How to Live with Mailing Lists?
December 31, 2006 11:23 AM   Subscribe

The problem: I'm subscribed to 20-30 high volume mailing lists (e.g., Ubuntu, Python) and the gmail account I'm using is now 80% full! I subscribed to them to ask a question once in a while, but I really have no interest in following every post to the lists. My question is how do others handle this situation? Is there a solution to mailing lists that I'm missing?

And it makes me wonder, isn't this whole process a lot to ask of newbies, for example if I have a question about MythTV am I really supposed to subscribe to their mailining list and get my inbox flooded just to ask one question?

Finally, assuming there's no obvious solution I'm missing, would some sort of web application to make this process easy be a good product for me to build and maybe sell? I'm looking for software projects at the moment so I'm trying to keep an eye out for problems needing solutions.
posted by GregX3 to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I filter them straight to the trash folder and skim it every now and again for any interesting activity.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:26 AM on December 31, 2006

They'll either have RSS feeds or a web page equivalent, which will allow you to read them without getting the emails. Most also have a web-based control panel, allowing you to switch to a daily digest or turn off emails completely.
posted by cillit bang at 11:29 AM on December 31, 2006

This is why web-based forums were invented. I look forward to the disappearance of mailing lists for general software support.

In your case, I'd either do what Krrrlson says, or unsubscribe from the lists you no longer care about, or start signing up for multiple gmail accounts.
posted by knave at 11:30 AM on December 31, 2006

I have a filter for each to archive, label and forward to secondary backup gmail address.

When they take up too much space I just delete them, but I still have them backed-up in the secondary account. I find it annoying to use most online maillist readers, like gmane, so this solution gives me more control.
posted by nazca at 11:40 AM on December 31, 2006

Get the digest option if available and then download your emails from that account to Thunderbird. Delete them in your Google account or do not keep a copy in google after the POP download.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:08 PM on December 31, 2006

Unfortunately, the digests are going to be just about the same size as the individual emails, as far as gmail's concerned. Saving them away locally, however, would help, but you lose all the benefits of web-based email.
posted by knave at 12:18 PM on December 31, 2006

Many mailing lists have web-based front ends and archives that make it easy for you to turn off messages when you don't need them.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:20 PM on December 31, 2006

One word : Gmane.
posted by androse at 12:30 PM on December 31, 2006

create one gmail address for each list. use the firefox extension to keep track of them all.
posted by Baud at 12:36 PM on December 31, 2006

Since you already have a google account, you can use Google Groups to manage them without affecting your gmail account. If you search for the group name, you can usually find the one you want such as comp.lang.python
posted by sipher at 12:38 PM on December 31, 2006

Response by poster: I like the suggestions so far. I'm still not sure if the google groups solution, or gmane would work for something like MythTV.
My main goal is to ask one question, get it answered and never come back again. What's the best way to do that? All of the email based solutions sound like they'd take at least 5-10 minutes i.e., subscribe, confirm subscription, set up a filter ...
posted by GregX3 at 1:30 PM on December 31, 2006

Why not unsubscribe to the mailing list once you've had your question answered?
posted by rhapsodie at 1:44 PM on December 31, 2006

Response by poster: GMane would almost work, but this subscribe page still looks like a lot of work for someone with a simple question.
posted by GregX3 at 1:52 PM on December 31, 2006

Response by poster: rhapsodie, that would work but if it takes me a couple of minutes to subscribe I'm kinda reluctant to unsubscribe in case I ever have another question.
posted by GregX3 at 1:54 PM on December 31, 2006

IRC? Most development communities have at least one.
posted by ardgedee at 2:44 PM on December 31, 2006

Create a gmail account: yourname.mailinglists at gmail dot com. Have it forward all mail to your main gmail account.

Any mailing list you join use the mailinglists account.

In your main account create a filter so that all mailing list emails "skip the inbox" and that they are labeled "mailing list" (create a new label "mailing list").

A fail-safe is that if everything goes crazy you can just close the mailing list account and start fresh with a mailinglist.2 gmail account and your main gmail account won't be affected.

It is easy to delete all the emails labeled "mailing list" periodically. You may still be able to do this easily retroactively depending on how many mailing lists you are on.
posted by cda at 3:42 PM on December 31, 2006

With mailing lists managed by the most common software (e.g. GNU mailman, ezmlm) you can set your subscription options to "no messages". This lets you still post to the list but you don't receive any of the list traffic. You can read the archives using the project's web site or gmane or marc or nabble whatever service you want.

And let me just say, you can pry my software development email lists from my cold dead hands. Web forums are truly hideous. There are so many advantages to email lists: you can view and search them offline, they have real threading, you can download the full archives, you aren't dependant on some shitty website. The mistake is using webmail for this. Try a "fat" email app like Thunderbird where storage space is not an issue, and you also get real threading a bonus.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:06 PM on December 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I forgot to mention that some projects allow posts from non-subscribers to their email lists, in which case you don't even have to subscribe. Just send the message to the list and then read replies on the web archives (or via CC: if it's a properly run list that doesn't fuck with the Reply-To header.)
posted by Rhomboid at 6:07 PM on December 31, 2006

I second the GMane suggestion.
posted by hattifattener at 8:46 PM on December 31, 2006

What about using spamgourmet addresses?

Once you sign up for spamgourmet (a short, 5 min. process at most), you can create a disposable email address of the form {prefix}, where {prefix} can be any word, and each one creates a new address. Each address will only work for a preset number of messages (that you can set, from 1-20). So you can sign up to a list with it, ask away, and be confident that after receiving a certain number of messages, that the address will 'shut off' and eat all further messages to it. And if you don't get your question answered in 20 messages, it's simple to go into spamgourmet and re-enable the address for more messages, or open it up more permanently. I use them all the time.

Of course, some mailinglists may not appreciate you using disposable email addresses on their lists...but that's a different issue. For your purposes, I think it's the easiest solution.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:57 PM on December 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

So you can sign up to a list with it, ask away, and be confident that after receiving a certain number of messages, that the address will 'shut off' and eat all further messages to it.

God that's rude. It's like walking into a restaurant where you're supposed to bus your own tables and leaving your dirty trash all over the place. "Who cares, it's somebody else's problem." Most mailing list management programs know how to deal with addresses that bouce, but it's a complete waste of resources as it has to keep track of how many messages to the address have bounced, then send out a probe message when that number crosses some threshold, and so on. It's needless bookkeeping on both the mailing list server and the spamgourmet server just so that you can be lazy. And you're talking about doing this every time you ask a question? Sheesh. This is precisely what the "no messages" subscription option was designed for, why not use it?
posted by Rhomboid at 9:13 PM on December 31, 2006

Rhomboid is my friend. :-)

Also: usenet.
posted by baylink at 10:11 PM on December 31, 2006

Rhomboid is correct that the "no messages" option is the right way to go in GlenX3's situation, but spamgourmet is a pretty good solution and not nearly so bad as Rhomboid makes it out to be.

Spamgourmet does not bounce emails after forwarding the set number, it just eats them. So the additional load on the mailing list server is minimal -- just another email address in a list of hundreds or thousands.
posted by event at 7:34 PM on January 1, 2007

Yikes, that's even worse. So instead of the mailing list being able to cull the dead addresses it is now stuck delivering them to an ever increasing list of these blackhole addresses, with no way to ever know that they're actually going in the bit bucket. And it really is forever, since if the address is no longer usable on spamgourmet's end there would be no way to reply to the confirmation email necessary to unsubscribe.

Raymond Chen has a thought experiment that he calls "what if everyone did this?" and if you use it here you will see that if everyone did something that selfish and moronic every time they wanted to ask a question on a mailing list then every free software's email server would eventually become saddled down with thousands of these useless throwaway addresses that do nothing but clog up their mailing list, soaking up network bandwidth and CPU cycles, and making delivery to actual participants (i.e. the people that actually develop the software) take longer.

Spamgourmet was invented for when you weren't sure of the legitimacy of the entity you are giving your address to, not so you can screw over free/open source projects for having the audacity to take their free time to develop software and give free help with your problem.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:49 PM on January 1, 2007

Gmane is cool, but be aware that not all mailing list owners are content for their lists to be routed through the gateway. I certainly know of one list where the owner point-blank refused (as is their privilege).
posted by btocher at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2007

nazca, you don't have to use the Gmane web page to read the mailing lists - you can use any usenet (newsreader) client, e.g. Thunderbird.
posted by btocher at 11:21 AM on January 2, 2007

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