Monday, May 11, 2009

on the evils of auto-bounce/discard mailing lists

Some of you have already seen this rant from me. But I think its important enough to bring to the greater attention of the community.

Some mailing lists in OpenSolaris are configured to automatically bounce or discard messages sent from a mailing list that is not subscribed to that list. This is, IMO, a fairly toxic configuration.

At first glance, the idea seems good -- if your list only accepts member submissions, then you'll not have to deal with all the spam, and you don't have to moderate. The list can basically run from that point completely unadministered. Sounds good, doesn't it.

The problem is that this configuration is toxic to many discussions and to some users. As an example, I tend to get involved in many cross discipline conversations -- partly as a result of my membership on ARC.

And yet, my replies, often to important discussions about cases that might be interesting to certain communities, are often bounced back, because I simply am not subscribed to those lists. I don't want to subscribe to every list -- and I shouldn't have to in order to be an effective ARC member. A lot of times I just give up -- so communities are missing out on relevant conversation because of these configurations. This is a serious impediment to collaboration.

But it goes beyond that -- I'm also known by at least four different e-mail address -- one personal address, one @opensolaris.org, one first.last@sun.com, and one nickname@sun.com. People know me by all of those addresses -- so I'll be CC'd on conversations using any one of those addresses. When I reply, unless I am careful to remember to use the address I've subscribed to the list as, it will bounce on certain lists. Now its been pointed out that I can fix this by subscribing all of my addresses to the mailing lists I'm member of -- but who wants to subscribe to every list they're on 4 times? This is a serious impediment to collaboration.

The other situation is when someone has some new bit of information that they would like to bring to attention to a group of individuals, or ask a question, without having to be a member of the group. If I think I've found a bug in the TCP stack, should I have to be a member of networking-discuss@ in order to ask the group about it, or post the information? I suspect many such newbies hit the auto-bounce barrier for some of these groups, and just give up. The threshold for participation is simply too great. This is a serious impediment to collaboration.

So, all of these issues seem like they are negatively impacting collaboration. What is the solution?

Easy: moderate your lists properly. For heavily trafficked lists, it might take a few minutes a day to do this, but configure the lists to hold posts from non-members for moderation. If you identify a couple of volunteers to share the list password with, you can spread the chore, so that it is not too onerous for any one individual.

Those of you list owners with auto-discard/bounce set, please consider changing to a regular moderated list format. As attractive as the idea of a configuration where you don't have to do any work is, such configurations are actually hurting the group.

I'm done ranting about this for now. Thank you.

1 comment:

Henk Langeveld said...

Some list servers that I subscribe to allow me to read it via the web (no-mail), or digest.

Some even offer to register multiple email addresses with only one receiving them. You still have to confirm those by "closing the loop".

Cheers,
Henk