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.)

7 Replies to “Email etiquette guides for online tourists”

  1. One thing that people don’t understand is that it should be made really clear (impossible to pass by) that the emails will be archived for nearly eternity, and they will be very visible to search engines. It’s bad privacy policy. It’s not opt-in, it’s not even opt-out. It’s more like suckered-in.
    Some services set up by open source projects echo for instance bug tickets into mailing lists. Doing that without telling about it in advance clearly violates the privacy of the bug reporter, just like the other services too that are not very clear with how they will be archiving the posts.
    Perhaps open source projects should clean up their acts…

  2. rawsausage: I don’t see how sending all bug reports to a “myproject-bugs” mailing list is a privacy violation, anyone who can search the mailing list archives can almost certainly search the bug tracker too.
    Opting out of having your post stored in the mailing list archives wouldn’t help much either, as there are a large number of external sites who also archive them. A quick google seems to indicate that sites archiving mailing lists include: gmane,, and, as well as quite a few others.

  3. Not really. The civilized projects don’t let spiders index everything. That would be yet another privacy violation. And indeed, those external sites are plain scum as well.

  4. “Remember to cc ‘the LIST’ ” WTF????
    Excuse me, dont these people have computers? Why should they have to remember this? Why doesnt the computer
    If your email client software doesnt recognize when you are responding to an email list and automatically default to sending your response directly to the list (with an option to send ONLY to a specific person(s) ) then you need to get a better email client program!
    I’ve been using email since 1979 and frankly anyone who is putting up with an email client that can’t do this for them is, frankly, doing the computer’s job for it rather than the computer doing the job for the human.
    If you can’t find software that works for you rather than the other way around, I suggest you start looking for email programs that run on UNIX or Linuix platforms rather that garbage Microsoft has been putting out for the past 20 years.

  5. It’s not that the software doesn’t do it …
    In many cultures (like large companies), you are supposed to take the topic “offline” when the discussion ends up going back and forth between just a couple of people or if it’s clearly an action item with an identified owner. Then you come back and report later. So it’s a conscious decision to un-cc everyone to save them from getting too much mail that’s not relevant to them. Moving from that world to a mailing list, open source type world, I had to consciously remember to cc everyone. Or rather consciously remember not to un-cc everyone.

  6. Note “Linuix” is a typo in the previous post. It
    should read “Linux”.
    In addition to the advantage listed above, Linux
    is immune to the hundreds of thousands of Windows
    based virii and other malware currently active
    on the web and so is safe to run without any of
    that stupid performance sapping (and I might add,
    pretty much totally ineffective ) virus scanner
    For those who will attempt to claim the Linux is
    in danger from viruses as well, allow me to retort
    snidely “Not so much”.
    I have been running literally hundreds of
    installations of Linux systems (starting in 1995)
    connected directly to the web and have never
    had even a single malware infestation. (Nor any
    manually installed rootkits either). Because
    the security design of UNIX/Linux has had to
    contend with the issue of unauthorized privilege
    escalation since the 1970’s the current systems
    have been architected in such a way that makes
    unauthorized privilege escalation orders of magnitude
    more difficult to achieve. ( Not impossible , of course.
    As Gene Spafford and Bruce Schneier are
    wont to say, there is no such thing
    as unbreakable security. Anything man can create
    another man can undo.)
    (Please note that Linux has not been around since
    the 1970’s but, yes it did inherit the design
    benefits of the UNIX decades prior to it
    and so has the same level of protection. In fact,
    Linux may have a bit more since its designers
    decided that SUID shell scripts would not be
    allowed to have privilege escalation at all. )
    (Final note – for those who want to claim “virii”
    isn’t a word, please go look at your linguistics
    text book on how words come into existence. You
    will will see clearly that there is NO rule
    requiring that newly formed words conform to the
    rules for Latin (which is not the language English
    is derived from any and also it happens to be DEAD
    anyway!) The idea that the word virii must conform
    to those rules is a festering hallucination in
    the overheated minds of spinster middle school
    grammar teacher whose existence has lost almost
    all relevant purpose. Miss Grundy, Mr. Fentwhistle
    – its time to retire and take your
    unrealistic “prescriptivism” with you. Please
    look at the the new words added to the dictionary
    in the past ten years, especially those from the
    tech sector and see how many follow ANY rules for
    Latin. 😀 One extreme example would be “W00t”
    What? They added w00t to the dictionary? Yes, yes
    they did. Who really uses that anyway? Frankly, I
    have no idea. 🙂

  7. I have to add one thing that I think I did not remember to mention. Actually, such archival procedure is illegal in some countries without the explicit approval of the people on the mailing list. In fact if any of these sites such as were on my home country, I would instantly sue them and force them to be closed down. The reason is simply that they are doing WRONG.

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