Thursday, September 17, 2009

Listserv Traps and Annoyances

I serve on many groups, committees and boards, so invariably someone will suggest that a listserv be set up for everyone to communicate. And the same things seem to go wrong:

1. The moderator of the group adds on people others don't know are there. And someone will totally offend someone they didn't know is included on the list.

2. Group members misuse it like "Reply to All" and all of a sudden swarms of "yes", "I agree", "see you there", etc. messages, along with "out of office" auto-responders, start arriving. Or worse, someone believes he/she is personally replying to the sender only, but the entire group gets a message intended for one. And it's usually something that should not have been in an email.

3. Moderator decides to turn on the feature to moderate posts before they're distributed. Maybe it's to weed out the one word responses, auto-responders, mistakes. Or maybe it's to control what is "allowed" to be distributed. Plus, moderation of listserv posts nearly always delays distribution of the email.

My thoughts:

1. If a listserv is said to be a specific group - such as all state association executives, all local presidents, only those serving on a committee or board of directors - then the moderator of the list should be required to also announce or list anyone else who is added so participants are aware.

2. If a listserv is a huge group - which I'll define as over 100 (and sometimes it can be a few thousand) then no one should really expect that to be confidential. May as well be saying it into a microphone, because you are saying it into a microphone. Actually any email could be further distributed, which can be forgotten regardless of who is/is not included.

3. From time to time the moderator needs to remind everyone of "rules", whatever those may be, so users don't get completely annoyed. For example, can't market yourself/services, or be sure to include what you're replying to in the subject line, or please reply directly to the poster and not the group on certain requests.

4. Always set the response default to the sender, and not the group (but still have a group response option). Some listservs one person asks for info to be sent directly to them - and then several in the group will completely ignore it and respond to everyone.

5. Sometimes they just don't (or won't) learn. I have some on committees who absolutely can't resist "Reply to All" so they get their own email with everyone else getting it via a list.

6. What is your real role as a listserv moderator? Is it to add commentary to posts (which some do, and I like), to ensure users aren't getting overwhelmed with noise (i.e., error messages, auto-responders, and one-word responses), or are you using it to control what goes out? Have to admit I'm writing this post because yesterday I sent a post to a group of 20 on a listserv, it got delayed with a "moderator will have to approve" message, then 3 hours later the moderator sent my message out to the group under her own name, and I got an auto-notification rejection saying my message was rejected for "no reason given". Think that completely annoyed me?

7. How timely is timely? Sometimes listservs are set up with the thought that they expedite communications. That is true provided no one is moderating. There are listservs where I've had time-sensitive communications that end up not being sent until 2-4 days later. I don't even like 2-4 hour delays, much less 2-4 days. Therefore, depending on what my role is with any given group, may still maintain my own address book group if think I might ever need something to be "immediate" - knowing the listserv moderator may not be constantly available to "okay" a message. Be sure the moderator of a listserv is aware of the expectations of the group if all messages aren't going to be authorized for immediate sending.

Did I leave anything out? : ) [Note: No clue if spelling listserv or listserve is correct, or if both are correct]

1 comment:

Cliff Allen said...

This is an excellent list of guidelines for discussion lists! I'm going to share a link to it with the lists I run.

I prefer discussion lists that default to send to the group, instead of just the sender. I realize this requires everyone to be aware of this when they hit "send."

Since you asked about spelling, the name "Listserv" is the brand name of the first mailing list product, which is still being sold today. The generic category of these systems is discussion group, discussion list, etc.