Mail List Etiquette

The advice and rules on this page are intended to help new users and old-timers alike. It's also to maintain the mail lists for discussion of the topics they were made for.

New volunteers are welcome - every year the Linux Picnic depends on new volunteers. And hopefully you'll find some useful tips for communicating on our mail lists.

And everyone, no matter how long they've been on the list, is human. So we all sometimes need reminders about making mail list communications effective and avoiding/resolving conflicts.

See also the SBAY User Code of Conduct.

Mail List Topics

picnic mail lists diagram

Each mail list has a specific topic that it's about. People come to a mail list expecting to find that topic. If messages irrelevant to a topic were allowed to overwhelm the intended topic, the subscribers would give up and unsubscribe, destroying its usefulness as a forum. So we have to keep each list to its topic, with some leeway for the participants to socialize and get to know each other.

Linux Picnic discussion list

The "linuxpicnic" list is the main discussion list for the Linux Picnic. New volunteers should start by subscribing here. Introduce yourself and ask how you can help. Thank you for volunteering!

This list was created in June 2001. It was formerly in 2001 and from 2002 to early 2006.

You can subscribe and unsubscribe at

Linux Picnic announcements-only list

The "announce-only" list is an alternative for those who need to keep lower e-mail volume but want announcements. The announce-only list doesn't actually get any messages but by subscribing you'll be included in the automatically-generated announce list. (It's a quirk of the Mailman system - we keep subscribable and automatically-generated lists separate at our site.)

You can subscribe or unsubscribe at

This list was created in December 2006.

Linux Picnic announcements list

The "announce" list is the automatically-generated list which contains the subscribers of all the other lists. Only announcements about the picnic are sent to it. It's a moderated list so that only approved messages go through.

You can't directly subscribe to the announce list. If you subscribe to any other Linux Picnic mail list, you'll be included in it. If you unscubscribe from all the other Linux Picnic lists, you won't be included in further updates of the announce list.

If you only want announcements, you're looking for the announce-only list. If you want to participate in discussion about the picnic, which can have a lot more traffic, then subscribe to the linuxpicnic list.

This list was created in December 2006.

Message Formatting & Basic Communications Guidelines

These are useful guidelines to avoid poblems.

If you send a message which doesn't follow one of these guidelines, you may get a private reminder from a mail list administrator. Don't worry - it's all right to say, "OK, sorry" and just do better on following messages. None of us is perfect. Fortunately, that's fine as long as we correct the problem, apologize if necessary, and continue having learned from it.

Repeatedly failing to follow guidelines in this section will make it "actionable". (See the Actionable Rules below.) How quickly it escalates as a problem depends on how much it gets in the way of others' use of the mail list.

Keep On Topic

Keep messages at least remotely on the topic of the list. If it's a stretch, explain why you think it belongs there.

Besides the specific topic about the Linux anniversary picnic, remember that this whole community is about Linux and Open Source Software. Discussion of closed operating systems is off-topic.

Use a Descriptive Subject

Try to use a descriptive subject. It helps people who can't read all the messages determine if they're interested in your message. If you don't, you're only decreasing your audience.

Likewise, modify the subject appropriately if the topic wanders during a thread of discussion.

Don't be the "Mail List Police"

Don't try to be the "mail list police" yourself. Don't respond on the list telling someone not to say something. Maybe respond in private if you can do it politely. But definitely bring problem reports to the mail list administrators.

Don't Use ALL CAPS

Don't use ALL CAPS except very briefly. In our community, like many others, it means you're shouting.

A widely-accepted option to add emphasis to words is to surround them with asterisks (*) or underscores (_).

Don't Use Attachments or All-HTML messages

Try to avoid attachments on messages, especially ones large enough to choke our modem-reading subscribers. Rather, post it on your personal web site or the Linux Picnic wiki. Then post a URL. Ask for help if you need to.

Please don't send HTML-only messages. MIME Multipart/Mixed plain-text and HTML messages are acceptable. Plain text is preferred here.

Go After the Issues - Don't Attack Individuals

We are often trying to solve problems that people interpret differently. Go after the issue. Attacks on a person are not helpful.

Along these lines, remember the old but still timely advice, "Praise in public. Criticize in private." Most criticism is more effectively delivered off the list. Otherwise try to get the help of the mail list administrators rather than delivering criticism on the list.

Check Your Own Spelling and Grammar - Tolerate Others'

Check your own spelling and grammar. Be tolerant of others' spelling and grammar. Remember the Linux Picnic is based in California's Silicon Valley and surrounding regions - we have an international community here.

Written Communications is not the Same as Spoken

Try to be picky with the wording of your own messages, and tolerant of the wording of others'. If someone else's message can be interpreted more than one way, don't immediately assume the bad way - ask them what they mean. This happens all the time in e-mail communications.

Pay attention to the tone of your message. Written communications are different than spoken conversation. Emotion and context are both easily lost. Make sure what you say really comes out saying what you meant.

Use a smiley :-) or other emoticons when you need to help point out that you're joking. But try not to joke when it's sure to be taken badly on the receiving end.

Quoting Messages when Responding

When responding to someone else's message, try to trim quoted text down to the minimum necessary. It is a good idea to quote some of a message to which you're replying, to establish context.

Make sure that quoted text from someone else's message is recognizably different from your own text. Jumbling them together makes it difficult and frustrating to try to read your message.

Watch the flow of your message. It reads more easily to have quoted text from a message before your response to it. This doesn't preclude you from having introductory text.

An important note: some people are very irritated by a style called "top posting" in which the response goes on the top and a quote of the entire responded message follows. We realize it's a style many people follow because of other examples they see, such as at work. Since we're asking other subscribers not to be mail list police or scold you for it, please try to avoid tempting them to.

Avoid Content-Free Messages

Try to avoid "me too" responses or other messages that contain no real content.

Don't send test messages to mail lists. It wastes time for hundreds of people. Ask the list administrators for help if you need to test your mail.

Don't Send Administrivia to the Lists

The mail lists are on a self-service subscription system. You are able to subscribe, unsubscribe and modify parameters for yourself.

If you need to ask for help, please contact the mail list administrators. It is appreciated if you try to "do your homework" first by attempting the self-service interface. But we understand that not everyone is comfortable with it.

If you'd like to modify your subscription parameters or unsubscribe, don't send it to everyone on the mail list. Yes, you've probably seen someone somewhere do that before - but it's a bad example which should not be followed anywhere. Always send administrative requests to the mail list administrators. That's true on any list, not just here.

Actionable Rules

These are more serious problems. Each case will result in an action from the mail list administrators, ranging from a warning to moderating a subscriber's messages, to expulsion from the list, depending on the seriousness.

Except for spam, chain letters, and anything illegal, you can almost always make a situation less serious by apologizing and agreeing not to do it again.

Spam, Chain Letters

Spam is unsolicited advertising. Chain letters are basically any message which says, "forward this to everyone you know" or to a certain number of recipients. These are zero-tolerance items which will result in getting banned from the mail list without any further warning or chance to explain.

Illegal activity

The Linux Picnic is a Special Interest Group organized under the South Bay Community Network, which is a California non-profit corporation. The corporation is bound by California and federal law and therefore so is the picnic. Further, the corporation has a pending application for 501(c)3 tax-exemption status so we have to comply with the IRS 501(c)3 rules regarding charitable organizations.

The mail list administrators must be given the authority to make the decision when a message or topic is an illegal activity or if proceeding would become one. The Linux Picnic Coordinator(s), corporate officers and Board of Directors also have authority to weigh in on any relevant matters of legality. Drawing the line of what is illegal can be a judgement call, particularly in cases where people need to be told what the law is or if there's a matter of interpretation involved.

Any clearly criminal activity is a zero-tolerance item which will result in getting banned from the mail list without any further warning or chance to explain.

Copyrighted or Private Material

Material from web sites are copyrighted by their owners, who have the right to restrict copying their content. Small quotes are considered "fair use" if properly attributed to their sources. Otherwise don't do it.

Private e-mail Stays Private

Get the sender's permission before re-posting in public what they said to you in private, or in a smaller or more restricted distribution. If you don't do this, it's at least "not nice" and probably a breach of trust that was shown to you.

Off-Topic or Dead-Horse-Topic Warnings

If a thread of discussion is deemed by the list administrators to be seriously off-topic, unresolvably going in circles ("beating a dead horse"), or other problems which stifle discussion on the mail list, they may in rare circumstances declare an end to a topic of discussion. At that point, continuing with the topic becomes actionable.

Continuing Failure to Follow Guidelines

The Basic Communications Guidelines above are are meant to be things we can all learn from and continue after the problem stops, possibly with an apology. If a subscriber has to be asked to stop more than once and efforts to help them understand the problem don't make progress, then the violation of the guideline becomes actionable.

How to contact the Mail List Administrators

The list administrators can be reached at

The mail list administration volunteers are

  • Ian Kluft
  • Heather Stern
  • Justin Rocha

Credit to Sources

The following articles provided ideas and material for this page.

Topic attachments
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
pngpng picnic-lists.png manage 13.9 K 2006-12-13 - 22:19 IanKluft picnic mail lists diagram
Topic revision: r9 - 2010-03-28 - 00:45:52 - IanKluft
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