List Management 101

By following these straightforward guidelines, you can manage your discussion lists efficiently.

Late last month, Yahoo! completed the technical aspects of merging its Yahoo! Clubs with the discussion lists acquired from (which had merged with its biggest rival,, in late 1999). Yahoo! isn't the only list-hosting site, of course, but it might be the biggest now. The sheer number of lists is staggering—about 50,000 just for computers and technology. When the eGroups/Yahoo! deal was announced last June, eGroups listed 800,000 active mail groups, and that number has grown.

Some lists, used mainly to distribute newsletters or announcements, allow no member posts. Many jokes newsletters boast 10,000 or more subscribers, but most true discussion lists count their membership in the hundreds or fewer.

I manage three Yahoo! groups (formerly eGroups), two for discussion and one newsletter. Like many list owners affected by the merger, I spent a fair amount of time figuring out the changes and explaining them to list members. From that experience and from reading how Yahoo! and other list owners handled the transition, I gleaned a few points you can apply to your mailing lists.

Check your lists regularly. Whether the lists are discussion forums in Exchange Server public folders or publicly hosted lists, don't just start them up and walk away. Check in frequently to ensure that the site works correctly, and that no one's posting inappropriate messages. Welcome newcomers, too. I check the Web version of my discussion lists at least once a day.

Make it easy for people to manage their subscriptions. Most email list servers provide a way to unsubscribe or switch to a Web-only subscription by sending a message to a particular address. Put that information in the welcome message for newcomers to your list. If the list server supports it, also put those addresses in a footer that automatically appears below each list message. To help Outlook users, go one step further and add the mailto: prefix to the unsubscribe address. Then Outlook users can click on the mailto: link and promptly generate an unsubscribe message. Otherwise, they'll have to take extra steps to copy and paste the address into a new message.

Help users sort the list messages. Tell them how to set up rules to move the messages to a separate folder. As with many lists, the To address for a Yahoo! Groups list doesn't vary: It's the same address that people use to post messages to the list. I recommend that, in Outlook's Rules Wizard, you use a rule with the condition "sent to people or distribution list." If the list address changes, all you have to do is add the new address to that rule.

Are publicly hosted lists just for fun, or do they have a role to play in the way your company does business? I lean toward the latter. I can create a new list at Yahoo! Groups in seconds and get a full range of tools that let me to manage both members and postings. If I were doing that with Exchange Server, I'd need to set up some scripts, have the administrator add a distribution list to manage access, or install a third-party list tool. Maybe I'd even need to ask permission to add another public folder. You probably don't want a address on your corporate communications to customers, but for quick projects such as putting together the company picnic, a publicly hosted, private-membership list might be a good solution.

Do you discourage or encourage email discussion groups in your organization? Let me know what you think.

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