frustrated? don’t take it out on open source mailing lists…

A recent thread on an open source list I’m paying attention has convinced me that it is time to write this post. Here are some “Pro Tips for Open Source User Mailing Lists”:

  1. If you are having problems with an open source project, don’t make the subject of your first email to the user mailing list. “Your Project is Abstruse.” For starters, you are going to make us all go to and look up the word abstruse. Then, once we read your initial tirade we are going to think of the various ways we can push you further over the edge of frustration.
  2. If one of the developers sends you a link to documentation, please, do us all a favor and read the $#$!ing thing before telling him it was useless. If one of the developers says, “Mr. Frustrated, you should read this page at this URL.” And, you respond with “This documentation is of no use to me.” You should know that this sort of interaction makes an entire private IRC channel suddenly start to discuss how to make it more difficult for you to use the product.
  3. (Sorry but unless you) Become a Customer (good luck figuring it out) – Let’s face it a lot of open source projects have one or more companies paying the bills and paying the contributors. If you have problems with a project you can usually call up a company and ask for support. The open source list is really not the place to ask for direct support for your project. If you are trying to motivate the open source user mail list by writing things like: “My whole team is now blocked by this issue.” You should understand that the entire audience, users included are probably going to be thinking “well, you should probably buy a support contract”.
  4. Make an arse of yourself once, that’s all it takes to earn a /dev/null filter. Open source user mailing lists are amazing places to see users and developers support each other in a way that is voluntary. I’m constantly amazed when other users go out of their way to help other users. If you show up at an open source user mailing list and start antagonizing people you might start to get frustrated that no one is responding to your messages. Know that I’m not alone in this practice. If I see more than two or three messages from someone on an open source list that strike me as out of bounds, I immediately filter you to Trash.
  5. If I tell you to take a training class… this usually means I’m done supporting you for free. Open source mailing lists and free support channels like GetSatisfaction are meant for users that are making a good faith effort to learn. If you ever see me say: “You know, so and so offers a training course for this.” It is just my polite way of saying, “I’d love to spend another four hours with you on this, but I can’t justify that given that you haven’t read the documentation. Maybe you need to pay someone for one-on-one instruction.”