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.
"Listserv At Work"
Listserv listowners using Eudora
- see Using Pegasus to edit and approve posts
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. <;-)
- 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.
- Create a mailbox specifically to save guidelines for each list that you subscribe to.
- Take the time to read the guidelines carefully.
- I am not kidding.
- Pay close attention to the list address for commands and the address for messages, which are always different.
- Send commands to the proper address. Besides being aggravating to list curmudgeons, it is a waste of Internet resources to send commands such as "set LIST-L nomail" to 1000s of subscribers.
- When replying to messages, be considerate of other people's time by being brief and to the point.
- Including extended passages or the entire prior message will needlessly clog list archives with repetitions of the same message.
- If everyone inconsiderately includes extended passages, it soon becomes impossible to determine who said what. This problem is exacerbated for subscribers on digests.
- When responding to a previous posting, include the name of the earlier sender so that readers are oriented to the issue.
- Quote only those brief portions of the previous message that are necessary to make your point.
- Never include the entire passage.
- Preface your response with something like this:
Jane Doe asked if anyone had experience with using umbilical cord blood transfusions for....
- Write concisely, but not so concisely as to be cryptic, as in this real example of an entire message posted to a list:
"I agree as this happened to us too."
- Some lists have line limits on messages so as to prevent entire passages (or digests) from being re-posted. MEDLAB-L, for example, has a limit of 100 lines, which includes signatures.
- As the Bonnie Raitt tune goes, "Have a heart, oh, have a heart...."
- Most lists develop a particular style. As well, lists often have favorite gurus who are well respected and liked.
- To obtain the flavour of a list, lurk for a few weeks before posting a message. You will discover whether the list encourages or discourages such practices as off-topic messages or jokes that are unrelated to the list's focus.
- Try to identify whether the list has a resident guru or two. Try not to go head-to-head with these heavy-weights unless you are into S & M big-time.
- Send messages that conform to a list's stated purpose. If you want to send an off-topic post, check with the listowner first.
- Most lists welcome short continuing education, job, and conference advertisements but not other types of ads. All that is needed is a brief introduction and a contact for how to find more information. When in doubt, ask the listowner.
- If others are off-topic, ignore them. Do not send messages of complaint to the list, as this only prolongs the problem. As MEDLAB-L subscriber Ed Uthman cautions, the surest way to prolong a dumb topic is to gripe about it.
- If you absolutely must vent about something nutty happening on a list, be aware that you are being BAD and may suffer consequences.
- If you participate, sooner or later you too will say something silly. The more you post, the greater the odds. Remember the three R's of public forums: Reflect -- Reflect -- Reflect.
- Mailing lists are public forums. However, some copyright restrictions and common sense limits apply.
- Do not say anything you would not want the boss or your worst enemy (hopefully not the same person) to know.
- It is generally considered acceptable to print and distribute copies of list messages for individual or in-house educational use.
- Obtain permission of subscribers before publishing their posts in newsletters or journals or on other mailing lists.
- Also obtain permission from the listowner to re-publish/re-post list messages.
- 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.
- If you have a vested interest in a product or service, when replying to messages that deal with the product or those of a competitor, you should mention your company affiliation.
- If as a client you want to get better service, post a tactful letter describing a specific problem to a mailing list. Be sure to include a signature with your facility and location so that the reps can track you down easily. <8-)
- If you complain vociferously, be prepared for possible consequences. For example, the company may have a
quid pro quo agreement with your laboratory to the effect that promoting the product results in a better price. Or you may run into reps who rat on you to the boss. If the boss
strongly disapproves or is authoritarian, rightly or wrongly, there may be
consequences for practicing free speech.
- Worst case scenario is saying something defamatory that results in a lawsuit.
Expressing opinions is not defamation, nor is stating something that is
true. For libel or slander to occur, individuals (defendants) make false
statements that they know are untrue and defamatory (thus showing malice);
and plaintiffs show that they have suffered a loss of some type (financial
loss, damaged reputation, emotional stress, etc.) For an
overview of libel and slander, see
- 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.
- If you subscribe to mailing lists, do not use automatic responders (mailbots) ,e.g., programs that send messages such as "Your message has been opened and read by ..." or "I am away from the office until..." Does anyone but Mom really care? The automatic list program will distribute these little suckers to all subscribers, creating an immortal loop. Listowners will likely get on your case, unless they are total pussycats (or comatose somewhere out there in cyberspace).
- When you go on holidays or will be away from your computer for awhile, remember to set listserv mailing lists to "nomail" and to unsubscribe from lists run using other software such as majordomo. Otherwise, you may get a nasty surprise when you return in the form of 100s (1000s?) of e-mail messages.
- Do not expect messages to be distributed immediately. Some may be distributed within minutes and others may take hours or overnight.
- Do not expect administrative requests to listowners to be answered immediately. Listowners invariably are volunteers who usually hold full-time jobs and manage the list during their, ahem, leisure time.
- 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!
- If you get unsubscribed, do not take it personally.
- Try to get your ISP to fix the problem.
- Resubscribe and see if it happens again.
- If the problem cannot be fixed, resign yourself to being dumped from lists on a regular basis.
- 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.
- When sending commands, do not use signatures.
- For archive searching on a listserv list (not lists run by majordomo which has no e-mail search function), start each line with this command word: SEARCH. If the search line carries to the next line, you need to break long searches into several smaller ones. When using the GETPOST command, the same rule applies: always start a new line with GETPOST.
- 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.
- When discussing controversies, try to keep to issues and avoid commenting on personality. In other words, "Chill out, you idiot!" <8-)
- If you make a mistake (e.g., post a private message to the list), briefly apologize then forget it. Everyone makes mistakes and most subscribers will empathize with your plight, even as they fall off their chairs howling.
- Similarly, if you inadvertently offend someone, apologize quickly.
- If you feel that someone's response to one of your messages is offensive, take pains to reply generously rather than defensively. "Taking the high road" will almost always diffuse bad feelings.
- Resist taking a difference of opinion personally. Someone not liking your position or the nutty thing you have done does not mean that they dislike you.
- Never engage in a flame war, roughly defined as a heated exchange that deteriorates into personal attacks. Have your flame-proof vests ready at all times.
- Never discuss politics, religion, coagulation, health food, or smoking on any list that doesn't begin with "alt" (alt is short for alternative, weirdo, voodoo-type stuff).
- The Internet facilitates the rapid exchange of vast numbers of messages. Many people subscribe to multiple lists.
- As a general rule, do not forward material from other lists. (If you must, be sure to include full details of the source.)
- Particularly do not forward jokes, as these make the rounds quickly and tend to get recycled periodically. Hey, did you hear the top 10 reasons why pathologists make poor father-in-laws? Or the one about the Canuck, Yank, and Aussie deciding how to use the inverted microscope....
- If you discover a related list that subscribers may be interested in, provide subscribing information so that people can decide for themselves whether to join.
- Try to keep your personal list total to under 5. If you belong to a list that has more than 50 messages per day, resign from your job and take up list reading full-time. Start wearing sun shades that hide that glazed look that is guaranteed to scare small children.
- Do not fall for virus hoaxes, urban legends, or chain letters. Visit these sites:
- 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.
- For general information, before you ask on a list, start with colleagues, the library, standard textbooks, and journals.
- Ask specific questions rather than general ones. For example, you are likely to receive few replies to "Can anyone tell me about distance education?" or "Gee, what's healthcare restructuring all about?"
- Reply to messages only when you have something substantive to contribute. "Good one, Joan" does not qualify as substantive.
- When possible, back your opinions with first-hand experience. Responses such as, "I have heard that company X offers good service" have minimal reliability.
- Many lists are configured so that REPLY sends responses to everyone on the list. With this in mind
- Send all substantive comments and responses to the entire group.
- If your response will be of interest to only one person, e.g., a short personal message or noting that you had a similar experience ("I agree" messages), send private e-mail to that person. You may need to type the recipient's address in the To:line (or to delete the list address).
- To prevent embarrassing comments from going to everyone, remember to check the To: line before hitting the SEND button. ("See you in Orlando--the room is booked. Hope you bring those sexy black lederhosen again....")
- Develop a habit of checking the To: and Subject: lines before hitting REPLY.
- Many subscribers use Subject: lines to determine if they will bother reading messages. Subject lines are also useful when searching list archives.
- As a courtesy to colleagues, ensure that the subject line of your message clearly reflects the content. "Question" doesn't really cut it as a subject line.
- If your message is on a different topic than the original message to which you are replying, create a new Subject: line.
- Do not include words such as "Move to Viagraville for better sex," "Doctors--Earn extra $$$ selling Tupperware ," "Discuss Wittgenstein with naked women!!!," or "Discover your inner Mr. Bean" in Subject: lines, as many people filter these into the TRASH.
- Never leave the Subject: line blank.
- 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.
- Never send attachments to mailing lists.
- Send only plain ascii text to mailing lists. If your mail program uses HTML (hypertext markup language) , MIME, or other coding, turn these features off.
Before you send your first message to a list, visit this site:
Plain text only
Here you will find instructions on how to configure your mail program to send only plain text. This is especially important if you are using MS Exchange or Outlook Express, which are notorious for adding MIME and HTML coding. If you do not send only plain text, your messages will not be forwarded to MEDLAB-L, so this is something that you really want to take the time to find out about.
- To share a document with subscribers, copy and paste the plain text into the body of the e-mail message.
- To share files with individual subscribers, specify the program and version that created it. Then offer to attach it to private e-mail for those who contact you privately.
- 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.
- As in scientific writing, spell out acronyms the first time they are
used. For example, messages full of references to CLIA, HIPAA, CMS, and
NCA are unintelligible to most subscribers outside the USA.
- Avoid idioms that will be meaningless to those whose first language
is not English. For example, substitute nothing for
sweet-tweet; and etc. for yadda, yadda.
- When referring to local or national issues, present a brief
background context. For example:
"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
- For an international perspective, remember that TGIF is TAIT in
some countries. (TAIT = Thank Allah it's Thursday.)
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.
- Above all, enjoy the information and ideas that are available via mailing lists. The global sharing of ideas is wonderful.
- Most so-called "netiquette" is common sense and good manners. We all benefit when subscribers keep them in mind.
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