by April 1, 1999 0 comments

Sending all your friends individual e-mail with the same
text is a major problem. You’ll soon start wondering where all those 500 hours of
your VSNL account have gone. Using the bulk mailing facilities some mail clients give you
(or sending a cc to each person) is foolhardy, leaving every person on this list with
their e-mail ID in plain view, a bonanza for the spammer who gets hold of such a list. You
and everyone else on this kind of a list are likely to have your mailboxes deluged with
junk mail advertising everything from unbelievable discounts on software products to magic
drugs which beat Viagra hollow.

The best solution is to set up a mailing list. Any message
sent to a common e-mail address (say mylist@listprovider.com)
is automatically sent to all members of the mailing list “MyList”.

There are many kinds of mailing lists.
Announcement lists: These are used to distribute information about a product, a
service, an event, or other noteworthy information. In most cases, the organization that
runs the mailing list controls what information is sent out. If you join such a list, you
can’t post to it, only receive messages posted by the list manager. Keith
Dawson’s TBTF <www.tbtf.com>,
Microsoft’s SBNWire <www.microsoft.com/sbnmember/default.asp>
and Website Journal <www.websitejournal.com>
are excellent examples of such a list.

Open discussion lists: Anyone who is a member of the
mailing list can submit information to be distributed to the entire group. Such lists are
interactive groups for several like-minded people to share information on topics of common
interest.
Anyone who is a member of the
mailing list can submit information to be distributed to the entire group. Such lists are
interactive groups for several like-minded people to share information on topics of common
interest.

Moderated forums/discussion groups: These combine
the best features of the two types above. In such lists, members of the group can submit
information to be distributed to the entire group. However, all messages are first routed
through the list manager, who can forward it to the mailing list at his discretion.
These combine
the best features of the two types above. In such lists, members of the group can submit
information to be distributed to the entire group. However, all messages are first routed
through the list manager, who can forward it to the mailing list at his discretion.

List servers

List servers like Lyris <www.lyris.com> can also be used to create
auto-responders. These are e-mail “robots” which reply to incoming e-mail with a
specific document. For instance, sending info@company.com
will send back a reply with a brief thank you note, along with a corporate profile and
other essential data about the company.

Even a year ago, setting up and maintaining such a list was
next to impossible for the common man, requiring as it did the necessity of delving into
the mystic world of list servers. These are difficult to set up and maintain and
commercial list providers will generally charge you an arm and a leg.

Some of the most popular mailing list servers include:

  • ListServ by Eric Thomas–now produced by Lsoft <www.lsoft.com>
  • Listproc from CREN (Corporation for Research and Educational
    Networking)
  • Brent Chapman’s Majordomo
  • Some other popular list servers are Lyris <www.lyris.com> and MajorDomo (a list server for the
    Macintosh)

All this has changed now, thanks to several free Web-based
mailing list providers. These now offer several advantages over the old mailing list
servers, including:

  • A simple Web-based interface for managing the list.
  • Ready-made forms for joining the list which, you can put up
    on your Website.
  • List archives (all messages posted on the list) on the Web
    indexed by name, date, and frequency of posting.
  • Easy, automated subscribing and unsubscribing facilities for
    list members.
  • Anti spam filters to ensure that spamming can be minimized
    and easily blocked.
    … and many more.

Setting up a free e-mail list is now
ridiculously easy. Just point your browser at one of these sites for more details.
EGroups–www.egroups.com, ListBot–www.listbot.com, WebSite Post Office–www.websitepostoffice.com.

All these and other free list providers in return place a
discreet ad or two at the bottom of every message posted to the list.

Setting up a mailing list

To set up a mailing list on ListServ,
ListProc, or MajorDomo, just contact the system administrator, who will set up the list for you.
Setting up a Web-based list like eGroups or ListBot is a breeze–as easy as filling
out a form which asks for your name, your e-mail, and postal addresses. You then specify a
name for your list and a password for you to identify yourself as the list owner on later
visits. If the list name is mylist, a list <mylist@egroups.com>
will be created for you. You then fill in another form, which sets policies for your
list–things like:

  • [All/Only You/Members Only] can post to this list
  • [All/Members Only] can read list archives on the Net.
    …..and others

These policies are essential for your running a good list,
and the form usually has the default values displayed. These default values are generally
the best settings for a well-regulated mail list. Too tight a control on the list (say
specifying that all posts have to be routed through you) can be a major problem,
especially when the traffic on the list starts becoming something like twenty messages a
day. Too loose a hold on your list (setting “all can post to this list”) renders
your list a haven for spammers, who can then gleefully latch onto your list and flood it
with junk mail.

Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. Just what do you really
do to set up a mailing list?

Set a topic

This can be anything—a club newsletter, a daily set of
jokes, etc. One such list is QuizNet (www.angelfire.com/or/masthana/quiznet.html)a
large list which, reaches Indian quizzers around the world. Remember, the only criterion
is that sufficient people must be interested enough to join your list and actively
participate in it.

Get some members

This is not as easy as it sounds, because most people have
a rooted objection to wasting precious Internet time on something they feel doesn’t
interest them. So, ask your friends if they are interested in joining such a list.
Remember, eGroups and other similar providers do offer you the facility of adding a whole
lot of e-mail addresses to your list. However, netiquette (net + etiquette, by the way)
demands that you first ask a person before you subscribe him to a mailing list and start
bombarding him with unsolicited messages.

Plan some content

A mailing list will soon die a natural death if the list
topic is not something all members are genuinely interested in. Your list will survive if
and only if it’s participative, with members frequently posting to the list and
getting replies or feedback from the others on the list.

Lay down some basic ground rules

This is necessary to avoid clogging up each member’s
inbox (including yours) with a load of junk mail. (Refer "Miss Manners on the
Net" in this issue)
.

In conclusion, let me repeat: getting a mailing list of
your own is quite easy but demands considerable personal attention from you.

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