General Question

squirbel's avatar

Can someone explain mailing lists?

Asked by squirbel (3984 points ) March 13th, 2008 from iPhone

Ok, I’m savvy about most technical communication mediums on the net, like IRC, usenet, email (duh!), and so on. But the concept of mailing lists evades me. I’ve joined them many times, but I have no clue what order messages were posted, how to ask a question, who sees the question, etc.

Have you ever used mailing lists? The reason I need to learn is because there are the best and brightest using the lists and I want access to them (this is for my iPhone development).

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11 Answers

cwilbur's avatar

The basic premise is that everyone who is interested signs on to the list, and when people send to the list address, everyone on the list gets that email and can reply either to the list or to the poster. In addition, they are often archived, so that past list messages can be searched.

So, to answer your questions in order—

Messages have a timestamp on them, because all email messages have a timestamp. If your mailreader supports threading, it can display related messages together, ordered by when they arrived.

The best guide on how to ask smart questions I’ve ever seen is Eric Raymond’s “How to Ask Questions the Smart Way,” here: http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html—I can’t add anything to it, and it’s all worth reading.

And who sees the question? Everyone subscribed to the list. Many may delete it, but they all have the chance to see it.

squirbel's avatar

Thanks! Perhaps I confused myself by opting for “digests” instead of individual emails?

cwilbur's avatar

Digests just consolidate all the day’s emails into one – depending on the digest, you might see them in threaded order or you might see them in chronological order.

One huge thing to be aware of – if you reply to something from a digest, edit the subject line. Otherwise it will say “Mailing List Digest 3251” as the subject, and not the actual subject.

squirbel's avatar

If I type the subject exactly as the first person wrote it, will it get threaded in with the conversation? Is case sensitivity an issue or am I on the wrong track here?

cwilbur's avatar

It depends on the mailing list software, so I don’t know.

HeNkiSdaBro's avatar

While we are at the topic here, could somebody explain how newsletters work? I would like to use that option on a web site I’m building; you know the one, you enter your email address in the box and recieve updates through the site.

What do I need to make this happen on my site? How does that little box on the site work and how do I send emails to the ones listed? Unsubscribe?

cwilbur's avatar

You need a form that captures the email address, and does something with it to add it to a list of email addresses. Otherwise, it’s usually the same as a normal mailing list, except only one person can send email to it.—though there are people who manage their newsletters entirely by hand.

Generally, you’d want a CGI script to process the subscriptions, and a CGI script to process unsubscriptions. More detail than that is probably beyond the scope of Fluther; if what I’ve said isn’t enough to give you a nudge in the right direction, you probably need to hire a good web programmer or ask the folks who host your webpage.

HeNkiSdaBro's avatar

Will google around a bit, but thanks for the nudge!

AlbertMaruggi's avatar

Basically mailing lists are usually 30% wrong, then the other 60% don’t care another 7% might remember your name/message and if you’re lucky 3% respond. All that for design, copy, printing, and postage. Ouch. But if you hit people over the head enough times in a short time period you’ll surely either get your message out or piss them off,

How’s that answer your question?

squirbel's avatar

cwilbur took care of it, thanks for the snark though, good for a chuckle.

dcslistguy's avatar

Mailing Lists are like a fingerprint of our behavior—what we purchased, subscribed to, donated to, or are categorized by thru Lifestyle (like to play golf…my passion, Internet dating, Own a dog etc.) and Demographic (Age, Income, Gender, etc.) information.

Nothing, I’m mean nothing is 100% accurate. Deal with it. The beauty of mailing lists is that they can be extremely targetable and are a cost effective means to deliver a pre-defined message (buy, contribute, subscribe, check out my website, come to our store…) to a similarly pre-defined audience.

I respectfully disagree with one of the prior posted comments that mailing lists are 30% wrong. Email lists, yes, I can see that, but not a mailing list, unless of course, you pulled it out of a shoe box…lol.

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