From the Gentoo Forums:
I agree that spreading a positive message is good, but I've always been nervous to send thank you notes out to people I've never met. Worse, I don't want to potentially overload an inbox with a mes- sage that isn't going to help all that much. Hopefully it would be received in a positve way.
I try to remember to send "thank you"s from time to time.
Just remember that all these people are doing this in their free time, and one of the pillars of motivation is feedback and knowing that what you do is important.
For example I recently (two months ago) sent a mail to the developer of TortoiseHG in which I wrote him, that to me his Program is a revolution for version control systems, because it allows version control even for users who don't know much about their system (and added an example where I managed to use his program to work in a DVCS together with a mostly computer illiterate Windows user - and get going in just 15 minutes).
I could almost feel the happy beaming in his reply where he said even this alone would make it worth all the effort he spent on it.
And I remember my own almost unbelieving joy at having people tell me that the pen-and-paper roleplaying system I write is the best system for their one-shots. It brightens up the whole day and makes me smile much and easily :)
Naturally contributing often feels even better (people who join in, are one of the highest compliments to the project), but when that isn't possible (we all have limited time-budgets), a friendly mail - or better still: A friendly public post which will also lead others to the program - is a great way to help your favorite project!
And if it already gets very much positive feedback, you could look at all the other projects you enjoy and see if one of them could get a bit more feedback. We live through diversity, and every little program adds its share.
Especially for people who get little feedback, such a message helps very much. If nothing else, it helps the developer to see that his work has an important impact. And if the feedback is unexpected, that's even better. People who gets tons of feedback might get used to it, but people who get very little feedback can really flourish - or at least enjoy a happy smile for a few hours and think fondly of what they accomplished and look forward to doing more.
PS: And if the project offers the option, giving a donation helps a lot, too. In a fair world the people behind those projects should be able to do them full-time. We can make the world a little fairer.
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