Mailing List

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During the early 1990s, online fandom spread out from newsgroups to include mailing lists, which allowed for fast, easy e-mail communication.

From a mid-1990s Media Monitor:

Mailing Lists are a convenient way for a group of people to share their input on a given subject. Think of them as online letterzines, only with an instantaneous turnaround. Once you subscribe, you automatically begin receiving all the mail that the list members contribute. Be careful to follow the instructions for signing up as they are explained, because many times the list is maintained by the computer, which is programmed to respond to specific wording. Be forewarned: some active mailing lists can generate up to 100 messages a day, so consider this before subscribing to many lists at the same time.

General Overview

Other than reflector lists (where list members were bcc'd on every email that came in to the list), the earliest mailing lists were mainly restricted to university or private servers. This limited list ownership to those who had access to those servers, and as a result, list-based fandoms tended to be very centralized, with limited places to communicate.

To speed up and manage a mailing list, it was used LISTSERV a electronic mailing list software, which allowed the sender to send an email to the list, which was later transparently sends it on to the addresses of the subscribers to the list.[1][2] Some lists were multi-fandom, such as the first slash list, Virgule, which existed to give slash fans (a minority in online media fandom at the time) a place to talk.

However, most were single-fandom. There was usually a main discussion list for show discussion — for instance, HIGHLA-L[3] for Highlander and ForKNI-L[4] for Forever Knight. There might also be a fiction list—usually gen-only like FKFIC-L,[5] or with specific posting rules about posting slash and gen fic such as HLFIC-L.[6] Later, separate erotica fiction lists (het, slash, or both) were created to give people a forum for their more adult stories: examples include the Sentinel lists SXF (slash and adult het) and Senfic (gen) and the due South lists DSX (slash) and DIEF (gen).

In 1997, ONElist was formed, making it possible for anyone to create a mailing list. Over the next few years, several similar services (Coollist, eGroups, Topica) sprang up. Fandom took full advantage, with new lists for shows that hadn't had any lists at all before, and more specialized lists — for pairings, fiction kinks, etc. – for fandoms that had been centralized.

In 1999 ONElist and eGroups merged, and in 2000, Yahoo! bought eGroups and formed Yahoo! Groups, where many fannish lists wound up by default. These "group" lists include a searchable web-based archive of all posts and places to share uploaded files.

While reflector lists have largely gone out of fashion, active mailing lists currently still exist for hundreds of fandoms across private servers, university servers, and services such as Yahoo!Groups.

Mailing lists, like Yahoo Groups, allowed fans to create a more customized and controlled fandom experience. This had both positive and negative impact on fandom.

Back in the day, especially on Usenet, there was a larger sense of fandom. Slashers, shippers, and those who couldn't care less who's banging who all co-existed on the same newsgroup. Oh yeah, there were fights, but fandom was a lot more interesting back then because you were exposed to more opinions. With the advent of OneList and it's many evolutions, fandom started to become much more factionalized as each fandom had dozens of lists. Now fandoms have dozens of communities. Slashers never have to be exposed to shippers, and vice versa. It cuts down on shipper wars, sure, but I think it robs of a sense of truly being a fandom. [7]

However, starting in the early 2000s, much of media fandom began migrating to blogging platforms such as LiveJournal and diaryland, prompting many to feel that the era of the mailing list was over:

"But, oddly enough, I've been noticing that *all* of the lists (from Stargate to Highlander to HP) that I'm on have been "drying up." The posts haven't been featuring as much discussion or as much fiction. People are taking both elsewhere. I'm finding it on LJs and recs lists instead. So, I'm wondering. At the moment, i'm on 50 lists (down from like 200+ a while back) and a goodly chunk of those are author-notification lists. But, of the fannish lists I'm still on are dead, dead, dead. Are other people in other fandoms finding this as well? What about Smallville and Sentinel and LOTR and TPM, etc.?"[8]

"Yes, IMO mailing lists are dying in fandom. I'm not sure it's the customizability, as much as the fact that LJ Runs Itself. No moderators needed, no scraping up bandwidth and host space, no coping with the interfering and capricious Yahoo powers that be, no endless bouncing mails. Each person manages their own posting and "subscribing" via their flists, and fannish groups can survive the departure, temporary or not, of any one fan due to RL issues. I mourn the easy concentration of shared interests. LJ communities and interests lists help, but still don't do it the way lists did."[9]

The Difference Between a Mailing List and a Newsgroup

In 2000, anneinchicago explained at alt.startrek.creative.erotica.moderated the difference between a newsgroup and a mailing list:

While I am very pleased that the mailing list option works for most people with little or no missing posts, I would like to remind everyone that ASCEM was conceived first as a newsgroup, not a mailing list. Somehow, we seem to have put the tail before the horse.

A newsgroup provides the most access, especially to newcomers.

A newsgroup provides easier access to those who do not wish to have or cannot have an overflowing mailbox.

Without easier access, a newsgroup becomes insular, moribund. Easier access would keep those who are new or those who are tired of missing posts *or* seeing their posts disappear into thin, cyberair from going elsewhere. Easier access keeps a group healthy.

Without easier access, the newsgroup slowly but surely becomes what we have always said we *didn't* want it to become: a country club marked members only. Open and responsive only to those *in-the-know*. [10]

Some Technical Information

For more general information regarding some technical aspects of an early mailing list, see Administrative Gobbledegook: That You Have To Read Before Joining Or Else I'll Nail You With A Water Balloon, Archived version, a link at the Marcus Cole Estrogen Brigade (1996).

Fan Comments


From a slash [[apazine]:

A RANT: THE TROUBLE WITH MAILING COMMENTS... that they are fucking with Internet format.

This isn't directed at anyone here, I just need to vent my spleen.

I realize that companies like AOL dump their clients onto the net with no preparation at all, and that many of us who have been around a while have the advantage of comp services departments ...but 1) anyone who has dealt with comp services will tell you that the services part of the name is wishful thinking in most cases, and 2) most of us learned what we know by observing conversations in a lot of different forums and adapting.

The problem is that, as more and more veteran fen get on-line, they are transplanting print habits into a new medium that allows much more freedom. For instance, on-line you can easily quote entire paragraphs of someone else's article so your reply makes sense and you don't inadvertently twist what the other person said. Pay services like AOL don't make it as easy to do this as the standard UNIX accounts most people at, and gov sites have, but, come on, when you enter a new place, you should learn the friggin' customs.

I often download things and write the reply off-line which means having to type in the >>s that indicate a quoted passage by hand. I do it because it's a convention anyone who has been around Internet recognizes. Putting one little > at the start and end of a passage is better than not quoting at all, but it not much. You should also include the poster's name so the quote is correctly attributed.

It is also an Internet convention to arrange posts by topics, rather than by names the way mailing comments are. I think the idea is that there are a lot more people on-line, as well as a method of communicating privately, therefore what you send to the list/newsgroup is meant for everyone to see and addressing it to one person is rude. I mean, if it's meant for only one person, why the hell is it cluttering up everyone else's mailbox?

Ahem. Sorry, but this is really starting to grate on me. Not just me, really, a lot of people now that the pay services are adding more Internet access for their customers. [11]

"About LJ & Mailing Lists" (2005)

From FCA-L:

About LJ & mailing lists: I fell for slash (in Highlander) about two and a half years ago, and the first thing I did was to sign up to mailing lists. But there was a problem. At the time, the show was off the air and the listmembers were all "old guard" fans (though soon after, the show started running again, and started coming out on DVD, and there was an influx of newbies). So the lists were pretty quiet. The whole thing about lurking and getting to know a list before you post wasn't going to work. So I was frustrated. It was like being on a porch with a bunch of people who'd known each other forever, sitting in companionable silence until something interesting goes by in the street and they'd talk it over for a bit, and then the conversation would die down again.

But then I discovered LJ, and it was different -- people were all talking at once! <g> So I got one, and friended people, and got into conversations with folks... These were the very same people who were on the lists, right? So it was kind of like moving from the porch into the kitchen.[12]

"Tales of Fandom Past" (2012)

At the end of March 2012, Arduinna posted a three-part meta essay for the Meta Month of March which described her experience during mailing list days. The first post began:

For the Month of Meta thing, someone asked for "Tales of fandom past. Anyone who was around in the mailing-list era or before...I want to hear How Things Were Different Back In The Day. Which made me feel both really old and like a raw newbie again (there were so many days before The Day! so many people have been around so very much longer than me!). But I also thought to myself, well, this is something I can do. I was there, I really enjoyed it very much, and it won't be that hard. It'll be a little bit long maybe, but not too bad...[13]

The first post described what it was like on dialup, signal-to-noise ratio / bandwidth and storage:

You were entirely welcome to write long posts -- people were far more willing to read long posts then, in fact -- but you pissed people off if you quoted too much of the material you were responding to, posted something off-topic, posted spam, posted "me too" (especially if quoting the entire original), had giant ASCII art at the end of your post, or otherwise took up space to no purpose"), and size limits ("Basic netiquette said "use the smallest files possible.[14]

The second post described how one went about finding fandom in those days, links pages such as Fan Fiction on the Net and recs pages, where and how fans were talking (newsgroups, mailing lists, irc), and where and how fans found fic (primarily on archives.) That post also reminisced about the monofannish / multifannish spectrum. She writes:

Web archives were originally all hand-coded, and the stories were in .txt files, not html (although they might be sitting on top of an html background, which was very spiffy indeed). Archivists would make an html front page(s), with lists of the linked stories, and you'd click through to the text, which more often than not looked exactly like an email, because the archivist would take the emails that went to the fic list, copy them into txt files, and upload them as is. How the archive was set up depended on the archivist; sometimes it was just a list of stories, sometimes you had "stories by author" and "stories by title", sometimes you had categories. Sometimes you had all of that and more, with every story indexed in multiple ways so you could find it no matter what (♥ DS Archive ♥).[15]

The third post described mailing lists themselves:

In the mid-90s, there were only two ways to own a true mailing list:

Be affiliated with a university that offered mailing lists to its members (faculty, staff - I don't think undergrads had the ability to create lists)This was the oldest, most established way to run a list.

Own your own server and install mailing list software on it, or know someone who had their own server who was willing to let you run lists off it. This was the first small step in the widening of fandom, as it was slightly easier to own/run a list this way, although the number of people who were able to do so was limited.

The other way to run something that functioned as a mailing list, even though it wasn't, quite, was to make a "reflector" list, where you were the central clearinghouse that people sent their messages to, and once a day or so you'd redirect the incoming "list" mail out to everyone on the distribution list. This worked fine, but was slower than a true mailing list.

That was it.

On the downside, that meant there weren't that many lists, and you just had to hope that someone with the right connections was into the same shows you were and was willing to run a list for them. If something happened and a list owner shut down a list, that was it; the fandom could well dissipate, if no one else had the ability to start a list, and tell people where it was.

On the upside, it meant that everyone was playing in the same sandbox. It resulted in a fair amount of friction in a lot of cases, but it also meant that the entire fandom hung out together, and everyone got exposed to all sorts of opinions and takes on canon. It made things feel a lot more cohesive, even if it was driving you out of your mind and making you stay up too late typing up responses to people who were SO WRONG omg.[16]

That third post also talks about the explosion of mailing lists by 2000 which were:

....great for being able to tailor discussions! But it meant that newer fandoms were starting out more splintered from the get-go, and it was harder and harder to get a full-fandom experience. We called it the balkanization of fandom, and while it was a natural result of fandom's steady growth, it was also sort of sad; no one's ever going to have that full-fandom experience again."), general list etiquette, gen vs. het vs. slash lists, public and private lists, and what people talked about on-list (and didn't -- e.g. RPF). That post also covers things like spoiler space, posting fanfic to mailing lists, TPTB on mailing lists, trading source on lists, and getting to know people on lists:

You made friends on mailing lists during list conversations when you got into arguments or discussions and riffed off each other and basically had a grand old time talking about things; eventually you started taking your conversations offlist and just going to town on everything under the sun.

You made friends when you wrote someone off list to send them a "me too" response to something they'd said, and maybe elaborated a little bit about how much you agreed with them, and they wrote back, and it kept going from there. Or when someone sent you a note off list thanking you for a post you'd made, and touching on something that really mattered to you.

You made friends when you sent someone feedback for a story, and she responded to you, because you had said something specific about what they did that they could respond to. That could be enough to start a conversation that would turn into a years long friendship. Or when someone sent feedback to you and picked out something you were particularly proud of -- or something you hadn't even noticed -- and it made you itch to talk more in-depth about it.

You made friends by offering to beta for someone, or asking someone to beta for you.

You made friends by borrowing or loaning zines to someone, and talking with them about the stories; you made friends by trading tapes, and letting them suck you into a new fandom (or vice versa).

You didn't make friends every single time any of those things happened; more often than not, it would be a single exchange. But not always; sometimes you really clicked.[17]

Additional Reading/Meta


  1. ^ "LISTSERV Definition". 2017-07-24. Archived from the original on 2022-04-20.
  2. ^ LISTSERV - Wikipedia Article
  3. ^ HIGHLA-L
  4. ^ ForKNI-L
  5. ^ FKFIC-L
  6. ^ HLFIC-L
  7. ^ ~ Anonymous comment on fail_fandomanon, dated August 15, 2010
  8. ^ A Question for the Rabble dated November 26th, 2003; reference link.
  9. ^ comment in A Question for the Rabble dated November 26th, 2003; reference link.
  10. ^ from Usdenet/Newgroup Feeds Vs Mailing List (Dec 26, 2000) Note: "Usdenet" in the post title is a typo.
  11. ^ from Strange Bedfellows (APA) #6 (August 1994)
  12. ^ comments on FCA-L, quoted anonymously (April 16, 2005)
  13. ^ Fandom 1994-2000ish, part 1
  14. ^ Fandom 1994-2000ish, part 1
  15. ^ Fandom 1994-2000ish part 2
  16. ^ Fandom 1994-2000ish, part 3
  17. ^ Fandom 1994-2000ish, part 3