L-Netiquette for Mailing Lists

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Things Worth Knowing About Mailing Lists

E-netiquette and L-netiquette were written as part of a workshop I gave on uses of the Internet for medical laboratory professionals. The writing style for L-netiquette is irreverent and often tongue in cheek, as you get that way after being a listowner for awhile. <;-)

Material has been adapted from many sources. Do a Web search using "netiquette" as a key word to get an idea of the variety of resources available. Most of all, I have drawn extensively on my experience as the listowner of MEDLAB-L , a list with 2400+ subscribers in 50 countries. A listowner is another name for the poor schmuck who volunteers to manage a list.

Interview in "Listserv At Work" 

Listserv listowners using Eudora - see Using Pegasus to edit and approve posts

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Lists are created to discuss specific topics. Some subscribers love to chit chat on just about anything; some do not. Listowners try to develop a balance between the chatterers and the anal-retentive types on any list. Unless, of course, the owners lean toward AR themselves. <;-)

  1. Most lists send new subscribers welcome messages with list guidelines. Typically, the guidelines describe the purpose of the list, provide important commands, and explain how to obtain further information.

  2. Pay close attention to the list address for commands and the address for messages, which are always different.

  3. When replying to messages, be considerate of other people's time by being brief and to the point.

  4. Most lists develop a particular style. As well, lists often have favorite gurus who are well respected and liked.

  5. Mailing lists are public forums. However, some copyright restrictions and common sense limits apply.

  6. Be aware that commercial vendors and product representatives belong to lists as a way of monitoring their markets. For example, diagnostic and LIS sales representatives subscribe to MEDLAB-L.

  7. Mailing lists are run by automatic mailing list software. These programs include listserv, majordomo, mailman, listproc, and others. A computer, not a person, distributes the mail. The speed of distribution depends on Internet traffic and many computers being "up" at the right time. Listowners serve as backups to the computers and list software.

  8. List software and owners often unsubscribe people who have problem addresses. In such cases mail bounces to the listowner as undeliverable, whether it has been delivered or not. Sometimes the undeliverable error messages are sent by the subscriber's Internet Service Provider (ISP) every few hours for days on end. This can quickly result in 1000s of error messages being delivered to the owner, who will not be happy!

  9. When sending commands, be aware that each line must start with a command word, as the list software is limited--it only recognizes the words that it has been programmed to understand.

  10. Despite what we see on North American television sitcoms (situation comedies) such as Seinfeld (now in re-runs) and in some legislative assemblies, politeness and respect for the opinions of others are courtesies worth maintaining.

  11. The Internet facilitates the rapid exchange of vast numbers of messages. Many people subscribe to multiple lists.

  12. Do not fall for virus hoaxes, urban legends, or chain letters. Visit these sites:

  13. Brevity. Most people are busy and cannot read everything that they would like to. For example, we choose the scientific articles that we read or the television that we watch judiciously. The Internet is just one resource of many. Respect other people's time.

  14. Many lists are configured so that REPLY sends responses to everyone on the list. With this in mind

  15. Many subscribers use Subject: lines to determine if they will bother reading messages. Subject lines are also useful when searching list archives.

  16. Sending attachments to lists is inappropriate. Not all subscribers will have the originating software (e.g., MS Word, WordPerfect, Powerpoint, Excel, etc.). Many international subscribers will have ISPs that cannot receive attachments. Many subscribers are novices who cannot handle attachments.

  17. Acronyms & idioms. Do not assume that subscribers from England, Italy, Brazil, Japan, or New Zealand will be aware of the regulatory acronyms and idioms of North America. For that matter, workers in one laboratory area may not know the current acronyms in another.

    "Here in Alberta, Canada medical laboratories are accredited by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA). Does anyone know how to interpret the CPSA requirement that specifies...."

  18. Please include signatures in your posts. Signatures tell subscribers something about you so that they can
    • Assess the relevance of your experience to their own workplace
    • Identify potential conflicts of interest or bias
    As relevant, please include some combination of your
    * professional designation or job title
    * place of employment
    * geographical location
    * e-mail address or website
    • Avoid acronyms in signatures. For example, AL is "Alabama" to an American but means nothing to most others around the globe.
    • If your employer prefers you not to include a workplace signature, at least include your geographical location.
    • Try to keep signatures short, arbitrarily not more than 5-6 lines and preferably fewer. For War and Peace, most subscribers read Tolstoy. <8-)
    • Line art is fun, but the Sistine Chapel really does need colour to be fully appreciated.
    • When you comment on a topic for which you have a vested interest, always disclose the interest regardless of using a signature that identifies your affiliation.

  19. Above all, enjoy the information and ideas that are available via mailing lists. The global sharing of ideas is wonderful.
  20. Most so-called "netiquette" is common sense and good manners. We all benefit when subscribers keep them in mind.


Also see:

| E-netiquette | List Netiquette FAQ | Shea's Netiquette

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