Separating announcements from discussion

As I wrote before, writing something doesn’t guarantee it will get read. This happens all of the time in open source projects (and in companies as well). Few people can keep up with a high-traffic mailing list and still have time to make contributions elsewhere. It’s why I (and many others) advocate have a separate announcement list that’s strictly moderated. But that doesn’t always solve the problem. Sometimes traffic goes to both lists.

This happens with good intent. People know that the more venues a message reaches, the more likely it is that everyone who needs to see it will. But the problem is that it breaks mail filtering for a lot of people. The announcement posts end up mixed in with the discussion posts, defeating the purpose of the announcement list.

Fixing your filters

At a previous role, we were discussing options to address this very problem. I wrote:

My solution to your specific problem is to set up your project-discussion filter like:
    list:project-discussion -list:project-announce

And then have another filter for list:project-announce that puts it in a place you’ll pay closer attention to. But this requires a lot of pro-tip sharing, which isn’t necessarily scalable.

Open source projects have new people joining all the time. A “fix” that involves sharing useful tips is hardly a fix at all.

Fixing your practices

One solution would be to set the cultural practice of not sending a message to both project-announce and project-discussion. It seems reasonable, if you do onboarding is correctly, to assume that anyone on project-discussion will also be on project-announce. Senders should choose one or the other. This, of course, relies on the assumption about subscriptions being valid and for people to remember to do the right thing when sending an email. Sending email The Right Way™ is a major part of my job and I still mess it up more often than I’d like. This is not a perfect solution. But if you sync the -discussion subscribers to -announce and start gently reminding people who send email to both lists that they should not do that, you’ll establish a culture of the desired pattern.This will take some time to become a collective habit.

This post’s featured photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash.

Ben formerly led open source messaging at Docker and was the Fedora Program Manager. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Ben is an Open Organization Ambassador and frequent conference speaker. His personal website is Funnel Fiasco.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.