Jim Frankenfield - Papers

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E-Mail Lists on PEAK

Jim Frankenfield

Preface: This article was originally written in 1996 or so for "Connections", which was a publication of PEAK. I can't find it in the archives so I'm not sure if it was ever printed or if it was for an issue which never came out. At the time I was "Info Manager" for PEAK and took care of mailing list issues. PEAK continued to offer majordomo lists for free to account holders for a long time. I have also offered mail lists through I-World.net. Today they are somewhat obsolete. For the avalanche center which I maintain I use a combination of Mad Mimi for free and an in-house capability using mailman.

An e-mail list provides a means for a message from one person to be automatically sent to many. This can facilitate either the distribution of information or discussions. A list can be set up, or "configured", differently for different distribution and/or discussion needs. PEAK customers can own mailing lists for free. To have a list set up contact info-manager@peak.org

There are different list programs which take an incoming message to a list address and remail it to a list of subscribed addresses. The one used by PEAK is called majordomo. (Another widely used one is "listserve".) One of the advantages of majordomo is that the list owner can be given full control of the list and how it functions, so they do not need to request help everytime a change is desired. Everything is done by e-mail, so a list can be maintained by an owner with nothing more than e-mail access to the internet.

When a new list is created the owner automatically receives a "new list owner" mailing. This message contains a password which allows the configuration to be altered and instructions on how to configure and manage the list.

The owner can request the configuration file by email, using the list password. They can then edit this configuration and send it back, again using the list password. The configuration file is very well documented with comments explaining the various parameters which can be set. The most important fields are moderated/unmoderated and open/closed/auto.

If a list is moderated then all email sent to the list goes to the list owner for approval first. The owner can approve the message for distribution to the list (as explained in the new list owners file) or they can return it to the sender if they feel it should not be sent to everyone. If a list is unmoderated then all mail sent to the list address is automatically mailed to everyone right away.

An open list is one which anyone can subscribe their own address to. The list owner will get an acknowledgment that the person has been added to the list, but will not have to do anything. If a person attempts to subscribe an address other than their own the list owner will get a message that approval is required. The owner can then approve this address for addition to the list. If a list is configured as "auto" then no approval is ever required - anyone can subscribe any address. If a list is closed then every subscribe request must be approved by the list owner.

[Note as of May 1999 - A list can be set up as restricted so that mail from specified addresses is unmoderated and all other addresses are moderated. It is also possible to set up subscriptions so that the subscriber must confirm their subscription by e-mail. This prevents people from subscribing other people who do not wish to be subscribed.]

There are two other things which will help publicize the list. There is a short description field in the configuration file which is important for two reasons. This description is returned whenever a person sends majordomo a "lists" command, which returns a list of all lists along with their short description. This short description also appears on the PEAK web pages so that people can see what your list is all about. (If it is a private or special purpose list PEAK can have it excluded from the web pages if you ask.) The second important thing is to create a file, and send it in by email as instructed in the new list owners message, which contains an introduction to the list. This file will automatically be mailed to each new subscriber, and also to anyone requesting info about your list from majordomo. This more detailed information is also available on the web pages.

These list ownership tasks are very simple to carry out, and PEAK will provide assistance if you have trouble with any of it. Requests for assistance should be mailed to info-manager@peak.org

If you want to learn more about mailing lists and majordomo visit the mail list pages of I-World at http://www.i-world.net/info/lists/ There you will find an html version of the majordomo help file, a copy of the new list owner mailing, and links to information on managing lists from both a people point of view and a technical point of view. There is also a link to a comprehensive list of majordomo lists everywhere.

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