The mailing lists that we host are here for the use and enjoyment of the paddling community. They're a small attempt to repay that community for what it's given us; we hope it works.
To maximize both of those (use and enjoyment) requires the cooperation of everyone who uses them. This is a quick list of a few policies that we hope will help everyone understand what to do and what not to do. These policies are a combination of best practices developed over decades of experience with thousands of mailing lists. Think of them as an Internet-wide rough consensus on what to do and what not to do.
What's a mailing list? A mailing list (also known as a "reflector") is a group of people who communicate using a single email address -- the address of the mailing list. Any message sent to that address is forwarded (or "reflected") to everyone on the mailing list.
Every mailing list has a purpose or a topic area. Some of them overlap. Feel free to send your message to multiple mailing lists, as long as it's appropriate for each one. Note that you must be a member of a mailing list in order to send messages to it. (Why? Because this is what all responsible mailing list managers do in order to keep a lot of spam off the lists.) Non-member messages may be rejected or held for list-owner approval.
Just about all of these mailing lists are unmoderated. That means that whatever you send out will go to a lot of people fairly rapidly. A few of these lists are moderated, which means that whatever you send out will have to be approved (by the moderator) before it goes out. Check the description for each list to find out which ones are which.
We use a piece of software called Mailman to automate the process of subscribing/unsubscribing to mailing lists, managing traffic flow on them, handling moderation tasks, and many other things. Mailman is part of a general class of programs often referred to as "mailing list managers"; other contemporary examples of programs like this are majordomo, ezmlm and sympa. Mailman doesn't do everything, but it does a lot -- and it's become the "go-to" solution of choice for mailing list management.
Note: There are also long-obsolete, inferior programs like "listserv" -- which was widely used on the defunct BITnet network, and sometimes accounts for confusion when people mistakenly call mailing lists "listserves".
Sorry for being so emphatic, but this is a common mistake. And if you make it, you will uselessly annoy anywhere from dozens to thousands of people, none of whom can do what you are asking them to do.
To subscribe to any mailing list, send
in the subject or body of a message to firstname.lastname@example.org, where of course listname is replaced with the actual name of the list you're trying to subscribe to.
For example, if there were a list named "fred", you'd send your request to
The -request part is an Internet-wide convention that all mailing lists are required to support, and all competently-run mailing lists do. Incidentally: listening on the other side of the -request address is a piece of software, not a person.
To unsubscribe to any mailing list, send
in the subject or body of a message to email@example.com. where of course, again, listname is replaced with the actual name of the list you're trying to unsubscribe from.
(Yes, it's the -request convention again! If you want to fully understand why this exists, please read RFC 2142, which is the formal standard describing it.)
You can also subscribe/unsubscribe via the web: see the web page for the list you're interested in for instructions. And as a reminder of this, the instructions for unsubscribing are contained in the footer of every message sent through every mailing list.
DO NOT SEND SUBSCRIBE/UNSUBSCRIBE REQUESTS TO THE ENTIRE MAILING LIST.
By the way: you can also subscribe and unsubscribe via the web, because Mailman has a web interface that provides the same functionality.
See the section just above this for instructions on how to do steps 1 and 3.
If you can't do A or B because you no longer have access to your old address, then contact the owner of the mailing list in question by sending a note to:
For example, if there were a list named "fred", you'd send your note to
(Just as the -request extension is an Internet-wide standard for making requests of mailing list management software, the -owner extension is an Internet-wide standard for contacting mailing list owners. Again, see RFC 2142 for all the details.)
When you contact the list's owner, be sure you clearly explain, in full, what you're trying to do, and why you can't use methods A or B. That'll help the list owner figure out how to help you by (probably) manually making the change.
The most common problems are:
1. Sending HTML-formatted email to Mailman. Mailman doesn't understand HTML; neither do most well-designed mail clients. You'll need to configure YOUR client to stop generating mail in HTML and to generate it in ASCII only.
You should do this anyway -- sending HTML-formatted mail is very rude, unless the recipient has specifically asked for it (and has a client that understands it). It's also wasteful: it adds 200-2000% to the size of your messages without adding any useful content. See a note about HTML below for more details.
2. Including extra text. Mailman understands a limited set of commands; it doesn't understand English text ("thanks") or your signature (with your address/phone/etc.) or anything else. When issuing commands to Mailman, don't include ANYTHING in the message except the commands. Note: if you happen to use an Internet service that forcibly appends advertising to every one of your messages, you might need to contact the list's owner and have them manually intervene.
Messages addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org (where listname should be replaced with actual name of the list you're sending to) will be delivered to all list members, including yourself. Note that you must be a member of a list in order to send messages to it: messages from non-members may be rejected or held for moderator approval.
Message delivery isn't instantaneous: mail is not instant messaging. And there are frequently delays in mail systems, some deliberate, some an artifact of traffic levels. Your message might be stuck in a queue on your end, or in one of our servers, or one recipients' servers. But eventually, unless something's really broken, it will be delivered.
All the mailing lists we host comply with RFC 2919, which is the formal standard that describes how mailing list messages should be identified as such.
This means that every message sent through those lists has a "List-Id:" header, that looks like this:
The descriptive text is a human-readable description of the list and may change from time to time. What's important is the stuff between the angled brackets: that's a unique identifier that names the list and the list host (us) and thus distinguishes it from all other lists on all other hosts across the entire Internet.
So if you're trying to filter or sort your mail: that's the header field you'll want to use. RFC 2919 has been around since March 2001, so every decent piece of mail client software out there should be set up to handle it; check the documentation for yours.
Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untraveled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as "empty," "meaningless," or "dishonest", and scorn to use them. No matter how "pure" their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best. -- Robert Heinlein
Normal rules of mailing list etiquette apply. If you don't know these rules, please take the time to learn them before participating in this or any other mailing list.
Here's a quick summary of those:
ASCII TEXT: Send your messages in ASCII text only. Don't send them in HTML; don't send them in ASCII and HTML. Hopefully, your mail client is already configured to do this, but if not, please take care of it before sending anything. Please also turn off the automatic inclusion of any attachments (e.g. "vcard", WINMAIL.DAT, and so on). See a note about HTML below for more details.
ATTACHMENTS: Try to avoid using attachments where possible. Absolutely avoid attachments in proprietary formats, because (a) they are likely to be quite large (b) many recipients' mail systems block them in because of the risk of viruses and (c) a great many of the recipients will be unable to do anything with them other than throw them away. These formats include Word, WordPerfect, Excel, PowerPoint, BMP and others.
If you must include an attachment, make sure that it's in an open format which can be read on many computing platforms. These formats include HTML, JPG, GIF, PDF, and others. Note that quite often the best way to share a large file (such as a picture) is to put it on the web and just send out the URL. Also note that excessively large attachments will probably be rejected either by our mail systems or that of many recipients. Email is not the best mechanism for transferring large files. See a note about attachments below, as well as Don't Broadcast Proprietary Attachments.
TEXT IS TEXT: Okay, so it's a tautology, but: presume that your entire message will be displayed to recipients as text. That means that your "bold text" isn't, your "blue text" isn't, and your Times Roman 18-point italic isn't either. Email is a textual medium and attempts to treat it otherwise are destined to fail miserably.
DATE/TIME: Set the date, time and time zone correctly on your computer, so that fellow subscribers who choose to read messages in chronological order can do so.
SUBJECT: Please pick an appropriate and meaningful "Subject" line for your message. Remember that you are addressing a (possibly) large number of people whose time and attention are valuable. Show them proper respect by making sure your "Subject" line accurately and fully describes the content of your message. Please preserve the "Subject" line of previous messages when following up. Please use a new "Subject:" line when starting a new topic. If the new topic is an adjunct to the previous one, consider using this form:
Subject: New topic here (was: old topic here)
in order to signal that you're shifting the focus of conversation.
STYLE: Write in complete sentences, with proper capitalization and punctuation, and make sure you provide context/references for your remarks, so that your audience knows what you're talking about.
REFERENCES: Speaking of references, a good way to provide them is via URLs, complete via a title, indented a tab stop so that they stand out clearly, like this:
LINE WRAP: Turn on line wrap in whatever-it-is that you use to compose messages. Messages with lines that are hundreds of characters long are hard to read and even more difficult to edit in a response.
SIGNATURES: No huge signatures, please. Four lines is the de facto Internet standard limit. Avoid the temptation to place ASCII graphics in your signature.
DISCLAIMERS: Do not include legal disclaimers: they're worthless, unenforceable, and rude. (And, by subscribing to any list hosted here, you agree that any and all such disclaimers are null and void and overriden by our policies in perpetuity. So there!) Seriously, though, if your company or organization is dumb enough to be forcibly appending these to all outbound mail traffic, then please direct them to one of these for remedial education: Stupid E-mail Disclaimers and the Stupid Users that Use Them and/or Don't Include Bogus Legalistic Boilerplate.
ADVERTISING: Please do not include "boilerplate" advertising from your ISP in your messages: you don't need to inflict the advertising that pays for your Internet access or email account on other list members. Your ISP or email service provider should have a way to disable these ads: if not, get a new one that does.
RETURN-RECEIPTS: A. Please do not include "return-receipt" headers in your messages. Attemping to invade the privacy of subscribers by doing so constitutes abuse. B. Please configure your mail client properly -- i.e. so that it NEVER acknowledges "return-receipt" headers. Nobody on the list needs to know when or where you read your mail, including its administrators.
EDITING: Edit heavily when following up. That means deleting everything except the specific text that you're responding to. Be sure to correctly attribute remarks to their author and not to someone else.
FOLLOWUPS: When following up, place your reply BELOW the text you're quoting, not above it. (Some broken or misconfigured software incorrectly advises you to do the reverse; this is called "top-posting", and it's rude.) Quote only the text necessary to establish context for your remarks. (Quoting the entire previous message, in addition to being wasteful, is also rude.) See also Quote Judiciously and Post In-Line for Context.
REPLYING: Consider responding only to the author instead of the entire mailing list. Consider strongly if your response is a "me too" or "sign me up" or a "thank-you".
DISCUSSIONS: But if the message you're sending is part of an ongoing discussion, and you want everyone participating to your response, be sure that it goes to the address of the mailing list (so that everyone will see it).
CONTEXT: When supplying a URL that points elsewhere, provide context for it, possibly including an excerpt. It's very rude to send links without an explanation of why they're relevant and what the reader can expect to find when following them. (Note: a title, by itself, is almost always insufficient. Provide enough information so that the discerning reader can tell whether or not they want to follow that link. Remember that the collective time and attention of everyone on the list is always vastly more important than your time and attention: you are writing for readers, not for yourself.)
URL SHORTENERS: Don't use them, for two reasons. First, everyone who cares about participating in email discussion already has a mail client that handles arbitrarily-long URLs with no problems. Clients that don't are broken and should be repaired or abandoned. Second, all of the URL shortening services out there are completely overrun with spammers, phishers, malware, and other forms of abuse -- and none of them have shown any ability or inclination to deal with this. As a result, most of them are increasingly blacklisted, which in turn means that email messages referencing them may be rejected by the sites using those blacklists.
FLAMES: Consider responding only to the author if you're going to flame their socks off.
RECIPIENTS: DO NOT include large lists of recipients in addition to the mailing list address. Especially DO NOT Bcc those recipients. (Why? Because you will cause some people to get the message twice -- for which they will complain to us; because you will cause some people to ask to be removed from a mailing list they're not on; because you will cause some people not to get the message at all since the maximum header size will be exceeded. And because this is a really rude. If you want people to see traffic sent to the list, ask them to subscribe to it.)
UNSUBSCRIBING: Don't even think about sending an "unsubscribe" message to the mailing entire list. Hint: "-request".
JUNK: Do not send junk traffic like: unrelated jokes, virus warnings, chain letters, urban legends, spam. If you have antivirus protection on your computer/network, make certain that it does not emit warnings via mail.
BARE LINKS: Don't send "bare links", that is, don't send out a URL without an explanation. At absolute minimum, you should include the title of the web page. Much better, and far more polite, you should provide a sentence or two explaining what you are sending, why you are sending it, and what people can expect if they go there. This shows respect for recipient's time and bandwidth. It also helps to distinguish your message from spam/abuse/malware.
TEST MESSAGES: Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you ever send any kind of "test" message to any mailing list -- here or elsewhere. If you have some reason to think that something's not working, contact the list's owner. If that's not working, contact the postmaster.
PATIENCE: Be patient. Not everyone reads their mail as often as you do. And machines go down, network links fail, and so on. Your life will not end if you have to wait an hour or a day for a message to go through: email is NOT instant messaging and is NOT designed or intended to work in real time.
If you want to check to see whether a particular message made it through, you can (a) check the archives of the relevant mailing list. Messages are posted to the archives shortly after being distributed. You can also (b) contact the list's owner -- see "PROBLEMS" below -- and ask.
SPAM: Don't spam these mailing lists. Don't attempt to collect the names of all the subscribers in order to spam them directly. If any spam makes it through all of the defenses and shows up on the mailing list, do not reply to it, and especially don't reply to the entire mailing list while quoting the spam payload -- thereby assisting the spammer.
FORWARDING: It's reasonable to forward messages from other mailing lists, when the content is appropriate. Message subject lines should begin with "Fwd:" so that it's clear to everyone what's happening. But under no circumstances should the addresses associated with any mailing lists here ever be added to any other mailing list.
Also, when forwarding, make sure to strip out all extraneous attachments, all tracking URLs, all subscription/unsubscription links, etc. The best way to do this is usually to save the original message as ASCII text, edit it manually, and then include it inline. This not only minimizes the volume of traffic and maximizes legibility, but it avoids sending tracking information to third parties.
"SENT FROM": It's unfortunately become trendy among many mail clients to include self-identifying information in message bodies, e.g., "Sent from my whatever". This is stupid, rude, unprofessional and offensive; the proper place for mail client identification is in the headers of messages. Your recipients do not care which mail client you use, provided it's one that properly composes messages -- and nobody needs to be forcibly subjected to self-promotional advertising for the one you've chosen. Make sure you can turn this off, and do so. If you can't turn it off, then you need to find a different, properly-behaving mail client.
AUTORESPONDERS: It is strongly recommended that you not use autoresponders, e.g. "vacation" programs or anti-virus software which mails out warnings. But if you do, then you MUST ensure that under no circumstances will those autoresponders send a message (a) to the mailing list address or (b) to anyone who has sent a message to the mailing list. Non-compliance with this is extremely rude and abusive -- it's a form of spam -- and may result in permanent removal from all lists.
OBFUSCATION: There's an online "urban myth" that obfuscating email addresses (e.g., user at example dot com) will somehow magically defend them from spam. This is not only false, it's always been false. Spammers long ago wrote the completely trivial code required to undo this, e.g,:
perl -pe 's/[ ]+dot[ ]+/./g; s/[ ]+at[ ]*/@/g'
PAYWALLS/SIGNUPS: Some less-enlightened sites hide their content behind paywalls. If you are providing a link to such a site, it's polite to explicitly inform everyone, so that they can decide whether or not they wish to follow that link. Some other sites require that users sign up for an account before they can access content; best practice here is to avoid these entirely and to post your content where it is freely available to everyone.
THIRD PARTIES: Some sites provide a "mail this article to" function. These offer to forge email on your behalf to recipients (which is bad) and all of them are heavily abused by spammers (which is worse). You should never use these. (And if your site has this function, you should remove it immediately: it's an abuse magnet.)
"RECALL" NOTICES: Some horribly-broken and markedly-inferior mail systems like Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes have a "recall" feature that allegedly allows you to rescind a message once sent. While this might work within the context of your local mail system, it does NOT work with superior mail systems and it most certainly doesn't work over the Internet. So: (a) make sure that you really, REALLY want to send your message before proceeding and (b) never send a recall notice, since it's just extra traffic, it won't work, and it pointlessly annoys everyone on the mailing list.
PROBLEMS: Don't send a message more than once. Don't followup to spam on the list. Don't send enquiries about list operations to the list.
If you think something has gone wrong, notify us and we'll find out what happened. (How do you notify us? Every mailing list has a corresponding -owner address, e.g. the "fred" list at example.com has this one: email@example.com. That address goes to the people who manage that list. All of our mailing lists work the same way: there's a -owner email address for each of them.)
If the problem looks like it might be bigger than a single mailing list, then you could instead drop a note to our "postmaster" email address -- which deals with all our email issues in general -- or our "abuse" email address, which deals specifically with abuse issues like spam. But please don't send copies of messages to ALL of these: one will suffice, and we'll shuffle it around internally if it needs to be in front of somebody else.
SUMMARY: Note that the common thread in nearly all of the above is that each serves to keep the volume of traffic down, and helps ensure that everyone who reads your messages can get something useful from them.
If you want to ask questions about these policies, or you want to convince us to change them, or you want to gripe about them, please drop us a line. We try to be as flexible as we possibly can while maintaining the viability and usefulness of the mailing lists that we operate. Please realize that none of these policies are arbitrary, and that they are derived from decades of mail system experience, as well as extensive consultation with other similarly-experienced mailing list managers. (Some of those people have posted their own versions of this, for example Mailing and Posting Etiquette.)
There exists a formal, Internet-wide standard for netiquette: Netiquette Guidelines. It dates from 1995, and it covers more than email, but it's still well worth reading.
For a rather tongue-in-cheek approach to mailing list etiquette, see: Miss Mailers Answers Your Questions on Mailing Lists.
Please don't send out messages in HTML. Here's why:
1. HTML doesn't work well in email, mostly because it wasn't designed for email.
2. Not everyone has an email client that understands HTML. Some people can't choose their email client -- either because of the computing platform they use, or the network environment they work in, or for other reasons (see below).
3. Some people who work in secure environments purposely do not have an email client that understands HTML because of the large number of security vulnerabilities that having one would expose them to. (Example: "web bugs", single-pixel transparent images, which can reveal information to senders about when you read your mail, where you are when you do it, and so on.)
4. Other people are forbidden from having HTML-enabled clients by their network administrators because of #3.
5. Other people will never see your full message -- because it will pass through a mail gateway/filter that strips off HTML and/or attachments in order to avoid the security, worm and virus problems associated with them. These are becoming increasing widespread.
6. Other people will never see your message at all -- because of mail gateway/filters which simply discard or reject such messages. And you, the sender, may not be notified that this has happened.
7. Formatting your plaintext message with HTML adds considerable size to it -- usually between 200% and 2000%.
8. Most automatic HTML markup tools (like the ones used in email clients) generate very bad, as in horribly broken, HTML. Your message may end up looking very different to recipients than it does to you. Or it may be completely unintelligible. It's not uncommon for these tools to generate HTML that has more errors than there are lines in the message: they really are hideous.
The bottom line is that if you wish to reach as large an audience as possible with a message that they can all read, then using standard ASCII text -- with an 80-column line wrap -- is still, far and away, the best way to go. And given current trends, it seems likely to stay that way for at least the next several years.
WHAT TO DO:
If your email client generates HTML, or ASCII text and HTML, please use the configuration options in it to disable HTML and enable ASCII text only. (The precise details of how to do that will vary with your client; in many cases, the place to start is the "Preferences" or "Options" screen. It will often have three settings: "Send text", "Send HTML", or "Send both"; pick the one that's marked "Send text".)
See also: Don't send HTML Messages Without Checking First.
There are two concerns with attachments: size and type.
Size is an issue because email was never intended to be used as a file transfer medium, and thus its entire infrastructure isn't built for it. This manifests itself in many ways, and all of those ways are amplified tremendously when mailing lists are involved.
1. Consider a 7.5M attachment (a single high-resolution photo) sent to a mailing list with 475 members. To a first approximation, that's 3.5 *gigabytes* of traffic that the mailing list server has to handle.
Compare/constrast with (a) putting the photo up on the web and (b) sending out the URL, which will likely be less than 100 bytes, resulting in 47.5 kbytes of traffic.
Note: this is a VERY different situation from that found on many operations' local mail systems -- that is, what works on your local-only mail system doesn't necessarily work well on an Internet scale.
2. On the receiving side, as a general rule, larger messages take longer to be delivered. Exceptionally large messages might have their attachments stripped off -- which neatly defeats the purpose of sending them. They also take up more space in receipients' mailboxes, which in turn can cause issues for those people whose mail systems impose quotas. And nearly all mail systems impose maximum size limits on incoming messages, so very large messages may be refused or simply dropped on the floor.
3. It's not just server traffic that's an issue here. An increasing number of people read their email on portable/wireless devices...whose carriers bill by the byte or impose draconian per-month byte limits. It's much better (and more polite) to give these folks the option of loading or not loading large documents at their convenience; many will often choose to wait until they're on a wifi connection (as opposed to a cellular connection) to avoid the charges.
Some mailing lists don't allow any attachments -- and run into problems as a result. Some mailing lists allow all attachments -- and run into problems as a result. We've chosen a middle ground: we allow moderatedly-sized attachments and ask people to be considerate of their fellow list-members by not sending overly-large attachments or attachments that can't be read. Which brings us to:
Type is an issue because it's a bad idea to send out documents (attachments) in proprietary formats.
1. Not everyone can read them, because not everyone uses the same computing platform that you do. And not everyone has the same versions of software or even the same software that you do.
2. Proprietary formats, notably Word and Excel, are well-known for their ability to quickly propagate viruses and worms. As a result, most users have now been trained to discard such documents immediately after receiving them via e-mail.
In some companies, opening a Word or Excel document received from an external source is a termination offense, due to the risk that it imposes on the network environment.
3. Because of #2, an increasing number of network administrators are either filtering out attachments in proprietary formats or completely blocking/discarding messages which contain them. Many members of rockandwater.net's mailing lists receive their mail at sites which do this, and each time messages with attachments are sent out, a substantial number of rejection messages are received at rockandwater.net. indicate that such blocking/discarding is in place at their sites.
4. Proprietary document formats bloat the size of the information they contain from 100% to 3000%, depending on the information and the format. This imposes an additional load on every mail system involved in transmitting the message, while serving no useful purpose.
5. Proprietary document formats, while somewhat useful in homegenous network environments, are not very useful in the Internet environment, because of 1-4. Far more effective communication can be achieved by using Internet standard formats, which are nearly always readable by all users, on all computing platforms, anywhere in the world, and which pose far less risk to recipients. In order of preference, those are: (1) ASCII text, (2) HTML, and (3) PDF.
It's almost always the case that ASCII text is sufficient. Occasionally, HTML is useful in order to show a document with some degree of formatting. (Although the bodies of mail messages should not be written in HTML.) On those rare occasions, when the actual appearance of a document is critical, PDF is probably the current best choice. Note that PDF readers exist for dozens of computing environments, and that they're free of charge.
See also: Don't Send Attachments Without Checking First and Avoid Large Attachments.
Messages are archived and available through rockandwater.net's web site. We have not and will not authorize any public, third-party archives, although of course list members are free to maintain their own private archives if they wish.
The lists of subscribers to rockandwater.net's mailing list are by default confidential, that is, not available. In the case of some private (not public) lists, they're available to list members. Archives of public lists are public; archives of privates lists are private.
Note:If you send a message to a public mailing list -- ANY list, not just the ones we host -- you're essentially announcing your email address to the entire Internet. It's not at all reasonable, having chosen to do so, to assert that your address is still "private".
The copyright on each message belongs to its author. The copyright on the compilation belongs to rockandwater.net. (This isn't here to take anyone's rights away. We have no intention of doing that. It's here to stop unscrupulous people from archiving the list and then reselling it, or access to it, for profit without consulting or compensating the authors.)
Ads by individuals selling (or buying) are welcome; this includes people running "shade tree" or "garage" businesses to help support their paddling activities. Please mark the "Subject:" line of any such messages with "AD:" at the beginning.
Ads by commercial businesses: talk to us first. We don't want to exclude you, but we do want to be sensitive to the requests of subscribers that they not be subjected to lots of advertising.
Note: disregarding the above will probably get you blacklisted as a spammer, not only here, but in a very large number of other places.
We employ a number of measures designed to prevent spammers from joining our lists, sending mail to our lists. Most of these are beyond the scope of this document, but one thing to note is that to send messages to one of our mailing lists, you must be a member of that mailing list: messages from non-members will either be rejected or held for moderator attention. Another to note is that if your message IS rejected by our anti-spam defenses, you'll get a message telling you so -- which contains its own (very brief) instructions on how you can do something about that.