Once you start using the Internet, you'll notice people talking about joining lists and participating in groups. While there are tens of thousands of ongoing newsgroups and forums on different subjects, there are also thousands of e-mail list discussions as well.
What's the difference? Newsgroups and forums are public discussions that anyone can subscribe to and participate in. You read what members have written and post comments if you choose. Think of it as an electronic bulletin board. On the other hand, a mailing list is a list of e-mail addresses of people interested in the same topic. You can think of them as electronic newsletters.
Types of Lists
Mailing lists can be public or private, with as few as two participants or many thousands. Mailing lists are often used to provide subscribers with current information. For music fans, that might include upcoming concert dates or ticket purchasing details. Generally, there are two types of lists:
- Announcement-type lists, where you receive messages, but can't post to the list yourself.
- Discussion-type lists, where everyone on the list can participate. When a list subscriber sends a message, it goes to everyone on the list. You can reply to messages you receive, send new messages, or just read the messages without participating.
The key advantage of a mailing list over a newsgroup is that instead of having to go somewhere to read or retrieve postings, messages are automatically delivered to your e-mail box.
It's easy to oversubscribe and inundate your inbox. So just join the email lists you are most interested in.
Some discussion lists are monitored by a list admin, to ensure the communication remains relevant and appropriate for the group. With this type of group, whenever a member responds to the mailing list e-mail, their response is held on the MLM server until the group admin reviews and approves it. Once approved, the message will be disseminated to the entire group. If it is not approved, the sender will receive a message letting them know, and usually explaining why. Unmonitored groups do not review each message, so when a member responds it is automatically sent to all group members.
To join a mailing list, all you need is an e-mail address. To subscribe, you send a message to the list administrator (this is usually not an individual, just an automated process) and your e-mail address is added to the list. Subscribing to a mailing list is usually free. After you subscribe, you should receive a reply giving you details about the list and how to participate. Soon, you'll begin receiving messages.
An excellent place to begin looking for mailing lists is at Yahoo! Groups. You can subscribe to most lists, although in some cases you may have to meet some criteria.
If you don't want to be overwhelmed with a daily flood of e-mail messages, subscribe to the digest version, if one is available. A digest provides a periodic summary of the messages. Some digests are now posted on a website so you can access them with your browser, avoiding the traffic in your e-mail box altogether. can subscribe to most lists, although in some cases you may have to meet some criteria.
Some Mailing Lists Tips
- Subscribe to one or two mailing lists at a time. Wait to see how many messages you receive before subscribing to any others.
- Save the list subscription instructions. After you subscribe, you will get a response with instructions on how the list works, and perhaps most important, how to unsubscribe. Read and save these instructions. It's bad netiquette to send messages to the list requesting help in unsubscribing.
- Turn off the list when you go on vacation if you don't plan on checking your e-mail. It's like stopping your newspaper delivery. Some lists offer a vacation option. For others, you have to unsubscribe, then re-subscribe when you return. A high traffic list can generate hundreds of messages a day, overloading your mailbox.
- Mailing lists can get overwhelming, even if you’re checking them every day. They can quickly clog up your e-mail inbox and make it hard to pick out other, more critical messages. Instead of letting your mailing list e-mails go directly to your inbox, create a rule for the messages and have them placed in a special, list-only folder. To learn more about creating folders and setting up rules, see our guide to Managing Your E-mail.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I contact the group admin if I lost the unsubscribe instructions?
In many cases, you won’t have to e-mail a person directly. Instead, check the body of your latest mailing list e-mail and look for an “Unsubscribe” or “Opt-Out” link at the very bottom. Clicking this link will open a web browser window and take you to either a confirmation page or a communications preference page, which lets you select what type of e-mails you wish to receive from the group in the future. To completely unsubscribe, uncheck all of the options and submit your update.
If you don’t find an unsubscribe option, look for anything that mentions preferences or settings, as these should work as well. There may also be a link to contact the administrator. As a very last resort, you can always respond to the message and politely request to be removed from the group. Keep in mind that other members in your group may see your request, but so will the admin.
How can I find mailing lists?
If you are looking for discussion lists, a good place to start is online group communities, such as Yahoo! Groups. You can also try the CataList, which allows you to search the over 55,000 public lists managed by Listserv. You can search by list size, topic, or location. Many social networks also offer groups, some of which communicate directly on the social media platform, but others allow you to sign up to get regular e-mail updates from the group.
If you’re interested in announcement lists for your favorite organizations or stores, go directly to their website and look for a mailing list sign-up form. If you can’t find one, contact the organization and ask if they have a mailing list. If they do, you can be sure they will gladly add you.
Why am I on a mailing list I never signed up for?
Not all mailing lists are created equal. Some you sign up for because you’re interested in the topic or group. Others you add in hopes of getting updates and maybe even money-saving deals from your favorite stores. Then there are the ones you never signed up for, but they still show up on a regular basis. These fall into one of two categories: companies you do business with and spam. If you have ever registered on a website, chances are you also agreed to be included in their mailing list, whether you realized it or not. When you sign up for things like store cards or other in-store promotions, you are often added to the store’s mailing list too. If you’re getting regular e-mail from a website or store you’ve done business with in the past, follow the unsubscribe steps above, or log in to your account and look around for the communications preferences page.
If you don’t recognize the source of the e-mail, chances are it’s spam. Companies sell our contact information all the time, and marketers love to buy it up in hopes of winning new customers, the same way telemarketers call our homes with unsolicited special offers. Spam can be a bit tricky because it’s best not to respond to it, as doing so just confirms your e-mail is active (and to the marketer, even more valuable). Instead follow our Ten Tips to Stop Spam