Email etiquette guides for online tourists

Email etiquette is like any other kind of etiquette – it depends on what culture you are visiting. Just like table manners vary from country to country, email etiquette varies from community to community.

For example, when I joined OpenLogic, I went home the first day and watched my inbox. I actually got quite worried that something was wrong with the email server – I wasn’t getting any email! After 200-300/day at HP, getting no email for an entire evening was a huge shock. It took me a while before I quit checking my inbox so frequently and figured out how I was supposed to be getting work done.

Likewise, mailing lists can be a huge shock to non-mailing list users. Jean Anderson gave a talk at the Women in Open Source Conference last year and she spent a good part of her talk explaining how mailing lists work. As she spoke, I realized how foreign and scary they must seem to people used to traditional email:

  • Hundreds if not thousands of people are going to read your email – your stupid question email!
  • Your email will live forever. In public.
  • You’re going to get 10s if not 100s of emails a day!
  • And if you don’t cc the whole list, you’ll be rude and things won’t work effectively. (I actually had to be reminded to cc the list last month. I had gotten used to immediately taking the issue offline!)

So I think email etiquette depends on what community you are part of. Instead of a single etiquette guide (Chris Brogan’s post is what prompted this post), we should have community email etiquette guides. I know I’ve been readjusting my behavior as I adjust to the GNOME community.

(For the record, I’m a huge email and mailing list fan. I think there are phone people, email people, txt people … I’m an email person.)