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I am the sole maintainer of a relatively small open-source project. I have wanted to add a code of conduct for some time, but I have two concerns:

  • I am the only maintainer, and I have not seen people interact vary much in bug reports and the like. If people are most likely going to have an issue with me, and I am also the one that the issue should be reported to I do not think the code of conduct would be very effective.
  • Even in the event of an issue being reported that I can deal with, it should be able to be reported through confidential channels. GitHub does not have those1 and I do not have a dedicated domain or email address.

Does it make sense to add a code of conduct for a smaller project, and what can I do to enforce it properly?

1 They do have a way of confidentially reporting security vulnerabilities which I guess could work, but might end up confusing people.

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Codes of conduct aren't just about the relationship and interactions between the community members and the maintainer(s), but about the interactions between all community members - e.g., what language is or isn't appropriate when posting to a mailing list (if you have one), what are and aren't appropriate comments on a PR (and remember - non-maintainers can and should review PRs), etc.

IMHO, even given the limited resources you have, having a code of conduct makes sense. At the very least, it indicates to the community that you have a standard of behavior you hold yourself (and everyone else) to, and are willing to take feedback and modify your behavior when you fail to uphold it. It's not perfect, but it's still better than not having any CoC at all.

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    +1 from me. A CoC is like a sign over the entrance to a room that says "This is a free-for-all", or "Civilised discourse required", or "Library space: announcements by librarian only, and no discussion". Even if all it says is "Abandon all hope ye who enter here", it's worth having, to set expectations. – MadHatter Jan 19 at 8:17
  • @MadHatter I think you meant "not" a free for all? – StayOnTarget Jan 19 at 18:14
  • @StayOnTarget no, I meant what I said. Some community lists are like that, and it's OK for them to be, if that's what their communities want - but it's courteous to warn others about it on entry! – MadHatter Jan 19 at 20:10
  • @MadHatter I see what you mean! thanks :) – StayOnTarget Jan 19 at 20:16
  • TBH, "Abandon all hope ye who enter here" would be an appropriate CoC for several FOSS projects I participated in ;) – Mureinik Jan 26 at 14:09
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Just picking up on one bit not covered in Mureinik's answer:

If people are most likely going to have an issue with me, and I am also the one that the issue should be reported to I do not think the code of conduct would be very effective.

One suggestion I would have here would be for you to find a trusted friend who could act as a at least somewhat impartial mediator in these cases, something like:

If you think that LarsW has not appropriately handled any CoC issues, please contact M.Y. Friend <my.friend@example.com> who will examine the issue.

The reason behind this being one of your friends is that it has to be someone who you both respect their views and is also able to be honest with you in situations when you have done it wrong, even if that does somewhat compromise their impartiality.

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You don't need a code of conduct.

GitHub suggests you add one, but this isn't a requirement.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_conduct says:

A code of conduct can be an important part in establishing an inclusive culture, but it is not a comprehensive solution on its own. An ethical culture is created by the organization's leaders who manifest their ethics in their attitudes and behavior.

How people actually interact in your project is more important than whether it has a code of conduct. If you don't have an issue with conduct in your project, which is what seems to be the case, you don't need to expend effort to put in place a formal structure to deal with situations that are likely to never arise at all.

It may be more productive to put your energy toward building the library/product itself.

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