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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 13 - Email List Responsibilty

When you subscribe to an e-mail list, you have certain obligations. Primary among them is you should keep the information on how to get on and off the list.

An e-mail list, or "list server," takes messages from one person and sends them to a group of people. Some lists are "moderated," meaning there's someone checking the contents at least to some extent. Some moderators check every message before it gets sent out, some just watch...and some lists operate completely automatically.

All the lists operate somewhat automatically, though: To get on the list, you send a certain message to a certain address. To get off the list, you also send a certain message to a certain address.

All of this is explained to you in a message you receive right after you subscribe. (If you don't receive the message, then you don't receive the group's messages, because both are sent to the same address.) You should save this message somewhere for later reference.

On some lists, information on how to unsubscribe is included at the end of every message transmitted.

Still, not a week goes by that someone on one of the lists to which I subscribe sends a message requesting, pleading or demanding to be taken off the list.

Unfortunately, it seems to happen more on some lists than others. This may be a result of how much attention the moderator is paying.

Recently, someone on one of the stamp collecting lists decided he no longer wanted to subscribe. I don't know how many polite messages he sent to the entire list asking out, but finally he sent one whose heading was something like "TAKE ME OFF YOUR LIST OR I'LL CALL MY LAWYER" — all in caps, which is considered shouting online. He not only sent it to the list address, he sent it to everyone who had posted to the list in the recent past, with a copy back to the list itself.

At one point, I received 41 messages in five minutes from him.

Now, this is an unmoderated list whose owner is proud that "anything goes," and that meant that within minutes, anything went: His "screaming" message was answered by a flood of profanity and nasty comments, including the suggestion that he be sent four messages for every one he sent the list.

It was the Three Stooges at the OK Bakery of e-mail.

All he had to do was go to the Web site specified for instructions on how to unsubscribe. As I mentioned above, on other lists, you send e-mail requesting that you be dropped from the list. In no case of which I'm aware do you send a message to the entire list to be removed from it.

And, in my opinion, if you subscribe to one of these lists, it's your responsibility to get off it quietly.

If you discontinue an e-mail address that's subscribed to list servers, I also think it's your responsibility to unsubscribe that address before ending it. Some list-servers will bounce messages sent to an address that doesn't work back to the ENTIRE LIST.

However, accidents do happen, and we all lose instructions or terminate an e-mail account suddenly. Then what?

I recently wanted to switch accounts, but the address subscribed to the lists wasn't able to send messages under that address. (It was an "alias," which I've described in previous columns: An address that automatically forwards to another.) Most of the lists that handle subscription requests automatically must be messaged from the account that's subscribed.

In most cases, I was able to send a private message to the list "owner" (its manager) describing the problem, and he or she was able to help me. In one case, I didn't know whom to contact, so I selected one regular participant and sent him a private message asking if he could steer me in the right direction. He did. No muss, no fuss.

By far, the most active stamp collecting e-mail list I know is the one based at www.philatelic.com, but it's mostly buy-and-sell. Occasionally, there's some real discussion, but it's becoming rarer since some of the "flamers" have disappeared. There's also the U.S. Stamps List, and others for particular specialties.

They're also available for other subjects: I myself subscribe to one for community musical groups (bands and orchestras). The easiest way to find them is to ask others with the same interests. They may also be offered on affiliated or related Web sites or in messages posted to newsgroups or message boards.

As with any message-exchange system online, I recommend that you read the rules and some of the postings before you make your first. Do you really want to be known as the clown who breathlessly told everyone about Britain's heat-sensitive weather stamps — four weeks after they were issued?

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