Let’s figure out mailing lists.

I don’t really use mailing lists, but I have often seen references to their utility.

This is a bit of an exercise in trialling a research methodology out. I’m interested in making a program to help me do this, but I’m going to try just writing all the stuff I think I want to save in a database down in a blogpost, and see how cumbersome it is. I already do a lot of this in my head, but I sometimes decide not to bother, because no one can see what I have only done in my head.

Topic: Mailing Lists


  1. I don’t know what program (if any) is required to use (read: participate in) them effectively, or at all. I don’t particularly like using gmail these days — I have thousands of unread messages.
  2. I don’t know what a good set of mailing lists would be to subscribe to.
  3. I don’t know how to find them.
  4. I don’t know what etiquette prevails on them
  5. I don’t know how multiple threads are kept running or how to not let them overwhelm me. (in other words: how to manage them)
  6. I don’t know what I don’t know.


  1. From a google search for “using mailing lists”:
    1. http://www.livinginternet.com/l/lu.htm
    2. http://manuals.kerio.com/kms/en/sect-mlistusage.html
    3. http://manuals.kerio.com/kms/en/sect-mlistusage.html
    4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mailing_list
    5. http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/71148/why-do-programmers-still-use-mailing-lists
  2. From a google search for “reading mailing lists”:
    1. http://softwarerecs.stackexchange.com/questions/3213/client-for-reading-several-big-mailing-lists
    2. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/351318/best-practices-to-follow-read-large-mailing-lists


  • I know that mailing lists have smart people discussing interesting things on them
  • I know that I could just subscribe to a given one (probably by emailing it) and start getting messages.
  • I know that I would probably get a lot of messages if I subscribed to more than a few active lists.

Hmmmm. Neat. So, in flushing out the things I know and the things I think I need to figure out, an important truth has been discovered: I already know how to use mailing lists sufficiently well. I mean, goodness, I use them at work every day. For some reason, mailing lists in the wild just seemed like a different beast to me.

My questions are more about “how to be a power user of these” than “how do they even work” — but even there, I think I have a fair grasp. For example:

  • I know that etiquette will be somewhat variable between lists and the kind of thing you just have to feel out.
  • I know that I can find lists by going to programming language or project sites and finding their information out, or asking in an associated IRC channel if one exists.

I do not know how to manage them or what I don’t know.

Want To Know

  • I want to know how to manage them effectively.
  • I want to know what I don’t know, haha. I’ll keep an open mind on this.


This shift in ‘what I want to know’ suggests I should perhaps issue a new google query, ‘how to manage mailing lists’ rather than ‘how to use mailing lists’. A google search for that shows why it is a bad idea: most people who search that are looking to manage a list, not manage their interaction with several lists. After a few more trial queries, I landed on the simple “reading mailing lists”, which gave me links 2A and 2B.

2B is a little worthless and short, but 2A looks like the kind of goldmine I was looking for, and it’s also telling me something I’d wondered: a specific client, like mutt, may be my best option.


I think I can’t actually know super practically what managing them entails until I start trying, so maybe I should just subscribe to a bunch and see how it goes. If gmail fails me, and I can’t find anything out there, I’ll can build something that solves my problems. The suggestion of trying mutt is likely where I’ll turn to first once I run into a problem, but it might be nice not to have to boot a vm to read mail (I use windows on my home laptop.)

Thanks for bearing with me through this slightly silly experiment.

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