Mailing lists/Introduction

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Contents

OLPC draws heavily from the principles of open source software, including building and sharing a base of common knowledge. OLPC uses public mailing lists as a primary method of communication for these reasons.

A mailing list is a service that forms an email-based communication channel between a number of subscribers. Mailing lists are usually set up as follows:

  • Subscription is open to anyone; just provide your email address in a simple form.
  • Writing to the mailing list is open to all subscribers; just send an email to the mailing list address. Your email will then be automatically and individually sent to all subscribers.
  • Reading is also open to non-subscribers through public mailing list archives on a website.

Note that you do not need any special software to use the mailing list. All you need is a web browser (for subscribing) and a regular email address (for reading and writing).

OLPC operates a large number of mailing lists, documented on the Mailing lists page. Each mailing list has a designated topic. Some are used for general discussion, others for various forms of support, and others for critical operational tasks such as software development.

Obtaining support and asking questions on mailing lists is generally preferred to private emails, even if you know a good candidate to answer your message. This is because both your questions and any responses will be public, adding to common knowledge. Other people with similar questions will be able to find the new information in the public list archives, avoiding the need for the question to be asked again, and avoiding someone spending the time to provide the same response again.

Overview

  1. Carefully choose the appropriate mailing list for your question
  2. Subscribe to the mailing list
  3. Write an email to the mailing list
  4. Patiently wait for responses

Caveats

There are a few things to remember when using standard mailing lists:

  • All messages are public, are archived, and can even be read by non-subscribers. Avoid incuding personal information such as phone numbers.
  • Your name and email address will be included in the mails that are delivered to the list, and will also be included in the public list archives. This may increase your exposure to unsolicited email (spam).
  • Be nice, because you are communicating with other people!

Subscribing

First, locate the list information page for the mailing list you want to subscribe to. You can find these pages by following appropriate links on the Mailing lists page or http://lists.laptop.org. For example, the information page for the OLPC-open list can be found at http://lists.laptop.org/listinfo/OLPC-open

The list information page includes a subscription form. Enter your email address, (optionally) your name, and (optionally) a password. If you do choose to enter a password, carefully read the warnings: do not use a sensitive password because it will be emailed to you without any form of protection/obfuscation. If you do not choose a password, one will be generated for you and emailed to you.

After submitting the form, you will be sent an email that asks you to confirm your subscription request by clicking a link. Click the link, and that's it, you're subscribed!

Writing

Now that you are subscribed to the mailing list, you can start new discussions or respond to existing ones. To do so, you just use your email client to write to the mailing list address.

The mailing list address is stated clearly on the list information page for the list in question. For example, the olpc-open information page says:

Using Olpc-open
To post a message to all the list members, send email to olpc-open@lists.laptop.org

Before writing to the mailing list:

  • Read the etiquette section below
  • Perform a quick google search to confirm that there is no obvious answer to your question
  • Take a quick glance at the archives (detailed below) to ensure that nobody has asked your question recently

To respond to an existing mailing list post from its public archives, click the author's email address link at the top of the post. This is a mailto: link, which should open your preferred email application pre-filled with the list's address and the post's subject line (along with message identifiers that allow the list system to place your entry at the proper thread point).

Reading

Regular delivery

By default, you receive a copy of every message that is sent to the mailing list, as an individual email. This is the standard way of reading mailing lists which are of interest. You may wish to set up a filter in your email client to separate these emails from your regular mail.

Be aware that some mailing lists may be high-traffic, and this will result in you receiving a lot of emails.

Digested delivery

As an alternative to regular delivery, you can opt to instead receive daily emails from the mailing list, including all discussion from that day. This has the advantage that it will result in fewer emails coming into your inbox (max 1 per day), but has the disadvantage that replying to individual topics is tricky.

You can choose digested delivery mode on the subscription form. For example:

Would you like to receive list mail batched in a daily digest? [X] Yes

Alternatively, you can edit delivery options by using your password after subscribing.

Public archives

In most cases, you can read the mailing list discussions through your web browser without even being a list subscriber. For example, the OLPC-open info page says:

To see the collection of prior postings to the list, visit the Olpc-open Archives.

Click on the [ Thread ] link next to a specific link to read the discussions.

To respond to a post, click the author's email address to invoke the mailto: link to the list's address, the post's subject line, and message identifiers to place your post properly in the thread.

Disabling delivery

Sometimes, you want to ask a one-off question on a mailing list but do not have a desire to read other topics, so both regular and digested delivery are not appropriate.

It is possible to completely disable mail delivery from the list, while remaining a subscriber. This allows you to write to the list without receiving regular list traffic delivered to your inbox. Because the etiquette is usually reply-to-all, you will receive a personal copy of any responses to your mail in addition to any copy delivered by the list, so you will still see responses to your mails even when you have disabled delivery.

To disable delivery, scroll to the bottom of the list information page. The OLPC-open list says:

To unsubscribe from Olpc-open, get a password reminder, or change your subscription options enter your subscription email address:

Fill in your email address and click "Unsubscribe or edit options."

On the next page, you will be prompted to enter your password. Enter it and click "Log in."

You will then see a set of options under the Your Olpc-open Subscription Options heading. Find the one that says:

Mail delivery
Set this option to Enabled to receive messages posted to this mailing list. Set it to Disabled if you want to stay subscribed, but don't want mail delivered to you

Choose the "Disabled" option and click the "Submit My Changes" button at the end of the page.

Unsubscribe

You can remove yourself from a mailing list by unsubscribing. Scroll to the bottom of the list information page. The OLPC-open list says:

To unsubscribe from Olpc-open, get a password reminder, or change your subscription options enter your subscription email address:

Fill in your email address and click "Unsubscribe or edit options."

On the next page, click the "Unsubscribe" button. There is no need to enter your password. You will then receive an email confirming your unsubscription request; simply click the link inside the email to complete the process.

Etiquette

While OLPC does not publish formal mailing list etiquette, these guidelines will help you get responses to your questions and avoid making enemies:

  • If starting a new discussion, carefully choose a succinct and informative subject line. For example, "Help" is uninformative; most people writing to the list are looking for help, what do you need help with? "Error opening PDF files with Read activity" is good.
  • Ensure that your messages are on-topic.
  • When replying, use Reply-to-all so that your response is separately delivered to the mailing list, as well as the people you are responding to.
  • Don't top post. Include your reply after the quoted text.
  • Configure your email client to send plain-text (not HTML) messages, which linewrap at 78 characters.
  • Never send a 'test' message, because that useless message will be delivered to all subscribers (this is irritating!). Just assume the mailing list is working. If you want to check that your email got through, check the public list archives 60 minutes after you sent your message.
  • Don't spam or advertise.
  • Avoid personal attacks at all times.
  • Patience and manners go a long way!
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