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I'm an e-mail junkie; I admit it. I live, breathe, eat, and sleep e-mail. No twelve-step programs for me. My e-mail program runneth over with the messages I receive, and the majority of them come from e-mail lists.

E-mail lists, for those of you who don't know, are basically e-mail addresses which send every e-mail that they receive to a list of e-mails, called subscribers. Usually, only the subscribers to that lists post to that list, and the list is dedicated to one topic, maybe radio controled cars, maybe programming languages, maybe even the history of a race to knitting. If you have ever used USENET, e-mail lists are somewhat the same, except that they lack the hierarchy that USENET has.

E-mail lists provide the hands on help, conversation, and even good debate that make the Internet so useful, when they're used well. When they're bad, they degenerate into a list of flames, rumors, and out and out bad behavior. Why? Often many factors contribute to this, including bad management, improper netiquette, and simply not keeping on track.

I've personally compiled my own list of dos and don'ts when subscribing to a list. Keep in mind that some of these are my opinion, while others are common practice on the web.

E-mail list readers

  1. Remember to subscribe, unsubscribe, and other things to the listserver. Never subscribe or unsubscribe directly to the group. First off, groups are for discussion; they can't do anything about your request. Secondly, it makes you look like an idiot, period.
  2. Wait a good amount of time before posting to the list, and read the FAQ, if the list has one. FAQ stands for frequently asked questions, and was ported over from usenet usage. Hopefully, it should have all of the questions that have been asked ad nauseum, and the ones you shouldn't ask unless the FAQ is so unclear that you have to. Also, it's good practice to wait a week or two and follow the discussion before you jump in.
  3. General e-mails you shouldn't do (unless you're asked to)
  4. Replies: Replies are often the sticky area of e-mail lists. First off, replies shouldn't be "here,here", or "I agree with everything the author said above". You're wasting bandspace and showing that you have little to say. Secondly, get to the point. Including all of a message, or worse, all of a digest, just to make a simple two line comment is a waste. Your replies should be brief, concise, and to the point. Also, include the portion of the message that you are replying to in your message, so you don't lose people with your reply. Misquoting somebody is also very impolite.

Netiquette guides for e-mail list administrators

  1. Be actively involved in your list. While this may not mean that you spend every active minute with it, at least give a modicum of your time to the list. One of the biggest annoyances is having a poster flame the group for weeks or months without the administrator booting him.
  2. Don't assume that you are god just because you own the list. This goes especially for anybody from coollist, makelist, or other free e-mail list hosters. We do not need blasting reminders that you are the creator of the list and you can yank anybody if you so desire. Doing so may have more people unsubscribing from your list than are subscribing to it.
  3. Stop flames before they begin. While sometimes impossible, if you see a trend of a person flaming, warn the person off the list (don't try to publically shame this person into submission; see God warning above). If the person persists, then yank them. This might not help if the person has multiple e-mails, but if they do that, then you can warn the person's ISP. Nobody wants their Internet privileges yanked, and if the person is a minor, they especially will not want their parents to know why the Internet got yanked. The alternative, having your e-mail list become a battlefield for a "flame war" is a lot worse, as the only way to deflame that is to moderate your list and go through each and every e-mail.
  4. Encourage debate and discussion. If a list falls dead for a while, a good way to perk it up is to ask for introductions and maybe the answer to a few questions. Make the questions off-beat, so as to encourage a person to give answers that will spawn more postings. That's all I have, but there are definitely other places on the Net to check up on netiquette. By the way, http://www.albion.com/netiquette/index.html is a good place to learn more about netiquette.
    John Meyer
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