Next time you jump online to research just about
anything, fire up your lowly email program instead
of your World Wide Web browser.
It's not as flashy, but anybody with an email account has
unprecedented access to breaking news, original story ideas and vast archives of
The secret is learning how to exploit the Internet's massive
network of mailing lists.
For the uninitiated, there are roughly 40,000 mailing lists on
specialized topics from environmental law to presidential politics. Each list
has a set of subscribers, usually between 10 and 2,000 people, with varying
levels of expertise and interest in the list topic. The character and tone of
each list varies widely, but typically, one subscriber sends a message and it
goes to the entire list for everyone to read.
The following guide explains where to find the best lists and
how to use them effectively in your day-to-day work.
After learning how to find appropriate lists (by reading the
instructions on your left) you need to master a few simple concepts to use them
No matter how you located a list, you should have the list name
(usually a series of letters than may or may not hint at the list content), a
brief description and one of two email addresses.
Remember that every mailing list has TWO addresses, whether it's
a majordomo, listproc or listserv. Don't let this confuse you. Sending mail to
one address delivers your message to the entire list of subscribers. Sending
mail to the other delivers mail to a computer that lets you manipulate the list
functions according to your needs.
Anytime you send mail to an address that looks like this:
host name or
majordomo@ host name
listproc@ host name
you are contacting a computer that handles simple administrative
tasks like subscribing new members, auto-forwarding help files and updating
When you send mail to an address that looks something like this:
host name or
adv-html@ host name or
ada-l@ host name
you are sending a message to the entire list of subscribers. The
most common mailing list mistake occurs when newcomers attempt to subscribe and
unsubscribe using the list address rather than the administrative address. Don't
Now that you know the difference you can start sending commands
to manipulate a list. Unfortunately, each of the three most popular mailing list
formats have slightly different commands and rules. But no matter what type of
mailing list you want to subscribe to, you can always
send this simple command:
to any administrative email address. (Those addressed to
listserv, majordomo, listproc etc.) Sending the "help" command will trigger an
administrative computer to auto-forward a message that explains the appropriate
commands for whatever system you happen to be using.
Putting the lists to work
Before you subscribe to any list, send away for the information
file that describes the main focus, list protocol and other helpful information.
To do so on a listserv list, send the following command:
to the appropriate administrative address. In a few minutes, you
should get an informational message about the mailing list. that helps gauge
whether or not you want to subscribe.
If you choose to subscribe, send the command:
to the same administrative address. In most cases, you'll
receive an automated response welcoming you to the list. Save this file; it
tells you how to leave the list (which you'll want to do some day) and it's a
helpful way to remember which lists you belong to at any given time.
This message often includes information on some of the more
advanced commands that can be used to manipulate a list. Take advantage of these
commands to get the maximum benefit from your subscriptions.
Many listservs are archived and can be easily searched for past
When I needed to find out the average salary for writing HTML, I
searched the archives of a mailing list devoted to advanced html coding for any
past discussion on "pay" and quickly found that people were making $5 to $100 an
hour creating Web pages.
With the right commands, you can also get many lists in digest
or index form, which means you get all the traffic from a given list each day
(or week) in one large message. This saves time and makes monitoring numerous
lists at one time more manageable.
Many lists also respond to the "review" command, which forwards
a list of all subscribers and their email addresses. This can be a helpful way
to locate sources and lets you know how many people subscribe to a given list.
To get more information on these and other commands, read the
Listserv Reference Card available at email@example.com
by sending the info refcard command.
Mailing lists are by no means perfect and oftentimes list
traffic is more inane and annoying than helpful and productive.
You also need to be extremely wary of any information you pull
off of mailing lists; just because someone subscribes to a list about business
ethics doesn't mean they're an expert in the subject.
Yet the reverse can be true also, and when you connect with the
right list the payoffs are immeasurable. Mailing lists may not be the ultimate
reporting tool, but they can give
any writer a powerful new weapon in their online arsenals.