The first step in using mailing lists is finding one that interests you. When visiting Web pages devoted to your favorite topics, you'll often see mention of related mailing lists, along with the email address required for signing up: the subscription address .
You can also visit any of several Web pages that help folks find mailing lists related to a particular subject. A good first stop is Liszt (www.Liszt.com), a search tool dedicated to helping you find and use mailing lists (see Figure 7.9).
Figure 7.9. Use Liszt to browse for a mailing list or search for one.
You can browse through Liszt's categories to find a list, or use its search engine to find lists related to a search term you enter.
Besides Liszt, other good places to find mailing lists (and instructions for using them) include the following:
Subscribing to a Mailing List
To use any mailing list, you need to know two different email addresses:
Composing the Subscription Message
When you're ready to sign up, you send to the subscription address a simple email message that contains the command required to subscribe. Unfortunately, the command differs from list to list.
Most references to mailing lists ”including those you'll turn up in the directories described earlier ”include subscription instructions. Those instructions typically tell you the command you must send, and also where in the email message ”the Subject line or the message body ”you must type that command.
Command instructions use a syntax diagram to tell you what to type. Even manually managed lists generally require a particular command syntax, although they're more forgiving of command mistakes than automated lists are.
For example, to phrase the command indicated by the syntax diagram
subscribe lastname firstname
subscribe [lastname] [firstname]
I would type
subscribe Snell Ned
Notice that I replace any portions in italics or brackets with the information indicated, and that I do not type the brackets.
To subscribe to a list, read the instructions to find the following:
Compose an email message containing only the command indicated by the instructions, and send it to the subscription address. Figure 7.10 shows a typical subscription message in which the command appears in the message body.
Figure 7.10. You subscribe to a mailing list by typing a subscription command in an email message and sending it to the list's subscription address.
When composing your message, don't type anything the instructions don't ask for. If the instructions tell you to put the command in the message's Subject line, leave the message body blank. If the command belongs in the message body, leave the Subject line blank, and put nothing but the command in the body. (Many lists don't care whether you follow this rule, but because you can't predict which lists do care, it's best to follow the rule always.)
Reading the Welcome Message
Shortly after you send your subscription message, you'll receive a reply message from the list. An automated list might reply within a minute or two. After sending a subscription message to an automated list, stay online, wait a few minutes, and then check your email ”the reply will probably be there. (Some automated and manual lists might take a day or more to reply, so be patient, and don't resend the subscription message if you don't receive an immediate reply.)
If you did not phrase your subscription message properly, the reply reiterates the subscription command syntax and usually includes instructions. You must compose and send another subscription message, carefully following any instructions in the reply.
The Welcome message contains lots of very valuable information, particularly:
Always read and save the Welcome message, so you can refer to it when you need to know a command or policy or want to unsubscribe. If your email program lets you organize your messages in folders, create a special folder for Welcome messages (or a folder for each list you subscribe to), so they're easy to find and you don't accidentally delete them when cleaning up your Inbox. You might also want to print the Welcome message and file it.
Shortly after you receive the Welcome message (and reply to it, if so instructed), you'll begin receiving email messages from the list. How many and how often depends on the list, but it's not unusual to receive a dozen or more messages per day. Read anything that looks interesting; ignore (or delete) the rest.
Contributing to a Mailing List
You are not required to contribute to a mailing list. Many people simply read and enjoy the messages they receive, and never add their own comments or questions.
If you do feel inspired to contribute, just send a message to the list address. If the contribution is related to a previous message, use your email program's Reply feature to reply to the group. In the reply, include a quote of any portion of the original message that's relevant to your comment or question.