to participate in the online programming community, how do we get them this information?

Should it be featured more prominently in the confirmation/welcome emails of listservs? Should it be posted periodically with a subject line like "New members, PLEASE read this"? A big fat link on the top of every "report a bug" form? Ideas?

on May 8, 2003 09:25 AM
# Someone said:

May I add to these simple suggestions, one request:
When posting to mailing lists, please turn off HTML and RTF formatting. Just send plain text!

Many of the archival systems (which we like to tell people to read) don't understand HTML & RTF, and just add it all to the end. When you get a daily digest of a maillist, there are lines and lines of code to just sift out. Not nice.

on May 8, 2003 01:46 PM
# Scott Johnson said:

Yay Jeremy. You go dude. And yeah -- you're now grizzled. As am I. And I suspect Kasia. And Derek. And lots others.

on May 8, 2003 01:46 PM
# Joe Beanbrain said:


on May 8, 2003 03:07 PM
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