Mailing Lists

Zen and the Art of the Internet

Go to the Table of Contents. Visit Gifcom

Mailing Lists
People that share common interests are inclined to discuss their
hobby or interest at every available opportunity.  One modern way to
aid in this exchange of information is by using a mailing
list---usually an email address that redistributes all mail sent to
it back out to a list of addresses.  For example, the Sun Managers
mailing list (of interest to people that administer computers
manufactured by Sun) has the address  Any
mail sent to that address will ``explode'' out to each person named
in a file maintained on a computer at Northwestern University.
Administrative tasks (sometimes referred to as administrivia) are
often handled through other addresses, typically with the suffix
-request.  To continue the above, a request to be added to or deleted
from the Sun Managers list should be sent to
When in doubt, try to write to the -request version of a mailing list
address first; the other people on the list aren't interested in your
desire to be added or deleted, and can certainly do nothing to
expedite your request.  Often if the administrator of a list is busy
(remember, this is all peripheral to real jobs and real work), many
users find it necessary to ask again and again, often with harsher
and harsher language, to be removed from a list.  This does nothing
more than waste traffic and bother everyone else receiving the
messages.  If, after a reasonable amount of time, you still haven't
succeeded to be removed from a mailing list, write to the postmaster
at that site and see if they can help.
Exercise caution when replying to a message sent by a mailing list.  If
you wish to respond to the author only, make sure that the only
address you're replying to is that person, and not the entire list.
Often messages of the sort ``Yes, I agree with you completely!'' will
appear on a list, boring the daylights out of the other readers.  Likewise,
if you explicitly do want to send the message to the whole list,
you'll save yourself some time by checking to make sure it's indeed
headed to the whole list and not a single person.
A list of the currently available mailing lists is available in at
least two places; the first is in a file on called
interest-groups under the netinfo/ directory. It's updated fairly
regularly, but is large (presently around 700K), so only get it every
once in a while.  The other list is maintained by Gene Spafford
(, and is posted in parts to the newsgroup
news.lists semi-regularly. (Usenet News, for info on how to read that
and other newsgroups.)