Simple Rules for participating in GNU / Linux and other Free Software Communities

| | 3 min read

GNU/Linux has grown from being a pet project of a few Free Software enthusiasts to one of the most viable and usable alternatives to proprietary operating systems. It is really amazing to look at this growth, and one can but look with awe at the contributions made by countless and sometimes nameless scores of people in the Free Software communities. These communities have been formed over a long period of slow evolution and there are certain rules and manners(some written and some unwritten) that you have to follow to participate in them. Our attempt here is to prepare a list of rules and manners that will enable newbies to start participating in communities without embarrassing themselves. This is, at best, a work in progress, and if you have any other suggestions, do let us know, and we will gladly incorporate whatever we can for the benefit of everybody. 

Mailing List Guidelines



1) Put meaningful subject lines 

Do not think that everybody reads every mail sent to the group. Different experts will have different expertise and they would only care to look at emails that are relevant to their expertise. So when you are posting a mail without a meaningful subject line, you are wasting the time of several people who will not be able to help you and who would have been able to help somebody else. 

2) Do not Top Post 

A 'Top Post' is defined as an email explicitlysent as a reply to another email and where the original email was appended to the email. In extreme cases, when somebody repeats the process on already existing top posts several times, you will have a very long mail with relevant content only on the top, and the reader would have to read from the bottom to be able to make any sense out of the mail. 

3) Try not to go offtopic 

People involved in GNU/Linux and other Free Software communities are more often than not engaged in other jobs and will be hard-pressed for time. So do not waste their time by asking irrelevant questions or posting irrelevant messages. They would very likely be already stretched to their limits with all the genuine requests that come their way. When you are explicity going off-topic, put an [OT] in your subject line so that hard-pressed people can choose to ignore such posts. 

4) Help yourselves before you ask for help 

If you are looking to get some help regarding a problem, make sure that you do some research on your problem using available resources. At least perform a Google search before you send a mail to the group. Do not expect the community to do all your work for you.

5) When you are asking for help, explain in detail and ask specific questions 

Do not ask questions like "Please help me install Apache". Try to find some documentation and do what you need to do, and when you get stuck and can't find the answer to your problem, ask for help. It is not that people will not help you when you ask such questions. Very likely,, somebody will point you to good documentation online but it would be much better both for yourself and for the community if you try out something before you ask for help. Also, when you get stuck at some problem, explain in detail what you did, where you got stuck, what the symptoms are, and what messages you see. If you don't explain in detail, you will probably get these questions from the community, and you will have to answer these before you can get any help. It would be much better off if you explained in the first place.