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  Quick Note on List Servers

E-mail discussion groups are managed by programs called "list servers". Generally a message is sent to the e-mail address for the list server that manages the list. The message you include in the body of the e-mail should contain the instructions to the list server, and nothing else. The exact format may be a little different from one list server to another, so pay attention. Generally it looks like this:
list name     command     sender    
That tells the machine what list to make the change to (list name) what kind of change (command) and for whom (sender). Usually it will use your return address to identify you not "sender". Instead "sender" is your real name, how people will identify you when you join the list.

A list server is an automated program. It does not truly read your message, so give it what it needs and only what it needs. It needs to know what you want (SUBSCRIBE, UNSUBSCRIBE or whatever) and to what list (DOGTALES) and who is subscribing. If you add extra words you will confuse the machine and make its head hurt, so please send notes separately either to the list itself, or the listowner, but not to the list server. Messages sent to the list server are not read by humans (or anything else that cares). A list server coordinates many many lists so don't forget to tell the poor thing WHICH list you mean. Not to beat you up on the topic but, if you send a message like "please take me off your list" it will not work and you will stay on the list. Send the right commands and it works just fine.

Some lists are very busy. To be able to both enjoy the lists and still find personal mail many people subscribe to one of the free e-mail services for their e-mail discussion lists.

Usenet? Newsgroup? Mailing List?

A listserver is not Usenet. Usenet is an entirely different system than the listserver. Although some people receive their usenet postings through their e-mail, most people do not.

Usenet is a set of "newsgroups" on a wide variety of topics - or given the anarchy of the system, no particular topic. You should not presume that the way you experience a newsgroup is the same for everyone, or even for most people. Unlike e-mail which is sent directly to your mail box the news resides on the news server of your service provider. News is also copied from one machine to another. It is entirely possible to see a response before you see the original question.

When you want to read the news you make a connection to the news server. In some cases the posts will be sent to your machine and you read them from your local machine. If that is how your newsreader works every post will take up space on your machine until you delete it. (One reason why people get testy about really big files appearing on newsgroups) In other cases you read the news directly off the news server.

People post messages to these newsgroups using computers with the appropriate software. The messages are then distributed by a newserver to a wide variety of networks. Some newsgroups are "moderated". In moderated newsgroups articles are sent to a moderator. If the article is approved the moderator forwards it to the newsgroup.

The process for distribution is different from that of a mailing list. In a mail list individuals subscribe, sending their requests to the machine that sends out the messages. In usenet the service provider subscribes to an entire block of groups. The service provider makes the newsgroups available to their customers. The customer can look at any newsgroup at any time. There is no need for a "subscription" although most newsreading software permits the user to keep a list of newsgroups they want to read regularly - and that list is loaded automatically. Often the software calls that "subscribing" to the newsgroup. It is that terminology which seems a big source of the confusion. In newsgroups it is important to remember that only you, the user, can subscribe and unsubscribe to the group. The only machine you instruct is your own. How you subscribe and unsubscribe depends entirely upon what software you are using and where you are getting your news from. It will do you no good at all to send messages to the group demanding to be "unsubscribed" because no one can do anything about it. So pay attention to how you got involved so you will know how to get uninvolved.

Here are some places where you can get more detailed information. Keep in mind that "Listserver" is just one program, there are other similar programs that use different commands.

InfoWorm Tutorial: ListServ - Introduction
Listserve Commands

More information

Kids and Dogs Page

Behavior Page

E-mail discussion list Page



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