What is a mailing list?

There are several ways of talking to people on the internet:

Fine if you know the address of the person you are writing to and have an idea of what to discuss with them.

Nowadays almost all email programs have their default setting to send email as html, with a plain text version as well. But in the days when the internet was young and email was plain-text only there were standards agreed for how emails programs should work. See

These stanards were abused when html was introduced and nowadays where seem to be very few 'standards' applied to the way email is used. Email is much the poorer for it.

Spam email.
Spammers collect email addresses from anywhere they can get them and add them to a list. They then email everyone on the list, regardless of whether the person is interested or not. It is a 'mailing list' - but not the same as a properly run mailing list.
News Groups.
Similar to email, but public access. Anyone can 'subscribe' to a news group and download all the messages that are 'emailed' to it. Anyone can email to it. Nowadays not all Internet Service Providers provide free access to News servers but there are plenty of cheap servers you can access. For instance, GigaNews

There are a over 100,000 news groups you can join. But many (most) of them are bad: the public access means that many are full of little other than spam. There are however plenty of good, active, interesting groups amongst the rubbish!

Message boards.
These evolved from News Groups and mailing lists when Microsoft changed the old plain-text netiquette standards that used to govern email. These standards meant that properly set up mailing lists worked well, Most good news groups still use these standards. With a message board, you don't have to configure your email program to work 'properly' as you post to a www site using a form in your browser.
Mailing lists.
Just as spammers send emails to a list of email addresses, so does a properly-run mailing list. The difference is that a proper mailing list has a software program operating it and, instead of harvesting addresses willy-nilly, you, the user, subscribe yourself to the list of email addresses (and of course, unsubscribe yourself). Such a list is usually set up so that only persons who have subscribed can post to the list. If you have used message boards, this subscribing and posting is very similar: the difference is that for a mailing list you use a good email program rather than a ww browser.

Be warned that Microsoft email programs are not set up to work well with a mailing list, and as most email programs have (for commercial reasons) had to ape Microsoft's 'modifications' to email netiquette, most email programs require you to alter their default settings. Probably easier with a good program such as Thunderbird.

Mailing lists, used properly according to the original netiquette standard, work well and can be good to use. They are an invaluable 'closed' group of persons with similar interests.

See my own explantion of how a good email program should operate in this context.

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Page's Author and © 2009-2012 Richard Torrens
Document URI: www.torrens.org /Lists/what.html
Page first published Friday the 4th of December, 2009
Last modified: Mon, 27 Nov 2017 10:35:08 GMT