This is a personal blog, please observe Think Hour for ad hoc quasi-diary writings and Big Ideas for my ratified longform items. I will see you there.


Alright I’m in the zone now. Alright I’m now in the zone now.

Listserv // Listserve Cowboy

What is a “Listserv” and why have I had an article about the subject open in a browser tab for perhaps weeks? The home page of an apparent espouser of listservs seems to indicate it is probably some discontent with social media that lead me here. My initial guess is this is in the realm of BBS, RSS or other social/news feeding and communing tool of yesteryear, but maybe its just a fancy term for a mailing list. Sounds quite vague, and this vagueness coupled with the early-tech-cool styling from the omitted end “e” serv as the only direction for the aforementioned guessing.

Mailing List Cartoon

In the explainer article from the espouser we’re told that it a kind of super-set of the “mailing list” application of e-mail. Where a mailing list is simply a collation of e-mail addresses, or the principle function of utilizing these batches of e-mail addresses, a listserv is a software solution that manages members/subscription, administration, archival, filtering and delivery of e-mails in a way that allows creation of large discussion groups, going beyond “reply all” CC e-mail chains but still living and breathing autonomously on an e-mail spine.

While the term “listserv” is a trademarked name dating back to the original software, which pre-dates the internet as we know it, it is often generally used to label solutions as described above. To focus in on some interesting fundamentals, we must take MailMan as an example rather than an easy-use replica service or packaged commercial solution. MailMan is a free and open GNU-Project aligned software that is coded using Python, we can do this on linux. I am not going to do it - I am instead imagining I am doing it.

MailMan Interface

The software aside, you must have a web server and mail server set up on the machine. Mailman will be hooked up to these, working some magic and then relaying mail using the mail server. The web server provides an interface for administration and a gateway to present lists and archives in the browser. It can do “VERP” (variable envelope return path) delivery, where messages are crafted specifically for recipient - very interesting. There’s really not much more to it than that, I believe. I should instead look into SMTP or something even more pure, some time. I have now wrote four paragraphs about mailing lists.