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Open Source Communication Tricks or How to Avoid Flame Wars

In open source world, communicating with members or community (which is almost always carried out by using mailing lists or forums) is crucial to a successful usage or development. Though it requires following only a few simple tricks (etiquette), failing to do so almost usually leads to hot insulting debates a.k.a flame wars.

Flame ThrowerIntroduction

The most notable fact about internet communication is that it's usually offline.

The key to have a successful offline communication is to avoid emotions; this is almost easy to do, most of the times, following some simple classic rules.

Tricks and Traps

Simple and effective they are, aren't they?

1. Read thoroughly

If you're willing to add your idea to a discussion or comment on someone's post, you first have to understand them. So before even hitting the "reply" button, read the post completely and thoroughly. You will be surprised by the quality of your posts/comments afterwards!

Thanks Michael Richter for brining this point up.

2. No CAPS!

Avoid writing words in all capital letters at all --it rises too much emotions about your message. If you need to place emphasis on a word or phrase it's much better to use _ (underscore) or * (asterisk) characters instead.

Bad Good
This bug CANNOT be fixed. This bug _cannot_ be fixed
This bug *cannot* be fixed.

3. I'm talking for myself!

When criticising someone else's work, it's better to use phrases like in my (humble) opinion or I think to show the reader that it's purely your idea. Although we all know that when someone is writing a post/email, she's just expressing her own thoughts (unless mentioned explicitly), we tend to forget this point --specially when reading some idea against our work. Consequently we begin to think the whole world is against us and switch to defensive mode unconsciously.

Bad Good
The new file you just added does not address issue X. You have to remove/edit it. IMO, the new file you just added does not address issue X. I'd suggest you remove/edit it.

4. Just the right jargon

Talk directly and frankly in technical terms. Avoid using non-technical terms or words which rise emotions. Emotions are difficult to comprehend, even when you're talking to someone face to face still less through offline messages; thus, believe me or not, most of the times your emotions are comprehended falsely. You better forget about them and stick to clear technical terms.

Bad Good
Your code is garbage! As far as I understand (AFAIU) your code has 2 major flaws which can be exploited ...

5. Trying to piss me off?  Dream on!

In case you find a post/email insulting or offensive, your best first choice is to ignore it. Trust me! An offensive post loses weight and offender feels pissed off, if she feels that her post doesn't attract attention. If it happens again, you may ask a moderator to warn her or shoot her off the list/forum.

6. Why the!!!!???

Don't use multiple punctuations in your posts; what good would they do while a single punctuation works? Again it rises emotions, so you better avoid it.

Bad Good
I'm stuck at this bug!!! How to fix it??!! I'm stuck at this bug. How to fix it?


Using forums or mailing lists requires keeping a few rules in mind which are actually very easy to follow and not only increase your (and others') chance of a productive collaboration, but it also lets you express your ideas and comments in a more efficient and unambiguous way.

Filed under: ,
Gina Likins says:
Feb 13, 2015 12:49 PM

I'm giving a talk at SCALE13x on the tone and tenor of conversations in our OS communities -- would you mind if I "stole" your bullet points (with attribution, of course) -- my talk:

Bahman Movaqar says:
Feb 13, 2015 02:59 PM

Not at all. I'm glad you found the material useful.
Good luck out there,

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