Using Mailing Lists in the 2020s
Mailing list software is archaic. It was designed in the early 1990s for e-mail as it existed at that time. The mailing list format is considered a "dinosaur" by software developers, so it will never be updated and new list software will never be written. As a result, there may be some issues when using mailing lists in the 2020s.
List software likes posts to be in plain text. Issues arise when code is embedded in an e-mail message or an e-mail is sent as a multi-part message which is very common now. This can happen in different ways:
- Using Phones or Mobile Devices - Some of these work better than others. It may depend on the brand or on individual settings. There's such a variety of these devices, and the technology keeps advancing, that it's not possible to address how each one works with the mailing list. See the "Rule of Thumb" below. If there is a consistent problem with your posts when using a phone or mobile device, you might consider using a computer to post to the list or find a way to send e-mail in plain text. Keep in mind that such devices did not exist when list software was developed.
- HTML, Enhanced Text, etc. - E-mail clients may enhance text in e-mails using HTML, rich text, stationery or other text enhancements, sometimes turned on by default. These will add code to the outgoing e-mail which will make the list software reject it. Please send e-mail to the list using plain text only. See "Send Posts in Plain Text" below.
- AOL and Yahoo Users - Several years ago, AOL adopted a policy which effectively denies its users the ablility to post to mailing lists. AOL had a web page explaining this policy, specifically mentioning mailing lists, but it has been taken down. Basically, if an e-mail comes "from" and AOL address, but doesn't go through an AOL server, it is rejected by most of the internet. Most major e-mail providers are on board with this. Yahoo also does this. As a result, AOL and Yahoo users should use the forum instead of the mailing list.
- Microsoft Windows Live Mail - This will also embed code in outgoing e-mail. If there is a setting to send plain text, please use that for posting to the list. Here's how to send plain text from Windows Live Hotmail. The same problem may exist with subsequent versions of Windows, but it's not been tested for this article.
- Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express - These are designed to be optimal ONLY when one Outlook user e-mails another Outlook user. Otherwise, there may be formatting problems. Mailing list posts may look jumbled on the list and on the forum.
These may also attach a file called "winmail.dat" to outgoing e-mail. The purpose of this attachment is for e-mail enhancements only when one Outlook user sends e-mail to another Outlook user. Otherwise, it is just a useless attachment, one that can sometimes trip virus filters. If it's seen as a virus, your message might not even get to the list software at all. If not, the list software will reject your message. Here's how to send plain text from Outlook.
The mailing list is not recommended for Outlook users. The forum is much better to ensure that posts are formatted correctly and odd attachments don't get sent.
- You Can't Send Attachments to the Mailing List - Again, the list software expects plain text only. If you attempt to send an attachment, such as a photo or document, the list software will try to force the binary data into text. This will result in so many bizarre characters that the list software will reject the message. Messages with attachments cannot be "fixed" and re-sent to the list because the attachment has already been forced into text by the time the bounce message goes out.
Rule of Thumb: The mailing list works very well and your posts should come back to you via the list within a few minutes. If it often takes longer*, your posts are probably being kicked out by the list software due to one or more of the factors described above, in which case it goes to a special folder to be discovered, then manually fixed and re-sent to the list, if possible, as time permits.
Avoiding These Issues:
- Post to the Forum Instead of the Mailing List - This will bypass all these issues and is the easiest solution.
- Send Posts in Plain Text - If you can set your e-mail client to send plain text, please use that when posting to the list. Do not send posts to the list in HTML. Herei's how to send plain text for a variety of e-mail clients. All e-mail clients and services should have the option to send messages in plain text. If yours does not, try using another or the forum.
- Don't Send Attachments - It will not work.
The idea is for users' posts to go out over the mailing list in a timely manner and without delay.
*There may be other things that can delay e-mail occasionally. If your posts are delayed on a regular basis, or when using one device and not another, it is probably due to one or more of the issues described above.
Receiving List Mail:
This has become increasingly difficult in the 21st century. Many e-mail providers don't like frequent e-mails from the same source and may start rejecting them. It has become less reliable than it was in the late 20th century. Ability to receive list mail varies from one provider to another. Even AOL and Yahoo users can receive list mail OK (they just can't post, see above). Others may bounce some list mail while letting some through, while others block it entirely.
Bottom Line: The forum is the most reliable method of participating in the HML. Mailing lists have become less reliable.