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Mailing lists provide an easy way for people with common interests to communicate about various topics via email. There is some overlap with newsgroups, and the postings of a few of them are also distributed in special newsgroups. An important difference is that while newsgroups are open to postings from anyone, Mailing lists are restricted to a fixed list of "subscribers". Only these people can take part in the discussions. In addition they are often controlled by a moderator, a person who ensures that all postings are related to the topic of the list, and so the discussions are usually more disciplined, and of a higher quality.
Because of the closed way lists operate, they are hard to find and their number can only be estimated. Reference.com puts the number of publicly accessible lists at around 100,000. If you are familiar with mailing lists, you can jump straight to a collection of mailing lists related to food.
Mailing lists are operated automatically by dedicated computers running one of a range of software programs - listserv, majordomo, listproc, mailserv, or mailbase. Each computer can manage hundreds of lists. For each list, the computer maintains a list of the email addresses of all the members of the list, and ensures that any emails sent to that list are sent out to all members of the list.
It is important to understand how to communicate with mailing lists. Any administrative email concerned with the operation of a list such as a request to be added to (subscribe) or removed from a list (unsubscribe), must be sent to the email address of the computer which maintains the list (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org). It is a good idea not to include your signature as the computer will generate harmless error messages. Any email related to the topic under discussion must be sent to email address of the list (e.g. Beef-L@listproc.wsu.edu). You are allowed to include a simple signature in these messages as they can give information about you and if you wish, your interests.
When you join (subscribe) to a list you will also receive an email from the computer administering the list, explaining how the list works. This should be read and stored safely for use later when changes in your subscription need to be made. In addition to needing to know how to leave the list, you may want check it to see if a digest version is available. In this case you can cut down the number of emails you receive from a list by changing your subscription to the digest version. This is usually sent out daily by the computer, and it contains all the emails posted to the mailing list since the last digest.
Other options are usually available to subscribers, and information about them can be obtained by sending the message HELP to the host computer. These can include searching the list archives, and retrieving files. The following table sets out the commands which can be sent to the hosting computer. They must not be sent to the mailing list itself. Because the mailing list software is constantly being improved, there may be occasions where the table is not always correct. However, when this happens, the reply from the computer will always give the correct way to subscribe etc..
When you join a list it is normal to "lurk" for a time to get a feel for the topics discussed and the style used. There are often archives where you can check your queries to see if they have been discussed previously, before posting them to the group.
Occasionally individuals inject junk emails into the discussion list, manually or by hacking into the computer. Please have patience, use the delete key, and do not react by replying. If everyone starts replying within a closed group where everyone receives any message sent by any member of the group, the result can be catastrophic. Only the list owner can rectify the situation. Stop sending messages and let the list owner keep you informed of the situation. It happened to me, and at times a 1000 emails a day were being generated.
Mailing lists exist for most topics, and search tools like Reference.com, Vician Neou's list, and Tile.net can be used to find them. Reference.com also maintains a searchable archive of the emails submitted to many of the mailing lists.
A collection of mailing lists related to food can be found on a separate page. Please let me know of any others which ought to be included.
Where a mailing list owner collects information from many sources and issues it regularly to the list of subscribers, such as Doug Powell's FSNet, I have classified it as a newsletter. The list of mailing lists should only contain two way communication lists.
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Roger Trobridge, The Internet Gopher, email@example.com