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E-Mail Discussion Lists

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Introduction to E-Mail Discussion Lists

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The purpose of any discussion list is the exchange of useful information by E-Mail.

A Discussion List is an online community of people who discuss a specific topic or topics by E-Mail. You can find over 70,000 discussion lists on everything from Archaeology to Women to Business. List members join a list by subscribing to it, usually by either entering their E-Mail address into a form online or by sending an E-Mail message with a "subscribe" or "join" request. Every person subscribed to the list will receive the discussion by E-Mail. Members wishing to participate in the discussion send their message or post to a central address where it is then distributed by E-Mail to the entire list.

Moderated Lists

A "Moderator" is an individual who has volunteered their time to acting as a list policeman. They can also be seen as a large filter that catches all non-pertinent material posted to the list and kills it before it reaches the list members. The flow of information in a Moderated list is as follows:

List member submits post to a posting address

Post is received by moderator

Moderator evaluates content of post

If post is pertinent and meets list posting criteria, it is distributed

If post is a spam or commercial ad or irrelevant, it is killed

A killed post is a reflection that the post was off-topic or did not meet the criteria outlined for posting to the list

A moderated list is highly desired by list members because all information they receive from the list will be well-filtered.

UN-Moderated Lists

An UN-Moderated list means that there is no list moderator, and that any post sent to the list posting address is automatically distributed to all list members. The majority of lists on the Net are not moderated because moderating a list is extremely time consuming. Most unmoderated lists do however have a list manager who oversees them. If a list is interesting and on-topic, it is not only because of the content posted by the list members, but also because the moderator or list manager is doing his job to keep it organized. A moderator's job is also to continue or kill discussion topics as he sees fit and to step in and redirect the discussion when it appears to be straying off-topic.

Most unmoderated lists have a List Manager who is monitoring the list to make sure that discussions remain on topic and posting criteria are followed. If a list member posts an ad to the list or a post that is obviously just a self-promotion, list members are likely to make that person well-aware of what they have done. This can get very embarrassing, considering that there are upwards of 6,000 members on some discussion lists. It pays to read and abide by the List Manager or Moderator's rules, for it is their list. Those on an unmoderated list (or a moderated one) who do not take heed to set posting criteria may find themselves removed by the list manager and prevented from rejoining the group.

Many people feel that unmoderated lists have a much lower ratio of signal to noise, meaning that they are not valuable or are full of irrelevant clutter. Whether a list is moderated or unmoderated, it is the list members and the list manager who give it value.


A thread is simply a discussion topic. There may be many discussion topics going on at once on a list, and the threads are identified in the subject header of the message. Having names for threads helps keep the list organized and helps list members read only those discussions that interest them. If you are posting to a list, be sure to include the thread name that you are posting about.


Most discussion lists are organized and distributed by E-Mail in two formats: Digest or Individual Post. A Digest format means that you will receive one large message once each day with a compilation of that days postings. It may include one post. It may include fifteen posts. It will depend on how active the list was that day.

Individual Post mode means that you will receive each post individually as it is distributed to the list. There are advantages and disadvantages to each mode.

You may want to first try the Individual Post mode on any list, especially if you belong to one of those subscription services like AOL which converts messages over 20K in size into files. That can be really annoying. You may find that an Individual Post format will allow you to preview the subject headings for posts that interest you and allows you to file, delete or read as you choose. An individual post is much easier to manage than a digest. But the choice is yours.

Sold your E-Mail address?

If you post to a discussion list and immediately or thereafter you begin to receive unsolicited E-Mail advertisements, do NOT automatically assume that it is from the discussion list and do NOT write to the list owner accusing them of selling your address to a bulk E-Mail company. I cannot speak for all list owners and moderators, but most do not and never will reveal the names or E-Mail addresses on their lists to anyone. Most moderators have their lists password-protected, which means that in order to access the list of addresses you must know the password. Some will change their passwords each week and make it random with letters and numbers.

Understand that bulk E-Mail companies can suck up your E-Mail address from just about anywhere on the Net. Do you have a Web site? Do you participate in UseNet Newsgroups? Do you participate in other discussion lists? Do you ever send anyone an E-Mail message? They can get your address from anywhere, so don't automatically lay blame to the list owner.

So, should you NOT participate in a discussion for fear of being added to bulk E-Mail lists? You should definitely participate and not be worried about it at all. Bulk E-Mail is going to be around for a while. If you like it, then read it. If you don't like it, then delete it or filter it out. It should in no way affect your decision to benefit from a discussion list by participating.

Types of Mailing List Software

There are three types of mailing list software in wide use today: Listserv, Listproc and Majordomo. All operate and maintain lists of subscribers and forward all mail received to all subscribers.

Basic Commands for Three Types of Mailing List Software Commands such as "subscribe," "unsubscribe," or "review" are sent directly to the list server. Usually that address begins: "listserv," "majordomo," or "listname-request" @domainname. Some basic commands and the syntax required by different software systems are shown below.

Messages for distribution to the subscribers must sent to an entirely different address. Usually that address begins: "listname" @domainname.

When you subscribe to a discussion group it will automatically send you basic information about the group, including how to post messages and how to unsubscribe. It is a good idea to save that message.

Many mailing lists are very particular about the address you use for sending commands or posting messages. Be sure to subscribe to a discussion group from the same e-mail address you plan to use for receiving and posting messages or your messages may be refused. Consider un-subscribing and then re-subscribing if you change e-mail addresses.


Archaeology email lists and newsgroups   [New Window]

Last updated 16 November 2001.

CataList   [New Window]

CataList is the official catalog of LISTSERV lists with 53,310 public lists out of 206,974 LISTSERV lists.

Complete List of Dog-Related Email Lists   [New Window]

There are many email lists on canines and related topics. They are all implemented in different ways. Some are handled by automated software (of which there are several varieties!) and others are manually controlled. Some lists are open to all, others have requirements for membership, or even ceilings on the total number of subscribers. Some are high volume and others much lower. Some of these lists offer both interactive (where you get each message as it is sent out) and digest (where messages are collected up to some point, either by size or time, and then sent out) versions.

Yahoo! Groups   [New Window]

Yahoo! Groups is one of the oldest discussion groups on the web. You can search for a group, browse the Yahoo! Groups or start your own group.

Birth-Related Email Discussion Lists   [New Window]

For each list, you can click on the listname to send email to the system.

Low End MAC eMail Lists   [New Window]

Lists are available for sponsorship. Last updated on August 8, 2001.   [New Window]

A complete index to RootsWeb's 24,105 genealogy mailing lists!

Unitarian Universalist Association Email Lists   [New Window]

The UUA sponsors over 170 different mailing lists and participation is free. This list is for groups of UUs and like-minded individuals to communicate via email on issues relating to Unitarian Universalism, the UUA, and UU congregations and districts.

BLIST   [New Window]

A Comprehensive Index of Blindness-Related Emailing Lists Last updated February 23, 2000.   [New Window]

"The Email List Publisher Resource Network." Within the dozens of sites and lists within the network, you will find free articles, expert opinions and editorial biases on how to start, grow, build, manage, promote, buy and sell your email newsletter, discussion list and more!

Directories and Guides

Adoption Email Lists Directory   [New Window]

An annotated directory of adoption mailing lists for adoptive families. Updated February 2002.

Ezine Directory   [New Window]

Ezine Directory is a directory of electronic email publications with search engine functionality. Ezine Directory catalogs thousands of editor-reviewed publications in approximately two hundred interest categories.

YourMailinglistProvider   [New Window]

Your Mailinglist Provider offers you a free, professional yet easy-to-use mailinglist to set up a newsletter for your site! Offering a newsletter or mailinglist to website visitors is a powerful marketing tool... but emailing to hundreds or thousands of customers is not easy. Your Mailinglist Provider gives you tools to mass email your newsletter, free of any charge: all you need to do is write and send!

It only takes three simple steps to start off:
1. You have to signup for an account.
2. After you have created your account, you get a piece of HTML-code: the signup form for your newsletter. As soon as you have pasted the code into one of your web pages, people can start subscribing.
3. Use the Online Management System to send out newsletters to your database of subscribers, to manage your database, compile statistics and to execute account configuration options.
An extended description of what it does can be found here.

Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists (PAML)   [New Window]

A compilation of contact information for many mailing lists, searchable by mailing list name or subject. Total lists in database: 6923.

Directory Of Musical Email Lists   [New Window]

Last update: 25 January, 1998. You will find listings organised by subject areas in order to (hopefully) simplify your search for any one listing. The actual listing of information is in alphabetical order. The categories are: Instruments, Vocal, Musical Organisations and Groups, Musical Genres, Theory and Musicology, Specialty and Miscellaneous Lists, and MIDI, Electronics, and Music Programmes for Computer.

JUNKBUSTERS Guide to Staying Off Junk Email Lists   [New Window]

Once your email address is on a spammer's list, it can be very hard to get off, especially if he's selling it. You will find some tips on how to stop spam before it starts.

Free Email Address Directory   [New Window]

At this site you will find 1,000+ free email services, plus 100s of other free resources from mailing lists to autoresponders. There are also for-fee email service reviews, articles about free email and info on finding email addresses.   [New Window]

Over 12 million people subscribe to Topica-hosted newsletters and can manage their subscriptions through a free My Topica page. Topica's site makes it easy for readers to control their subscription options (subscribe, unsubscribe, vacation hold), find great email content with a directory of tens of thousands of newsletters, and even start newsletters of their own!

CataList (Just LISTSERV lists)   [New Window]

CataList, the official catalog of LISTSERV lists. 53,317 public lists out of 206,996 LISTSERV lists. Last update: 8 Feb 2002.

Tile.Net Lists   [New Window]

A good reference to internet discussion & information lists All Listed by Name, Description and Domain.