How to encourage positive online communication in your open source community


The Drupal community uses nudges to keep conversations productive and inclusive.

Threaded online conversations are a relatively new form of communication that can improve knowledge transfer and availability, but they can also stray from the original intent. Online technical conversations in open source communities using Slack or one of the several open source alternatives experience these benefits and drawbacks.

Say a community member posts a question or shares an idea to start a conversation. As in any conversation, sometimes things can get off track. While not all diversions from the prompt are unhelpful, there are times when a comment can be unproductive—and sometimes even hurtful.

The Drupal community is like most other open source communities, in that we have many online conversations happening at any given time, in a variety of places. Sometimes, when a community member flags an online comment as hurtful, the Drupal Community Working Group (CWG) is asked to step in and mediate the situation. The CWG is responsible for maintaining the health of the community. Often, the solution is as simple as reminding the author of the comment of the Code of Conduct.

In 2020, the CWG began looking into how they could crowdsource this activity in a way that would be predictable and non-confrontational. The group decided to author several nudges: prewritten, formatted responses that community members could copy and paste into an online conversation to get conversations back on track.

The Drupal community currently has five different nudges depending on the situation. It is up to community members to select one from this list:

  • Inclusive language, gendered terms
  • Inclusive language, ableist terms
  • Gatekeeping knowledge
  • Cultural differences
  • Escalating emotions

For example, the inclusive language, ableist terms nudge contains this message:

This discussion appears to include the use of ableist language in a comment. Ableist language can be harmful to our community because it can devalue challenges experienced by people with disabilities.

For more information, please refer to Drupal’s Values and Principles about treating each other with dignity and respect.

This comment is provided as a service (currently being tested) of the Drupal Community Health Team as part of a project to encourage all participants to engage in positive discourse. For more information, please visit

Currently, using one of the nudges is a manual copy-paste process, but the group is discussing the possibility of providing tools for easier use. We provide both formatted (for forum and issue queues) and unformatted (Slack) versions of each nudge. The CWG is also working on adding a sixth nudge for unhelpful or inauthentic comments. This nudge is aimed at discouraging users who add comments to a thread solely to gain a contribution credit on the issue.

Over the past two years that nudges have been available, the CWG has not fielded any complaints related to their use. While the number of conflicts between community members escalated to the CWG has declined during this period, it is difficult to attribute this solely to nudges. Other efforts have been made to improve community health (not to mention outside factors). Nevertheless, the CWG feels that nudges have been a net positive to the community and continues to access, improve, and encourage their use. In a blog post to the community announcing their general availability, the CWG wrote:

To continue to grow a healthy community, we all must work under the assumption that no one intentionally uses language to hurt others. Even so, despite our best efforts we sometimes still use words or phrases that are discouraging, harmful, or offensive to others. We are all human beings who make mistakes, but as members of a shared community, it’s our responsibility to lift each other up and encourage the best in each other.

Prewritten nudges for various situations are useful prompts for members of any community to keep conversations productive and encouraging—and do so in a friendly way!

These authors contributed to this article:

Michael Anello:

Michael Anello is co-founder and vice president of DrupalEasy, a Drupal training and consulting firm based in Central Florida. Mike has been one of the main organizers of the Florida Drupal Users’ Group and Florida DrupalCamps for over 13 years, is a member of the Drupal Community Working Group, and has also helped manage the Drupal Association’s Community Cultivation Grants program.

Ruth Cheesley:

Ruth has been a keen advocate of Open Source for over 18 years. As a contributor to the Joomla! and Mautic community, she volunteered on the Joomla! Community Leadership Team for over three years, and currently works as Project Lead for Mautic, the world’s first open source marketing automation platform, at Acquia.