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About Mailing Lists

Internet mailing (discussion) lists are a great tool to learn about a particular subject. But the experience can be marred, or harsh if you don't know what to expect. Hopefully this article will shed some light on the subject, and make participation easier.

The definition of a mailing list is where users subscribe to receive email from a particular source. The mailing list host sends a message to a server, and everyone subscribed gets a copy of the message. Another form of mailing list is called a discussion list. This is when everyone on the list can send a message to the server, and everyone on the list gets the message.

What this means to you in a discussion list, is that all of a sudden you start get everyone's email. This can be overwhelming on an active list. It's often difficult to keep track of who is talking to who, and what they are talking about. It can seem like all of a sudden you are eavesdropping on strangers, and getting their personal mail mixed in with your own mail. There are a couple ways to make this easier to deal with. 

First, some discussion lists offer what's called a 'digest' version of the list. All of the messages are saved until they reach a certain size. The messages are combined into one large email, and then distributed to everyone on the list. This keeps the number of messages down, but you also have to 'wait' until the digest reaches the size limit before you get it. If you are waiting for an answer to a question, this delays the information getting to you.

Second, with a little work, you can set up your email program to help you manage your incoming mail. Most modern email clients will let you filter and categorize your mail. You can create a special directory in your mailbox, and then set up a rule or filter that moves certain messages into those folders as soon as it's downloaded. So all the messages go into a folder called 'OldsGmail', and your personal mail is right where you are used to seeing it in your inbox. This helps make the email easier to manage, as well as easier to follow. You won't have a message from Mom mixed in with messages from 'Bob' and  'Fred' discussing gas mileage.

It's also very important to learn how to use the list. If you managed to subscribe to the list, you are expected to be able to unsubscribe from it. Make sure you know how to do this before joining. Not much will generate more nasty emails than sending a message to the list asking how to get off of it. Feel free to contact the list administrator if you need help.

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