Mail Lists Netiquette

This probably won't be a surprise to many of you, but I'm online a lot. Most of it is because of what I do professionally, but I'm also online because of my involvement with textiles.

I get a lot of email about textiles. There are a variety of textile email lists that I subscribe to. Subscribing to a mail list is a terrific way to meet people with similar interests around the world. Through the various mail lists, I've learned a tremendous amount. Some of the spinning and dyeing lists can be found at Mail Lists. A broader list of textile mail lists can be found at Ron Parker's FiberNet.

Like a spinning guild, different lists have very different feels. For instance, some lists are absolutely no commercials, and others really don't care. Other lists are friendlier about comments not interest specific, i.e., including a recipe for Christmas cookies or discussing a child's wedding. For instance, the TechKnit group broke off from the original knit list and explicitly states that all postings have to be specifically on topic. Is the Techknit list 'better' than the original Knit list. No. Just different.

But for a mail list to survive, certain kinds of behavior need to be encouraged. You might be asking yourself, how could a list die? Well, it can become so unweldly that people quit it.

Usually a mail list starts when one person decides to create a mail list with a distinct focus. Initially, there are a few members and a tremendous sharing of knowledge. And then there are more members and the list gets even better. Word-of-mouth gets about and pretty soon the list blossoms into a major list. This is quite exciting, but rather like having a company grow all of a sudden, problems can develop. When that happens, you often have people move on to other, smaller lists.

So how does this happen? Members forget how mail lists work. When you send a reply, every single person sees your reply. Because of that, it is important to think about the value of your reply. If it will be of general interest, then by all means, send it to the list. If you believe that the interest is more specialized, then send it to the original sender. This may involve editing the "To:" line if you've used an automatic reply feature on your email package.

There have been some rather spectacular mis-postings to the lists over the years. For instance sending what you thought was a private posting making a harsh comment to the list. Many of us have done it one time or the other. If you can do it, it is best to ignore these, then, hopefully, others will give you the same slack when you mess up. Btw, if you should do this, just send an abject apology to the list and individuals involved as quickly as possible. And then drop the subject. Don't try to explain in detail. It's probably best if you can claim that your pharmacist gave you the wrong prescription. You might also consider modifying your email software to where responses are held before sending. This gives you time to review postings.

Another thing to do is not include the whole original posting when you reply. Just include the relevant text. For instance, I get most of my mail lists in a digest form. If I were to include the whole posting, then everyone on the list would receive the whole previous posting along with my reply. If even 5% of a list of 200 members did that on a daily basis, it would bog down your life considerably.

If you're posting a general call for information, one nice thing is to ask people to send you email directly, then you collate the information and post the results to the mail list.

I've also seen to many mail lists ruined because of an ill-thought posting. When you're talking face-to-face, your features, body-language, and voice help moderate your actual words. When you type them, people only have the text to go on. I've seen postings that started a vendetta or a bunch of harsh email that would have been accepted if said face-to-face. As my mother used to say, "Children, play nice!".

If you have comments, please send email to: Rosemary Brock.

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