Sahana Community Etiquette

Sahana consists of a broad and diverse community from different cultures, professional groups and languages as any open community project. Email however is a very limited medium for conveying your good intentions and tone, thus extra care needs to be taken with email and how you communicate for the healthy functioning of our community. Always remember this project is also ultimately about helping to save lives and reduce suffering through the effective application of ICT during a disaster, thus any form of personal disputes can seem very petty in comparison to what this project is trying to achieve.

However with experience we have learned that there are a few simple rule for newbies to follow when using electronic communication such as email and IRC. Here are some of those simple rules you are encouraged to follow in your interaction with the rest of the community.

Guidelines of email etiquette

Is what I'm writing appropriate for this list?

The reason people have signed up to read this list is because they are interested in goals around which it was founded. Sahana has multiple lists for development, users and localization. Please try to target your email to the appropriate list. A guideline of what is appropriate for what list is given here. Please ensure you understand the goals of the project and the appropriate communication for each list. Avoid cross-posting and if in doubt email to

Does this message have to go to everyone on the list?

People occasionally inadvertently do a “reply all” and end up saying personal/damaging/embarrassing things in messages not intended for mass consumption. Sadly, if you do that, it's your own fault. Please check to see if your message is a personal message.

Is my message as short as it can be while still conveying the point I intended?

Shorter is always better (size does matter). We're all busy people. It's much easier to hold people's attention with 3 paragraphs than over 3 pages. Sending anything that's larger than it needs to be is an imposition on the other readers on the list (not to mention the list server - in this case, I am donating the bandwidth, server hardware, admin, etc. that this list requires, and it costs me real money). If what you're saying requires a comprehensive treatment, it's probably worthwhile to spend a few minutes to provide a brief summary at the start so that the 150+ or so of us subscribers don't have to spend a lot of time deciding whether what you've written really interests us.

Have I removed any unnecessary “quoted text”

Often email clients allow you to quote the text of the message to which you are replying - and over the course of an animated email conversation, that quoted text can become very long. The classic is when you get a message in reply to someone's long, involved treatise which simply says “Ok.” and then proceeds to quote the treatise over again. Waste of space - please trim quotes.

Avoid kneejerk emails

Have I put enough time into making this email constructive, with well supported points and links to references whenever appropriate, or is it a simplistic, emotive, kneejerk reaction and something I'll regret sending an hour from now? If it's the latter, don't send it, as it probably isn't of much interest to the rest of us and yes, you probably will regret it.

Staying On Topic

We have several lists set up for your use, each with a different charter of acceptable subjects. Please review them before posting. Once a thread of discussion is started, try to stay on topic of the original discussion. If you digress the original purpose of raising the topic might get lost in the discussion. If you need to digress to a new topic, start a new topic (ie. subject line).

Size of Attachment less than 500Kb Please

Not everyone on this mailing list will be having broadband, thus please avoid sending large attachments and try your best to send links to large files instead. The size limit on this forum is 500Kb and if you exceed it, your email will be rejected.

Did I proof read my message?

Email doesn't offer the additional modes of communication of in-person communication. Body language, tone, eye contact, etc. aren't available to help you get your point across. Be precise and concise. You have no idea who is going to read your email - it's not quite the same as personal email. Poor grammar, lack of proper punctuation, bad spelling, incorrect use of simple words like “their and there and they're,” etc. reflect poorly on you as the writer. Moreover, a lack of care is taken by some people to mean that you don't respect them or their time enough to proof read your work.

Did I write in CAPITALS?

If so, in the email world you're shouting. Just keep that in mind. Text is a somewhat limited medium when it comes to being demonstrative. Use it wisely.

Did I include any obscure abbreviations that aren't necessarily common knowledge?

iirc and wrt and rtfm are useful ways to abbreviate *when* we know that the person reading our message knows what they mean. If we don't know that, then we come off looking pretentious and exclusionary which isn't particularly useful, right?

Did I attempt to use sarcasm or sincerity that could be mistaken for sarcasm?

These things don't always come across in text for others as they did for us when we're writing them. Despite their smarminess, I suggest the (sparing) use of “emoticons” or sideways smileys to indicate that you've said something with a smile on your face (or not, as the case might be).

Respect the diversity of the community

Sahana consists contributors from all around the world and from different native languages and cultures. There are also contributors from different communities from academics, emergency management, civil society and the software development world. Each one has a part to play in the success of Sahana. Please do respect and value this diversity. Also due to english not being the primary language of everyone, not everyone expresses themselves in email the same way, so we need to permit a little tolerance for that.

Language and Flaming

Posting extremely foul or abusive language aimed at a fellow list member is forbidden. This includes obscenities, verbal harassment, or comments that would prove offensive based on race, religion, or sexual orientation. (Determination to be made by the List Guides and/or List Guide Manager.) Our mailing lists are rated PG-13. Watch how you express your emotions and humor within the mail. Due to the lack of vocal and nonverbal clues to our speech here, we often need something extra to read into a message what was intended. Also, remember that we have members in many countries, and that some members may not have a firm grasp of the English language.

I am now afraid to ask a question because I not sure I will be violating etiquette?

Don't worry. It is a learning experience :-). You will find the Sahana community is in generally very tolerant and will be happy to help you in any way. Please feel free to communicate as much as you would like to!

How to deal with breaches of etiquette

If and when people do breach the etiquette of this list, I do believe it is our duty to alert them, but to do so with sensitivity which shows that we care enough to include them rather than simply rebuking them. Publically shaming someone is never a good way to influence their behaviour. I suggest the following approach:

  1. point out to them that they have acted contrary to the expectations of the list - do so by back channels (back channels are direct communications rather than the list, e.g. phone, instant message, sms message, or direct person-to-person email). It is never appropriate or constructive to admonish someone via the list.
  2. explain to them the rationale for your suggestion - always assume that they have the best of intentions, and make sure they know you do too.
  3. never attack someone personally - it immediately closes any channels of communication that might have been open, and can make people angry/hurt, which is never a good basis for convincing someone that you have a valuable point of view…

The open source community is rich with constructive energy because most people admire generosity and the energy to include and welcome. Let us demonstrate our worthiness.


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