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By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Associate Director of Academic Computing

Mailing Lists: Alive and Well

The Internet has seen many changes in its relatively short lifetime. It has only been 5 years that the Internet has seen widespread popular use and only 5 years or so before that saw the Internet widely used in education. E-mail has remained an Internet staple, but the World Wide Web has subsumed many of the innovative information services under development 10 years ago. Maybe because E-mail has remained such a popular service electronic mailing lists have also maintained their popularity and continued their proliferation. New mailing lists are still created daily and the topics they cover continue to be more varied.

Shades of the past

The electronic mailing list predates the Internet as we know it today. It's progenitors were the BITNET LISTSERV mailing lists that popped up in the late 1980s. BITNET is long gone, but LISTSERV, in a more contemporary version, remains a primary software tool for mailing list services. The basics of the mailing list have not changed either. The idea is to send one message to a central source to be redistributed to a group of E-mail addresses. This one-to-many architecture maximizes efficiency of E-mail communication within a group. As much as technology has changed, this idea remains still powerful and useful.

Electronic mailing lists are used in two ways. One is as a discussion list, providing the ability for the exchange of information within a group. The other use is as an information distribution channel. In the latter case, the information is generated from one source and sent to the group, such as an e-magazine or item-of-the-day service. As a discussion list, there is not much which does a better job of allowing people to communicate in an "out of-time" fashion. There are many ways to distribute e-magazines and such, but E-mail remains an efficient and easy way to do so. As long as we have E-mail, mailing lists will continue to be popular.

Name your topic

The variety of topics for mailing lists continue to be varied. Consider the following recently announced offerings:

"A free bi-monthly e-zine offering free help to creative writers."

"MEDIA PROFESSIONAL newsletter features the best of the Web for those in publishing, marketing, advertising and new media."

"...an unmoderated discussion list where anything goes ... for the daring, for those who would like to sample and live the uncensored way of the Internet, as it once was."

"...a list for fans of the humor columnist Dave Barry."

"The Enigma list was formed to encourage prof. Mentalists and those with a genuine interest in the art to discuss exchange ideas etc."

"A moderated mutual assistance support group, self-help forum, and wide ranging idea exchange. Subscribers brainstorm ethical business procedures, interpersonal relationships, time management, and client relationships - all from a Jewish perspective."

"This weekly electronic newsletter is formed in a 'briefs' format to get you the information you need to stay politically informed."

"Palimpsest is a free, quarterly Internet magazine devoted to short stories of all genres...."

"Current Surgical News and Medical Information for Surgeons and Healthcare Professionals from a wide range of sources, delivered daily in text or html format."

" Published daily, the GlobalMecca.com "Daily Vibe" is focused on minority history, culture, and Net resources."

"Our free monthly Newsletter contains a lot of information, links and tips about how-to-lose Weight and keeping it off. "

"Get useful ideas and practical advice on how to make your [web] site friendlier and easier to use, and therefore do what it's supposed to do! "

"Starfish is a daily message of encouragement or enlightenment intended to brighten your day and to promote random acts of kindness."

...you get the idea.

Finding your List

The above is just a sampling of the mailing lists that are being announced on a daily basis. One way to find out what's new is to subscribe to the NEW-LIST mailing list. This is part of the Internet Scout project (http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/), an information service partially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, number NCR-9712163. If you want to subscribe to NEW-LIST you can visit http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/misc/subscribe2.html. If you'd rather search for a list on a particular topic, you can visit http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/caservices/new-list/search.html and see what you can find in the NEW-LIST archives. You can also visit the L-Soft site (the source for the LISTSERV software) and search for LISTSERV mailing list on any number of topics: http://www.lsoft.com/lists/list_q.html. Lastly, every month Benchmarks Online has a "List of the Month" feature that you might find useful.

However you find it, there is likely a list out there for you. Mailing lists have been an effective part of the Internet because they build communities of people with similar interests. Your community is awaiting. All you need to do is find it.

Comments, Questions? Send them to Philip Baczewski.