A trick for finding the correct internal mailing list

Suppose you have a problem and you want to report it to an internal mailing list, but you don't know the correct mailing list to use. Here's a trick that apparently is not that well-known, though perhaps that's a reflection on people's lack of creativity than any inherent difficulty in execution.

For example, suppose you have a problem with the file system. One thing you can try is to go to the company Address Book and type "file system" and see what turns up.

Of course, you have to be judicious about this. Some people use this trick but aren't very careful about their search terms, and they end up sending questions to mailing lists like "Windows Team All" which are intended for announcements, not Q&A.

You want to look for a feature-specific discussion group or Q&A group or bug reporting group, not an entire product group.

Use your common sense.

In many cases, you have an idea of a person who might be able to help you. You may know the name of somebody from the file system team because you see their name in status report mail, or you find their name in the change logs, or because they helped you out once before. But, of course, you don't want to go to that person directly, because that would be presumptuous, and they might be on vacation, or they might be busy, or they might not be the right person after all.

But what you can do is look up their entry in the company Address Book, then click on Membership to see what mailing lists they belong to. Browse the list looking for something named "File system bugs" or "File system talk" or "File system automated testing failures" or "File system code reviews", depending on what sort of help you need. If you know more than one person who might help, you can do some set theory to narrow down on a good candidate mailing list to contact.

(Within Microsoft, a common convention is for mailing lists that deal with general Q&A to have "talk" in their name, whereas those that deal with urgent issues have "hot" in their name. And then there is "casual" which is where team members hang out and discuss the latest episode of Breaking Bad Mad Men Game of Thrones.)

Bonus chatter

: There is a Microsoft internal Web site called Polyarchy which visualizes organizational data. One of the many things you can do is give it a list of people, and it will show you the mailing lists that they all belong to, thereby doing the set theory magic I alluded to earlier.

Comments (12)
  1. anonymouscommenter says:

    Just today I was teaching a new colleague a related trick that works with our organisation – they needed to go visit another team and weren't sure where that team was located – and I wasn't sure either. You might have to chase through a couple of levels of membership, but everyone in my organisation should be a member of (usually just one) "Everyone on Floor 7 of Building Y" mailing lists.

  2. ipoverscsi says:

    Wow. It must be great to work for a Fortune 100 company. My multi-national employer won't even let us have mailing lists. I guess that's because we're not even in the Fortune 1000.

  3. anonymouscommenter says:

    I was with a company once where the employer wouldn't let us have mailing lists.

    Then they fired the admin who was too lazy to set them up, and it was the first thing the new one did.

  4. anonymouscommenter says:

    A good strategy is, once you have a good guess of what the right mailing list might be, check the archives of the list (if they exist) and see if the type of mail sent there is of the right nature.  If you're reporting a bug, see if the list generally has discussion of bugs (though a bug tracker would frankly be better).  But if you only see occasional announcement emails of new features, you probably have the wrong list.

  5. anonymouscommenter says:

    Another option is to post incorrect information to another (preferably "chatty") mailing list and wait for someone to correct you.

  6. anonymouscommenter says:

    @Kevin. Something like that appears to work, on occasion: blogs.msdn.com/…/9441992.aspx

  7. Brian_EE says:

    Raymond, couldn't you just use Lync to IM that person and ask if they know who the correct person to report the problem/bug to is? (I am of course assuming MS uses it's own messaging app globally).

    [That would be presumptuous. -Raymond]
  8. anonymouscommenter says:

    Raymond is also never online.  I have a theory that he's too popular.

  9. anonymouscommenter says:

    One does not simply use the Cunningham. Its black gates are guarded by more than just orks. There is evil there that does not sleep…

  10. cheong00 says:

    Once upon a time, I worked in a company that does not have mailing list. All we have is text file that stores semicolon seperated email addresses that can be copied to outlook express.

    Forturnately, the list is usually small (less than 5 recipients)

  11. Dave Bacher says:

    I thought the correct procedure was to pick a random person you know somewhere in the company, and IM them so that the Lync window is completely full of the same question about who to contact (copy and paste helps here) asking what the correct list is.  The goal is to tick off whoever you are messaging enough that they answer the question, but not so much that they just block you.

  12. anonymouscommenter says:

    Raymond, as a user how can I report bugs in Microsoft products? I've found a problem in Windows Phone but I don't know how to inform those guys.

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