Ins and Outs of a Listserv

Examples to use a listserv:

Inner-organizational communication

    • Discussions among Board Members
    • Volunteer discussions & information
    • Announcements & News

Lists for the public

    Announcements & Newsletters

  • Special Interest Groups discussion for members & donors
  • Support Groups online meeting place
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Peer Counseling
  • Training & Event Follow up discussions

What is a Listserv?

A listserv is a mailing list. A mailing list is a group of email addresses that can all be reached by sending a single message to one address: the list’s address. Messages sent to the list are distributed to each of the list’s subscribers. By sending messages to the list, subscribers can have ongoing discussion with each other and need only keep track of a single e-mail address.

Listserv Management Software As lists get larger, maintaining a subscriber list by hand becomes unwieldy. Listserv management software automates the process of managing subscription. In addition to the list address, and List management Software has a special email address for users request to subscribe and unsubscribe.

Additional features:

* Automatically process subscription requests or forward them to the list maintainer for approval.

* Support moderated lists: When a message is sent to a moderated list the List Management Software forwards it to the list moderator for approval before sending it to the subscribers

* Distributes messages as digests. A digest is a single mail message that contains several complete messages from the list, often with a summary or description of the contents. Some users prefer receiving a single digest on a regular basis to receiving each list message individually.

* Archive of list messages, digests or other files and making them available to subscribers who requests them.

* Provide some help in handling bounced messages. List management software can often be configures to remove subscribers to whim they can no longer deliver mail

* Prevent mail loops, which can occur when a subscriber is using software to automatically respond to his mail. When the automatic response is sent back to the mailing list, distributed again, respond to again, and so on, a mail loop is created. List management software takes precautions to prevent this.

Many of these features are pioneered by LISTSERV, the granddaddy of Mailing List Management Software and the name is now used as a synonym for Mailing List Management Software in general. Other brands are Majordomo, Mailman, and Listproc & SmartList, to name a few.

Designing a Listserv mailing list

* Who is running the list
The list-owner is responsible for the operation of the list itself. S/he has the power to approve subscriptions and is usually the right person to go to when problems with a list arise. If the list is moderated, a list moderator is responsible for the content of the list’s messages. The moderator approves and/or edits messages sent to the list before they are mailed to the subscribers. If Listserv Mailing List Software is being used to manage the list, the server administrator is responsible for the operation of the mailing list server software as a whole. On some systems the server administrator also sets up mail aliases for the lists, the email addresses to which the Mailings list management software responds.

* Naming the list
A mailing list name should follow some guidelines: Needs to be e-mail standard compliant, should reflect the list’s topic, be reasonably short, and unique i.e.:,

* List Policy or Charter
The charter can announce the list and keep new subscribers informed of the list’s purpose and guidelines. The charter should explain the list’s purpose, define appropriate and inappropriate postings, and tell users whom to contact for help with the list.

List’s purpose Why does the list exist and who does it serve?

Posting guidelines The charter should also explicitly define what kinds of posts are appropriated and inappropriate for the mailing list. This section of the charter is particularly important reading for new list subscribers. These guidelines are sometimes referred to as the list’s acceptable use policy. Although the definitions may vary from list to list, some postings are almost universally considered inappropriate: Messager to the list as request to subscribe or unsubscribe from the list instead of using the outlined procedures. Messages that do not address the purpose of the mailing list or that are better served by another mailing list Private messages to other subscribers Personal attacks on subscribers Excessive or unnecessary profanity Commercial posting and advertisements on noncommercial mailing lists

Format of messages Are HTML messages are allowed or only plain texts? Are attachments allowed?

Some list where the messages are mainly questions for the list subscribers a common rule could be that the replies are sent to the person who posted the question, not to the list. The querist collects the replies, hopefully solves his problem and then mails a summary of replies back to the list. This reduces the number of messages sent to the list. Another strategy used by lists that answer subscriber questions is to compile a frequently asked questions list or FAQ. The FAQ contains answers to common questions and documents the collective wisdom of the mailing list. When a list has an FAQ, asking questions already answered by the FAQ is then usually inappropriate.

Where to get help Finally the list charter should provide the email address the subscriber needs to subscribe, send messages, get help from the mailing list management software and get help from a human being.

* Other List Decisions
After coming up with the list charter, you still face many questions about the list’s operation. The answers to these questions should reflect the list’s purpose and intended audience. Here are lists of decisions you need to make: Is the list open, allowing anyone to subscribe, or closed, requiring the approval of the list maintainer in order to subscribe. If the list is closed, who is allowed to subscribe to the list?

Is the list public, allowing non-subscribers to post messages to the list, or private, with posting restricted to subscribers? A public list might be appropriate if you want to allow the list to receive informational announcements from non-subscribers, or if subscribers frequently post to the list from different email addresses.

Is the list moderated? If so, who moderates the list? Is there more that one moderator?

Is the list distributes as individual messages, as a regular digest of messages or both?

Are the list’s messages or digests archived and available for subscribers to retrieve? Are other files available in the archive?

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