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Book Review of:
Managing Mailing Lists
by Susan Ives

Managing Mailing Lists 
by Alan Schwartz 
O'Reilly and Associates, 1998 
298 pages 
ISBN 1-56592-259-X 

 Electronic mailing lists are Internet discussion forums that are conducted via e-mail. Once a list is set up, you can subscribe to it by sending a message asking to become a subscriber. From then on, whenever any subscriber sends a message to the list, you and all of the other subscribers receive a copy. It's a great way to get information to a large group of people without getting bogged down in maintaining a labor-intensive address book on your own hard drive. 

We are in the process of setting up several lists for Alamo PC, so I had a million urgent questions. For example: 

  • As a list administrator, can I add people to a mailing list myself, or do I have to ask each person to subscribe themselves? 
  • Can I set up an announcements-only list, that is only outgoing and won't accept incoming messages? 
  • How do I set up a list digest? How about archives? 
  • Can I moderate a list? Approve subscribers and limit subscriptions to Alamo PC members? 
  • Can I remove someone from a list?
The instructions that come with mailing lists are either technical documents that describe Internet standards, called Requests for Comment (RFCs) or the cryptic documentation that accompanies the list management software. Both are too filled with gobbeldy-gook for my needs. This book, which translates the jargon into plain English, was an answer to a prayer. 

The mailing list software covered by this book is Listproc, Majordomo, Smartlist, Listserv Lite and Sendmail. All are for a Unix operating system (Listserv also works with Windows NT), and all are free. Managing Mailing Lists is targeted toward people who administer mailing lists and for the system administrators who install and configure the mailing list software on servers. It is not intended for casual subscribers to mailing lists. 

 The book begins with two scene-setting chapters that introduce you to the vocabulary, concepts and resources necessary to administer a mailing list. The next 10 chapters teach you how to administer and maintain lists using the specific programs. Squished in the middle is a valuable chapter on mailing list abuse and ways to prevent it. The book concludes with appendices listing of all the commands, with definitions and parameters, used for each mailing list management program. 

 The strength of the book is its use of jargon-free language and its bountiful examples. When it recommends sending a message to the system administrator, it gives you a sample of what your letter should say. When something can go wrong, it shows you what the error will look like and what you can do to fix it. 

 Many businesses and organizations are using mailing lists to keep in contact with their customers and members. This book will give you the tools and confidence to set up a list that works the way you intend, protects the privacy of your subscribers and saves you a ton of time. It should be required reading for anyone interested in using mailing lists to keep in touch with their publics. 

 Susan Ives is the president of Alamo PC.