About Mailing Lists - "Netiquette" and the Typical Life Cycle of Internet Mailing Lists

MAILING LIST NETIQUETTE---------------------------------------------------------
The following is an excellent tutorial on Internet etiquette or netiquette as it relates to mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups. The author of the document is unknown. We've edited it womewhat. It was originally obtained from a mailing list. For a more painfully in-depth look, go here.


One of these days you're going to get tired of Web surfing or listening in on LISTSERVs, IRCs, Usenet newsgroups or whatever, and you're going to want to say something yourself. At that moment your life will change. Let's see if we can't make that a change for the better.

Everyone is tempted from time to time to evangelize, to stride boldly into the enemy's camp and throw down the gauntlet. We will never see the end of people who pop up on "comp.sys.intel" praising Macs and Amigas; who send mail to the SKEPTIC list that flying saucers really, truly do exist; who enlighten the Buddhist newsgroups that they're all bound for hell, and on and on.
In the entire history of the Net, no one has managed to do this without looking like a complete idiot. If you believe you are the one person who will succeed where millions have failed, then you're ready to learn about...

Sometimes, there is almost nothing you can say that won't offend somebody:
>It's a bright, sunny day today.

"You filthy *@!?$, what have you got against Cleveland?"

Flames (violent verbal expressions of disapproval), misunderstandings, overreactions, and hurt feelings are par for the course. Lessons from experience:

What can you do? Lurk a while before you post. Read what's said like an anthropologist, trying to discover what the big "don't"s are. The beginning of a school term is a wonderful time to do this, as you will observe the clueless newbies, who weren't smart enough to read this paragraph, being torn to shreds. There are some things you should NEVER do, and we'll list them in a minute, but let's get to the last bit of advice.

DO'S AND DON'TS (or how to avoid most flames):

Finally, many groups have had the sense to write down some of their norms and folkways in a frequently asked questions (FAQ) list along with (what else?) the answers to frequently asked questions. Many Usenet FAQs are posted monthly or so on the news.answers (alt.answers, comp.answers) newsgroups. Listowners of LISTSERVs are often quite willing to mail you the FAQ for the list. In fact, they may have already told you where it is in the letter you get welcoming you to the list.

With all we've said above, and with all the help newsgroup moderators and listowners are providing to newcomers, it almost seems like you'd have to work at it to go charging in with your mouth open and your eyes and ears shut, thereby aggravating and alienating some otherwise perfectly nice people. The good Lord gave us two eyes and two ears and one mouth to remind us of that very thing. But then he went and gave us ten fingers to type with, and here we are.


The Typical Life Cycle of Mailing Lists

Kat Nagel (KatNagel@eznet.net) sent this terrific piece to the EARLY-M mailing list in December 1994. It is the best description of the social development of a mailing list I've read.

Every list seems to go through the same cycle:

  1. Initial enthusiasm (people introduce themselves, and gush a lot about how wonderful it is to find kindred souls).
  2. Evangelism (people moan about how few folks are posting to the list, and brainstorm recruitment strategies).
  3. Growth (more and more people join, more and more lengthy threads develop, occasional off-topic threads pop up).
  4. Community (lots of threads, some more relevant than others; lots of information and advice is exchanged; experts help other experts as well as less experienced colleagues; friendships develop; people tease each other; newcomers are welcomed with generosity and patience; everyone -- newbie and expert alike -- feels comfortable asking questions, suggesting answers, and sharing opinions).
  5. Discomfort with diversity (the number of messages increases dramatically; not every thread is fascinating to every reader; people start complaining about the signal-to-noise ratio; person 1 threatens to quit if *other* people don't limit discussion to person 1's pet topic; person 2 agrees with person 1; person 3 tells 1 & 2 to lighten up; more bandwidth is wasted complaining about off-topic threads than is used for the threads themselves; everyone gets annoyed).
  6. Finally:

Where is THIS list in that cycle? What is YOUR role in the placement of this list in that cycle?