Working with Mailing Lists

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 (, 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:

  • The list of Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists at

  • The List of Lists, at group -search.html

  • Yahoo!'s directory at

Subscribing to a Mailing List

To use any mailing list, you need to know two different email addresses:

  • The address of the person, or program, that manages the list. This address might be called the "management" or "subscription" address.

  • The list address, an email address to which you send all your contributions to the list, the comments or questions you want all others in the list to see.


Sorry, sorry Hate to break into an easy topic like mailing lists with a big fat Caution. But I really want to alert you to the one major mailing list mistake: Mixing up the list address with the management address, and vice versa.

If you accidentally send your list contributions to the management address, the others on the list won't see them. And if you send management commands to the list address, those commands will not be carried out. Worse, the message containing those commands might show up in the mailing list of everyone in the list, which won't win you any friends .

Never forget: Contributions to the discussion go to the list address, commands for managing your subscription go to that other address (subscription, management, whatever), which is usually the same one you used to subscribe.

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.


A syntax diagram shows what you must type to properly phrase a command to control a computer program, such as a listserv. In a syntax diagram, the exact words you must type are shown in normal type, while any parts of the command you must add are surrounded by brackets or shown in italics.

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:

  • The syntax diagram for subscribing

  • The part of the message where the command should be typed (either the Subject line or body)

  • The subscription address

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.)


Because many automated list management programs manage more than one list, the subscription command syntax often includes the name of the list, so the program knows which list you're subscribing to, for example:

 subscribe listname firstname lastname 

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.


Always, always, always read and save the Welcome message, if for no other reason than that it contains the instructions for unsubscribing ”quitting ”the mailing list if you choose to do so later.

The Welcome message contains lots of very valuable information, particularly:

  • A syntax diagram for phrasing the command to unsubscribe. If and when you decide you no longer want to receive messages from the list, you'll need to send this command to the subscription address.

  • The list address to which you must send all your contributions, and the management address (that is usually the same as the subscription address, but not always).

  • Syntax for other commands you can use to manage the way messages come to you. For example, many lists let you send a command to temporarily pause ”stop sending you messages ”if you go on vacation or want messages paused for any other reason.

  • Any other rules or policies all members of the list are required to observe. These typically include the basic rules of netiquette (covered later in this chapter).


Sometimes, the Welcome message includes instructions to send a reply to the Welcome, to confirm your subscription. In such cases, you're not officially subscribed until you send a reply as instructed.

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.


Some mailing lists are purely informational. They're designed not as a discussion forum, but to keep you abreast of news and developments in a particular company or other organization.

Usually, such lists don't have list addresses to which you can contribute. It's a one-way conversation; you just subscribe, and then read whatever shows up.

Mailing lists can send dozens of messages a day, which can clutter up your Inbox and make it hard to find other messages. If your email program supports a facility called filtering , you can set up a separate folder where all messages from the list are stored automatically as soon as they're received, leaving your Inbox for other mail.

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.


When using Reply to send a message to a mailing list, always double-check the To: line in your message to be sure that it shows the correct list address. Many lists are configured so that when you click Reply, the message is addressed not to the list, but to the individual sender of the message. In such cases, you'll want to type the actual list address in the To: line (or choose that address from your Inbox).

Sams Teach Yourself Internet and Web Basics All in One
Sams Teach Yourself Internet and Web Basics All in One
ISBN: 0672325330
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 350
Authors: Ned Snell © 2008-2017.
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