There are a number of ways for people to engage in discussions using their computer and the network it is connected to, but one of the easiest methods uses a tool you probably already have and know how to use--e-mail.
On-line discussions using e-mail are accomplished with e-mail lists. An e-mail list is a single e-mail address that actually forwards your message to a list of e-mail addresses. Users of an e-mail list usually can add themselves to the list (subscribe to the list) by sending an e-mail message to a particular address that belongs to the list server, the computer program that handles the lists. In the same way, a person also can unsubscribe from the list.
One of the first large e-mail lists ever to be created was called SF-LOVERS. It allowed researchers from the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to discuss science fiction on the ARPAnet, the precursor to today's Internet.
At Emory we use list server software called LISTSERV. (Other list server software includes Majordomo and Listproc). LISTSERV originally was provided by the BITNET Information Center (BITNIC) and in 1986, Revised LISTSERV (the direct ascendant of the version we now use) was created by Eric Thomas of the European Academic Research Network (EARN). LISTSERV is now a commercial product of L-Soft International, Inc. (http://www.lsoft.com/).
LISTSERV was first installed at Emory in about 1991 when David Hesla, associate professor in the Institute of the Liberal Arts, requested two lists, VOXHUM-L (Voice of the Humanities) and EUNBUG-L (Emory University Nota Bene Users Group). Today there are 354 lists at Emory covering topics that range from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP-L) to the Hierarchy Warehouse Project (WRHSTS-L). Our LISTSERV server reports that there is a total of 7,976 public lists around the world. According to L-Soft, Emory is 14th among LISTSERV sites with the largest numbers of lists.
One example of a widely useful list on our campus is ANSWER-L. Subscribers can submit a computer question by e-mail, and typically some of the many computer experts who subscribe to ANSWER-L will respond with helpful advice. According to Bert Bruner, Lead OS Programmer and LISTSERV administrator, this is one of the quickest ways to get computing help on campus.
Sending e-mail to an e-mail list, such as ANSWER-L, is easy. You address your message to, for example, ANSWER-L@emuvm1.cc.emory.edu. In general, you would send a message to email@example.com.
To subscribe to a list, don't send e-mail to the list itself. (This is a common mistake). Send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the body of the message include a line with the words "SUB listname Firstname Lastname." Listname is the name of the list; Firstname and Lastname are your first and last names. For example, SUB ANSWER-L Joe Smith. Soon, you should get an e-mail message telling you that your subscription to the list has been accepted.
To unsubscribe from a list, send e-mail to email@example.com with a line in the message body that says, UNSUB listname. For example, UNSUB ANSWER-L. Note that you don't have to include your name this time.
You can also request that new lists be created here at Emory if they are consistent with Emory's mission. Then you or someone you designate will become the owner of the list. A list can be open so that anyone can subscribe or it can be closed, such that only the owners can add new subscribers. Also lists can be public, meaning that anyone can send e-mail to the list, or private such that only subscribers can send e-mail.
A definite advantage of LISTSERV is its ability to archive the messages sent to a list, either on a weekly or monthly basis. It then becomes possible to retrieve this list of archives and to have LISTSERV e-mail a particular archive of messages to you.
For more information on LISTSERV at Emory or to request that a new list be set up, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For documentation send a message to email@example.com with the word HELP on a line by itself in the body of the message.
Ken Guyton is a senior computing consultant in ITD's Computing Resource Services.