Mailman help

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The purpose of this document is to help orient people to GNU Mailman, a mailing list management software that runs many activist lists. This document should serve as a useful reference to new users and old users alike, and hopes to encompass frequently asked questions raised by users. GNU Mailman software is commonly used, and will likely power every activist mailing list you will use for the next 5 years.

How to subscribe and unsubscribe?

At the bottom of each list message is a link to the mailing list 'frontpage'. For groups with FreeWiki pages, the list frontpages are generally listed somewhere on the FreeWiki page. For example, for People for Peace, the mailing list frontpages are:

You should not contact any of the people running the list to add somebody or unsubscribe yourself. To add somebody, simply go to one of these pages, enter their email address in the 'subscribe', and submit. To unsubscribe, do the same in the 'unsubscribe' section.

Daily digest - Bundling the day's messages

Sometimes, lists have many messages per day, and responding immediately is not essential. It is possible to get one message daily with all of of the day's messages bundled within it. This option is called the "Digest". The Digest allows you to receive only one message per day, which will contain all of the mailing list messages from that day instead of many separate messages. To do this, go to that 'frontpage' link as above, and enter your email address under 'Unsubscribe or edit options'. Here, you should enter your password to login (click 'Remind' at the bottom of the page if you've forgotten your password or don't know it). Once logged in, find the option below that says "Set Digest Mode", and set it to on. If you have a modern mail reader such as Mozilla Thunderbird, Evolution, or KMail (part of Kontact), then I recommend also choosing 'MIME digests' below. I don't know if this will work on other mail clients.

Note that the "digest" option may not make as much sense for low-frequency lists (like for example "peace-announce") where the moderators keep the e-mail traffic down to one or two message per week (at most -- at times more like one per month).

Are there archives I can read to get caught up?

All messages are archived and available to all registered users, starting literally from the first message sent on the list on 4 February 2003. To access them, again go to the list 'front page' (you will need to log in with your list password).

On or off topic? On or off list?

Please consider that when you reply to the list, your whole reply goes to everyone on the the list, so before you hit "reply" you might want to consider (for example) whether:

  • the reply you are about to send really concerns the whole list;
  • a reply to one or a few individuals might be more appropriate;
  • the subject header of the message to which you are replying (still) clearly reflects the content and intent of your new message;
  • the message body can be edited to focus more clearly on the point you want to address and leave out extraneous material.

In particular, requests for (un)subscription from the list need not go to the whole list! Mostly you can resolve any list-related issues yourself at the sites shown above on this page; if not, you should address your requests to just the list moderator(s), who can then respond to you individually.

When replying to individuals, you could consider changing the header (perhaps to add something like "off-list") so that they do not mistakenly read the [Peace] label in the header as meaning the message comes from the list rather from an individual (and potentially then reply to the whole list...). You might also consider editing messages previously posted to the list in order to keep just the parts relevant for your reply (after being forwarded a few timess, the messages become rather long, particularly if someone forwards a Daily Digest -- which can already get pretty lengthy).

A bit of careful thought before you hit "reply" can make this list more useful (and less onerous to read) for all of us; it is particularly important to check if you find yourself replying to a message where a mailing list is one of multiple recipients (in which case you might want to consider removing the list, and posting there separately).

Can a mailing list be secure?

There are often discussions about securing email by kicking off users who are possible spies. Lists with large numbers of users that discuss sensitive plans are especially sensitive to this. However, it is nearly impossible to secure email without using sophisticated encryption. Email is an inherently insecure medium. It is literally akin to trying to keep smoke signals secure. Even if a message is not sent to a governmental-type individual, they can easily receive it. Good advice is that we should assume that all communications on the email list are intercepted and studied carefully by others.

The mailing list is down!!

Yep, mailing lists go down at embarrassingly inopportune moments. In this case, please notify the list administrators for the mailing list you are concerned with via the [mailing list overview page]. Unfortunately, if the mailing list(s) are down there is a good chance that the server hosting these web pages will also be affected, so it would be prudent to find the contact info for the list(s) you use and keep it someplace else where it will be accessible to you if needed.