[BALUG-Admin] how to (and not to) post to lists, etc.

Rick Moen rick@linuxmafia.com
Mon Jan 12 10:29:50 PST 2009

Quoting Michael Paoli (Michael.Paoli@cal.berkeley.edu):

> You've emailed/posted/etc. many many times about how to, and how not to
> post to lists, etc. (e.g. plain text, don't do attachments, etc.) ... and
> we thank you very much for that!  :-) ...
> To hopefully be a bit more proactive, do you have recommended web page(s)
> (most any suitable URL will do - but probably best if it's a web page or
> the like that at least somebody somewhere can tweak/update as/when suitable,
> rather than a read-only archived message that's web accessible) somewhere
> on that topic (if not, we could potentially create one, if we wanted).

There are a number of subtle points on this, relating to mailing list
social dynamics and user psychology.  I started to write a response to
you on this, a few days ago:  I abandoned the draft as too long and
complex, sorry.

Most mailing list policy and netiquette suggestions pages (and please
note that those are not the same) are hopelessly verbose messes, and
fail to achieve their aims.  Here's an example of what to avoid -- the
set of SVLUG pages that metastasised during my several-year absence from
the SVLUG Web Team:

(Plus individual lists' listinfo pages.)

There are a number of gotchas[0], some revolving around the people who
most need to benefit from such suggestions being least likely to read,
comprehend, and act on them.  I'm going to skip those topics, as being
too long a discussion.

My strong preference in mailing list policy is:

1.  Make policy self-enforcing to the extent possible, leveraging
automation.  E.g., many people who post attachments will exceed
Mailman's per-post size limit, resulting in the mail being held for
moderator attention, at which point you reject it and say "please don't
file-attach huge MS-Word files or for that matter any non-plaintext
other than possibly GnuPG/PGP/etc. signatures".  

As another example, people who Bcc mailing lists -- another bad habit --
will likewise get their posts held (as above).

Likewise, people who madly crosspost, another obnoxious habit, will tend
to hit the "too many recipients" filter, with similar outcomes[1].

2.  What works best is an extremely terse list of the 2-3 things posters
are most likely to do wrong, that you most care about deterring,
documented on the listinfo page.  Like this:


Having inherited an unholy mess at SVLUG, I've shrunk the number and
size of pages about policy, and altered the main page to make clear that
listadmins will intervene only to "halt spam" and to "halt major
interruptions of online spew".


[0] Listadmins encounter vast outbreaks of "tactical stupidity", when
posters profess to have forgotten or not understood what they find
inconvenient.   E.g., I had cured SVLUG's biggest behaviour problem
remaining after its alcoholic president's resignation, by interpreting
the prohibition against "offtopic spew" as requiring that organisational
topics be confined to the Volunteers list, a number of people kept
deliberately claiming to not understand (Einfeldt, Cherlin, others). 
Even sincere posters will tend not to see such pages in a timely manner.

There is also the unfortunate perception that listadmins are obliged to 
document everything people should not do, and that anything not so
documented is OK -- which is of course rubbish:  In general, it's pretty
obvious what not to do, and there's really no point in trying to list

See also: http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/lexicon.html#moenslaw-documentation

[1] Quite a number of people persisted in deliberately disregarding my
polite requests (as listadmin) that they not cross-post between
svlug@lists.svlug.org and elsewhere.  After getting tired of waiting for
people to behave sensibly voluntarily, I finally put in a couple of
Mailman filters to autoreject the most-common cross-posts -- and,
magically, the offenders ceased even to try.

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