Electronic Mailing Lists

Businesswoman using tablet computer

Before the advent of the Internet, one of the most common ways for an organization to send news, memos, or publications to its employees, customers, or members, was through the use of a mailing list. However, with the arrival of the Internet came electronic mail, or email, providing a quick and easy way to communicate, and in regard to organizations, electronic mailing lists, or email lists, quickly replaced the traditional snail mail method. Thus, today email lists are an effective way to disseminate information to a large number of Internet users. An email list is comprised of four basic elements: a collection of email addresses, the specific names of the individuals that own those email addresses (known as subscribers), the specific message being sent out to the subscribers, and the lone recipient email address that acts as a reflector—when the reflector receives a message, it copies that message, sending the message out to all of the subscribers.

How Email Lists Work

Electronic mailing lists work through the use of mailing list software, which is usually either fully or partially automated. Also, as mentioned above, a reflector email address is set up on a server that is built to receive email. When an email message is sent to the reflector, the message is filtered through the software and then acted upon. The particular message is either sent out to all subscribers on the email list, or else handled internally—as in the case of an incoming message from a subscriber wishing to unsubscribe or a new user wishing to become a subscriber. Regarding subscribing or unsubscribing (as well as other commands such as temporarily suspending the receiving of emails or changing preferences), email list servers tend to make use of a special email address which users can send such commands to. Also, many list servers allow such commands to be executed via a special web-site which users can visit.

The Different Types

In the world of electronic email lists, various types of lists exist which have specific uses depending upon the content of the message. For example, one type of email list is called an “announcement list”. An announcement list is a one-directional form of information dissemination—also frequently termed a “newsletter”. Certain sectors of business that use direct marketing campaigns will often utilize announcement lists as a way to effectively distribute information. Another type of email list is called a “discussion list”, in which any user who is a subscriber to that list may post opinions or information. A discussion list works by the subscriber sending messages to all of the other subscribers in that list. In turn, all of the recipient subscribers can then respond in the same way. This method allows for actual discussion, debate, and information trading—usually topic-oriented—amongst subscribers. However, over the past decade, discussion lists have fallen out of favor, being replaced by the web-forum discussion platform, which provides real-time message threading and a less intrusive format than emails.

Security Measures Available

Regarding announcement lists and discussion lists, security measures can be put in place to avoid both spamming and/or malicious users. For example, in a discussion list, every message that is posted up on the list is usually approved by what is called a “moderator”, before the message can go public for all other subscribers to view. However, lists that have a high volume of subscribers will often only moderate, and approve/disapprove, messages posted by new subscribers. Furthermore, in the case of new subscribers, the moderation of posted messages is only a temporary oversight. Businesses and organizations who use the announcement list, or newsletter, will usually work with what is called a “whitelist mail distributor”. These distributors agree to adhere to standards as well as large fines by Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) should any subscriber complain about spamming or malicious content via the announcement list. Thus, in exchange for the whitelisted distributor’s compliance to standards and agreement to possible fines, the company using the whitelist distributor could end up sending emails that are not blocked by any spam filters, which may end up, on the subscriber’s end, categorizing such non-spam emails as spam. Additionally, as another security measure for email lists, certain emailing lists require the approval of a potential subscriber by the owner of the list before the user can join the list.