LISTSERVS:
and Other Ways to Get Info through E-mail

Vicky Vickers

Note: as this article was originally written for a Macintosh newsletter, most of the listservs discussed are related to the Macintosh operating system.

Listservs are becoming very popular and are proliferating all over the Internet. If you go to any search engine (ie AltaVista, Infoseek Guide, Webtaxi, etc.) and search for "listservs" you will find 30,000 or more entries. A lot of these are lists of listservs available for specialized interests such as medicine, business, hobbies, professional, etc. I belong to six listservs, three with the Victoria Macintosh Users Group (VMUG) and three with the Web Enthusiasts Association of Victoria (WEAV). My employer belongs to about the same number, both for professional purposes and for his national unity volunteer activities. We both average about half an hour per day reading and answering the messages generated by our listservs.

I find listservs to be an excellent way of receiving help with computer and website design related problems. I have had a few occasions when I have had a problem which I needed to resolve in hurry and sent out a question on the appropriate listserv. Half an hour later I checked my e-mail and found that the answer, or answers, had been supplied by one or more persons. Now that's almost instant help! And I didn't have to intrude into someone's busy day with a phone call. The person, or persons, answering my query had a choice as to whether or not to take the time to provide an answer.

What is a listserv?
A listserv is a list of e-mail addresses which is kept at a central location. Sending an e-mail message to the listserv automatically sends the message to everyone on the listserv, usually including the sender as well. Using a listserv, people with similar interests can maintain an ongoing exchange of views, opinions and information. Listservs may either be open, that is available to anyone who is interested, or closed and only available to specific persons. Some listservs are moderated, ie. all messages sent to the listserv are read by a moderator who decides whether a message should be passed on to the rest of the members of the listserv or not.

Many busy listservs have a digest version, ie. all messages to the listserv are saved for a certain period, usually 24 hours, and then sent out all together as one long message. The main problem with the digest is if you need instant advice on a problem, you will not get it. It will most likely be the next day before you get your copy of the digest with the answers to your question.

Does VMUG have a listserv?
VMUG (Victoria Macintosh Users Group) has three listservs, the busiest of which is the VMUG members listserv. This closed (VMUG members only) listserv is unmoderated and can get a little crazy at times. However, it is a very fast way to get help for those little problems which occasionally crop up during the operation of your Macintosh computer. It does have a digest version for those members who are too busy to go through separately each of the average 10 messages per day which the listserv produces. To join this listserv send a message to vmug@vmug.bc.ca stating that you are a VMUG member and would like to join the members' listserv. As this is a closed listserv, your subscription is not immediate, as your message will have to be forwared to the listserv maintainer who then has to confirm your membership before manually adding you to the listserv.

VMUG also started, supports and maintains an open listserv, mug_news, which is available to any Macintosh user, anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, it is hardly used, because of this there is no digest version. To subscribe to this listserv, send a message to mug_news-request@islandnet.com putting the single word "subscribe" in the subject and nothing else. The address for sending messages to this listserv after you have subscribed is mug_news@islandnet.com.

And the third listserv? It is the most private and closed listserv of them all - for VMUG executive only. This is a place for the directors and other executive members to discuss the day-to-day and month-to-month operation of VMUG. It is not very busy, but it has become quite important for management of VMUG's affairs.

What other Macintosh listservs are available?
One of the most popular is the Evangelist, which is moderated by Guy Kawasaki. This listserv, as its name implies, is for the devoted Macintosh enthusiast. You can subscribe to it by sending an e-mail message to evangelist@macway.com. They also have a website (www.evangelist.macaddict.com/) where they state "The purpose of this Web site is to help people evangelize Apple, Macintosh, and Newton-and to make the world a better place!".

How else can I get information with e-mail?
Electronic "newletters" are becoming very popular. This works somewhat like a listserv, only the information flow is only one way - from them to you. Several Macintosh related electronic newsletters are listed below.

TidBITS, "a free, weekly, electronic publication that covers news and views relating to the Macintosh and the Internet", can be subscribed to on its website at www.tidbits.com/.

The content of the Information Alley comes from Apple's Technical Information Library. To subscribe, send a message to: listproc@listproc.info.apple.com with "subscribe infoalley Your Real Name" in the message area. Their website can be accessed at www.info.apple.com/info.alley.

Macworld (www.macworld.com) has a couple of newsletters which I subscribe to. One is Macworld Express which provides information on new items appearing on their website. To subscribe, send an e-mail message (from the address you wish to receive it at) to listproc@macworld.com with "subscribe express your name" in the body of your e-mail message. Macworld Mart provides news about new products and demos, both commercial and public domain or shareware. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to listproc@macworld.com with the command, "subscribe mart your name", in the body of your e-mail message. or you can subscribe on-line at www.macworld.com/newsletters/index.html#mart. More information on Macworld newsletters can be found at www.macworld.com/newsletters.

While not strictly Macintosh related, I also receive InterAction Online from Sierra On-Line (www.sierra.com). This newsletter provides information on new and upcoming Sierra software. If you wish to subscribe, send an e-mail message to mail-server@listserv.sierra.com with the text of your e-mail message reading "subscribe newsletter your e-mail address".

For fun and laughs, I subscribe to This is True by Randy Cassingham. This is a hilarious, bi-weekly newsletter with strange and funny stories gleaned from newspapers around the world. To receive it regularly by e-mail, send an e-mail message to listserv@netcom.com with the message: "subscribe this-is-true" (without the quotes and with nothing on the line). Their web site is at www.thisistrue.com/.

Tip
Junk e-mail is fast becoming a fact of life. However, as I discovered recently, this doesn't necessarily have to be so. Most reputable ISPs will not allow their members to send out unsolicited bulk e-mail. In the United States, the law requires all ISPs to have a postmaster@ address and some ISPs also have a abuse@ address. When you receive unsolicited e-mail, you need only follow a simple two-step process to complain to the sender's ISP.

First expand the header information to the long form - in Eudora, you can do this by clicking on the "Blah, Blah" icon on the top of the message. This gives the ISP detailed information regarding the sender. Also, sometimes you need to do this in order to find out who the ISP is as the sender has sent an anonymous message. Second forward the message to both the postmaster@ and abuse@ addresses of the sender's ISP with a short comment at the top of the message stating that the message below was unsolicited e-mail and you don't want it repeated. I did this with a message I received from a member of AOL, by forwarding the message to postmaster@aol.com and the next day got a reply to say the senders account had been closed.

This system works, if we use it, instead of just complaining about the problem, we can significantly reduce the amount of junk e-mail we receive. For more information on dealing with junk e-mail visit www2.thisistrue.com/true/spam.html.

Acknowledgements
This article was published in the June 1997 issue of the Victoria Macintosh Users Group's monthly newsletter "MACtalk" in Vicky's monthly article "VMUG On-Line". Thanks to VMUG members, Tom Masters and Rod Mitchell, for their valuable input on this article.

Vicky Vickers is the owner of Word Crunchers, Etc. which specializes in website design and HTML training. She is a past-president (1994-6) and former webmaster (1995-8) of Victoria Macintosh Users Group (VMUG). She also founded and was the first president (1996) of the Web Enthusiasts Association of Victoria (WEAV).

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