Communication mini-HOWTOs

This chapter provides a small collection of practical suggestions on how to cope with specific repeating issues.

Bringing long threads to a conclusion

Long threads with points being repeated over and over are an annoying waste of time. They however tend to happen from time to time, especially about important and controversial topics where a consensus is not easy to reach.

This is a collection of suggestions for coping with it:

  • Discuss controversial points off list with the people you disagree with.

    This would make it easier for you both to reach some consensus which is satisfactory for both.

  • Take a leadership role

    Step forward, take the good ideas that were spoken in the thread and work to put them into practice.

    This is good if good ideas have been spoken but the discussion keeps going with nothing else coming out, or in case of a thread that tends to be recurring over time.

    You can also put together a group of interested people to work on the issue. You can do it by taking the lead, contacting one by one the other active people in the thread to see if they are interested, making a public announcement to let people know and ask if more want to join.

  • Make summaries

    Summarise important parts of the thread and make them available to everyone, so that they don't have to be repeated again.

    This can be done for recurring points, or if the thread reaches a useful point, or a consensus.

    The summary can be done on the Debian Wiki. For an example, have a look at the collection of ideas to improve the Debian release schedule.

  • Start a new thread when the discussion drifts away

    Sometimes the discussion in a thread drifts away from the original topic to something related, or even unrelated.

    When this happens, do your best to reply starting a new thread.

It is also important to learn to read long thread: you can find many useful tips for it on an article in Joey Hess blog.

Coping with flamewars

Stopping a flamewar is hard, but one can try to slow it down. A good way is to send a private mail to some of the most heated posters, such as:

   This is off-list.
   What I think of the situation is [short summary].
   However, this discussion is not being useful anymore: please drop the thread.
   Best wishes,

This will tell them that the thread is becoming annoying, and also offer them a chance to continue with the discussion off-list.

Posting a public message asking people to stop the thread does not work, and usually creates even more unwanted traffic. See the example "let's not drag this into another flame war please" thread on debian-curiosa.

Another useful way of using private messages is to contact friends if they are being unconstructive or flameish. This would be better done when you otherwise agree with their point, so that the remark can be fully about how they are saying things rather than about what they are saying.

Dealing with trolls

Internet trolls are a fairly rare but very annoying phenomenon.

The best way to handle them is of course to ignore them to avoid giving them visibility. This can however be very difficult to do, because they tend to be very good at irritating people where they are most sensitive.

Consider giving the listmasters a chance to remove an evident troll message from the list archives just like they can do with spam: it is easy for them to get rid of it if it stays unanswered, but it becomes very hard if there are replies.

If you have an irresistible urge to react, do it by supporting the offended party, rather than attacking the troll (see Chapter 1, Main guidelines).

If the result of a provocation is not to cause trouble on the intended victims but rather to have them supported and encouraged, then the provocation has totally failed, and something useful happened in the meantime.