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Best practices for setting up mailing lists

See also Mailing Lists at CSAIL, especially the "for List Administrators and Moderators" section.

(Please check back soon as this page is being actively written. In particular, there will shortly be some information about various different kinds of use-cases for mailing lists, such as announcement list, contact list, public discussion list, etc., and appropriate configurations for them.)

This page describes TIG's advice for setting up mailing lists. As with our other "Best practices" pages?, these rules are generally not set in stone, but they're guidelines that we hope will save you (and us) time and trouble down the road.

Choosing a name

Choosing a name for your list is a balance between picking something short and convenient, and picking something that uniquely identifies your list. A name that's too generic, such as announcements or bugs is bad, because there may be many lists hosted at CSAIL, for different groups of people, for which those names would be appropriate. Try to think of a name that will distinguish your list from other lists. It is a big win if the name makes it clear what group the list is for or what group runs it, so if you're in the Distributed Candymaking Group and you're starting a list for users of your new caramel 3D-printer, dcg-caramel-printer-users (or dcg-caramel or dcg-3dprinter if that seems too long) might be a good choice.

Setting list owners and/or moderators

When you create a new mailing list at CSAIL, you (specifically, your CSAIL email address) are automatically added as a list owner unless you specify a different list owner. If it's a temporary list for a particular short-term purpose, having just one list owner may be OK, but if you expect for the list to be around for a while or for a lot of people to depend on it, you should add additional list owners and/or moderators. Among other reasons, that will make the list more robust if you happen to have some temporary problems with your email delivery. Also, it gives us (TIG) more people to contact down the road if we have questions about the list. (For instance, if we notice that a list owner's email address starts bouncing, and we can't easily find a current address for that person, we will remove them as an owner or moderator of the list. And if we remove the last owner or moderator for a list and we can't figure out who's responsible for the list, we will remove the list, since it's important for a list to have responsible list admins so that it doesn't get taken over as a vehicle for spam. This is important even for moderated lists, since a spammer could spoof email as a list member or guess a list moderator password. And it's very important for lists with public list archives, since if a spammer can get spam links onto the list those links go into the archives on the web, and then CSAIL is serving spam.)

Therefore, if you expect your list to be around for a while and to be of interest to more than a small handful of people, we recommend that you add some other moderators and/or list owners. (You'll need to give them the passwords they need by hand. And note that they'll all get automated list mail; it's important that they read or at least skim subject lines for that mail, since that's the point of having multiple contacts for a list, but you'll probably want to coordinate list administration among yourselves.)

Setting a list description

Our web form for creating a new list just asks you for a list name (and list owner, if not you); unfortunately, it doesn't ask you for information about the list and what it will be used for. So it's important to add that information about your list. You'll want to add a brief phrase describing the list (such as "Planning for 2015" or "Thursday grad-student volleyball games" or "Contact list for $GROUPNAME software releases") in the description field of your list, and a more elaborate explanation of what the list is for, who it serves, and how long it's expected to be around in the info field, both of which you can find (after your list is created) on the "General Options" administrative page of your list at
    https://lists.csail.mit.edu/mailman/admin/YourListName

In particular, the info field is a good place for you to let us know what research group at CSAIL the list is for. (That would be a good place to mention a PI's name, for instance, even if the PI doesn't want to be listed as a list owner or moderator.) Also, if the list is for an organization that has its own web pages, the info field is a good place to provide a link to them. It's good to mention there how long the list is expected to be in operation, too.

Not all lists are publicly visible, and you can hide your list from the public index (so people have to know the name of the list in advance to subscribe), but it's important to set the description and info fields even if you hide the list, because that's the first place where we in TIG will look for information about a list. (It's also useful for your subscribers.)

List archives

When you create a list at CSAIL, by default the list is archived on the web, and those archives are (theoretically) available only to list members (using their list membership password, which on most large lists members never bother to learn/use).

If you want your list to be archived, that's fine. But if you don't want archives, you should turn them off right away (on the "Archiving Options" page at https://lists.csail.mit.edu/mailman/admin/YourListName/archive, before any messages get sent to the list. In particular, you should think about the security and confidentiality issues of having your list's traffic served on the web. (If you leave the settings at the defaults, in theory list members will need their passwords to view the archives, but since these are insecure passwords and hard to remember, it's very likely that some list members will change them to easily guessable passwords.)

On the other hand, if you want your archives to be public (perhaps because the list is for public discussion of a particular topic or release announcements for a particular piece of software, and you want list posts to be findable by search engines and linkable from other people's web pages), you should make the archives public (on the same page). If you do that, you should make it very clear to your list posters that archives are public, so they don't send mail to the list with information they don't want made public (such as a private email address, or a rant about somebody in the field but not on the list).

-- JaySekora - 30 Aug 2013
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Topic revision: 30 Aug 2013, JaySekora
 

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