Mailing lists are extraordinarily useful for anyone who regularly sends messages to groups of more than about five or ten recipients. You could use a mailing list for a committee, the users of your service, funders, donors and many other groups. [First published December 2004.]
This Panui goes out each month to more than 500 subscribers, by means of a mailing list. How that works is that I send one message to a secret email address. That address is monitored by mailing list software (in our case, Mailman) which checks to see who has sent the message. If it’s come from an authorised sender Mailman then delivers the message to all those who have subscribed.
Mailing lists are extraordinarily useful for anyone who regularly sends messages to groups of more than about five or ten recipients. You could use a mailing list for a committee, the users of your service, funders, donors and many other groups.
One way to get a free (advertising supported) mailing list is to set one up with Yahoo or a similar service.
Visit that site and click on the link to Start a New Group. Then follow through the pages, making your choices for your group. The process is very easy and after a few clicks you’re up and running.
Three types of list
There are three types of mailing list:
- open discussion
- closed discussion
An announcement list is one way only. I can send messages to subscribers but no-one else can. This pretty much guarantees that you won’t receive oddball messages about lost cats or the latest “joke” doing the rounds, or for that matter, ads for personal products or schemes to make lots of money using foreign bank accounts. An announcement list is very appropriate for newsletters or updates on activity.
An open discussion list is a recipe for trouble. Anyone can send messages which are then distributed to all subscribers. It’ll take about 5 seconds for unwanted spam messages to appear and only moments for the list to drown in excrement.
A closed discussion list allows all subscribers to send messages. This is an excellent way to allow a committee to discuss matters between physical meetings (or instead of physical meetings) or for members of a group to talk about any issue.
If you set up a general discussion list start off by not allowing attachments, not allowing file uploads to the Yahoo website and by moderating all members. If you leave it all wide open to start with you’ll find spammers will invade within minutes. By moderating all members you can prevent that. As new members prove themselves reliable and trustworthy you can remove the moderation from their posts.
Even if you feel quite sure in your own mind that Miraz or Bill or Ana or Rajit or … or … would love to be on your mailing list don’t subscribe people without their permission. Invite people to subscribe and leave it up to them.
There might be a hundred reasons why people may not want to be on your mailing list and if they don’t want to be on the list then don’t add their name. If you send mailing list posts to people who don’t want them then you are simply spamming, however worthy the cause.
And to be quite sure your list is going only to those who want it use the double opt-in method. All good mailing lists will offer this option. Double opt-in doesn’t just add those whose names have appeared as wanting to subscribe; it sends them a message asking them to confirm their intention to subscribe. If people have opted-in by this method then you can be really certain they weren’t added as a result of a virus or by a well-meaning friend.
Update February 2008: New Zealand law now includes anti-spam provisions that lend the above guidelines even more weight. When I first wrote this article I was merely representing good practice.
Written for and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, December 2004.