If you work in open source, odds are you spend a lot of time working with people via email. At Red Hat we have internal mailing lists for developers that work on projects, and external mailing lists for projects, as well as internal lists for specific groups, topics, etc. I’m also, less than I’d like these days, involved in the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) and it has user lists and developer lists for projects, announce lists, and a variety of private lists for projects and specifically for members, fundraising, and so on.
I could write volumes about what’s good and bad about various Mail User Agents (MUAs) and mailing list software. But this is not about that–this is about bad habits that people fall into when opening and conducting discussions on mailing lists. Specifically, whether they’re going to the right place.
All too often, I see people opting to go for the least-public list when opening discussions. Part of this, I think, is just human laziness. You get into a routine, and stick with it. This is doubly hard to overcome when an initiative starts “behind the firewall” and then moves into the public.
Part of this is a tendency to stay with a familiar group. It can be “scary” to expose your ideas, commentary, plans, or whatever to a large audience. It can also, honestly, be annoying. Everybody has an opinion, and filtering through all the opinions and commentary can be a royal pain in the posterior. Separating the wheat from the chaff can be tricky when you do opt for openness and then have to filter through all of the digressions, uninformed opinions, and (occasionally) dissent to come to a decision.
I could probably write volumes on this topic, but I promised a quick thought. So, in a nutshell: Think before you start a conversation on a mailing list. Are you sending it to a private list to avoid discussion or exposure, or is there a good reason the conversation needs to be private? (Alternately, are you sure of the audience you’re sending to? Are you sending anything group/company confidential to too wide an audience? It happens infrequently, but it can be a big problem when it does.) If not, then break the habit and opt for openness. You might just be surprised how effective that can be, so give it a shot.