HomePractices Page 4 - Getting Help the Free Software (and Open Source) Way
Mailing Lists - Practices
What happens when the effectiveness of your favorite search engine turns against you, when it becomes almost too effective to be useful, giving you so much information that you're not sure where to start?... Well, my overworked friend, you're in luck. Today, I'll be covering the holy grail of information gathering: asking people... In the process, I will also show you some of the better locations to begin your searches and give you a few pointers in getting the most out of your queries.
What happens when you want to ask a question to agroup, butyou can't find a suitable newsgroup (such as was my case with Apache),or wouldrather deal with more personal or more familiar sources? That's whenyou turnyour eyes towards mailing lists.
Unlike newsgroups, mailing lists often have a senseofcommunity, greater even than real-time chat channels. Because of this,responsetimes tend to be faster, as group members seek to help one another,seeking tobe a rising tide, lifting all ships. Just keep in mind that many ofthese listswill expect that you've already done some footwork on your own.
Please note that although this story is about OpenSourcesoftware and where to get the help often touted as being so readilyavailableamongst Free Software and Open Source advocates, you're probably goingtonotice that I'm pretty Linux-centric when it comes to the mailing listsIchose. That's because you'll find that Linux lists are more about FreeSoftwareand Open Source than they are about Linux, per se. After all, the listswouldn't be as popular as they are if all they talked about a singletopic,such as the kernel. Although many lists do quite well developing acommunity ofengineers, as have the Emacs and Fetchmail communities with their lists(foundat http://savannah.gnu.org/mail/?group=emacsand http://www.catb.org/~esr/fetchmail/,respectively), go ahead and compare their numbers to the Groups of Linux Users Everywhere..Seethe size difference? You'll find that these Linux User Group lists aresome ofthe best places to start almost any search. A group with a large enoughmembership will usually contain its fair share of Zope and Apacheadministrators, PHP and Java programmers, and people who simply enjoyto tinkeraround with everything, from XML to multimedia. Just remember thatthese listsdo have rules and regulations which must be followed, so make sure youknowthem before you go off and start asking questions about closed sourceissues,like Flash, which might incur some scolding, flaming, and - in somelists -tarring, feathering, and maybe even gunzipping. Instead, off topicquestionslike that, if they can't be avoided, can be addressed by simply askingforanyone who knows about a certain subject to e-mail you off list, oraskingwhere you'd be able to get information on the subject, making sure toapologizefor the off-topic post. At that point, only the biggest of jerks willusuallysay anything derogative, provided that you haven't been a jerk yourselfandabused your right to ask those questions.
The following is a list of some of the more helpfulmailinglists that I have found. Just remember that when it comes to OpenSource andFree Software, a good Linux Users Group (LUG) is usually a great placeto beginany search. I've attempted to make sure that the link leads directly tothesign up page of the list mentioned, however a large number of theselistnumerous lists within the pages, such as the XML and Perl lists.
Be forewarned: some of these lists are very highvolume, sobefore you go off and sign up for all of these, make sure that you canhandlethe load. If you don't find what you need on this list, then go aheadand run asearch on <yourtopic>+mailing+listin your favorite search engine. Chances are that there's something outtheredevoted to what you're seeking.