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Getting the Most from the DansGuardian Mailing List

Why Any Mailing List?

Whatever you send to the mailing list address is repeated to every member of the mailing list. You don't have to keep track of who's a member and who's not, and you don't have to deal with lots of email addresses. All you need to do is post one copy of your message to one address (the address of the mailing list). If you look closely at received messages, you can tell they came via an email list. But if you don't look carefully, you can mis-conclude you're getting email from people you never heard of.

The idea of a mailing list is you as a reader will sometimes have the same question as a poster. You'll benefit from reading the answers even though you didn't post the question yourself. Furthermore, even eavesdropping on questions and answers that aren't immediately applicable to your situation will (hopefully) be educational.

To make a mailing list work, you should reply only very seldom, and only if you have something to add. If all mailing list members replied to every posting –even just to say “I dunno”– the number of messages on the mailing list could easily multiply thousands of times. Then you as a reader would be challenged to separate the “meaningful” postings from the rest. (Another way to say this is the “signal-to-noise” or “S/N” ratio would become outrageously high.) Don't let this happen. If you don't know the answer to the poster's query, keep it to yourself.

How Does The DansGuardian Mailing List Work?

Currently both the English language and Portuguese language DansGuardian mailing lists are hosted by yahoo-groups. (As of spring 2009 only the English language mailing list has much activty; the Portuguese language mailing list is largely inactive.) The web interface (http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/dansguardian/ and http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/dansguardian-br/) lets you anonymously search the archives or subscribe to (become a member of) the mailing list. It also presents directions for unsubscribing. (Posting your unsubscribe request to the whole list [rather than following the directions] not only won't work, it will annoy hundreds of mailing list members, and may get you categorized as a hopeless noob as well.)

As is commonly the case with mailing lists currently, only list members can post to the list. In other words, you can only say something that everybody hears if you're also willing to listen to everybody else. So if you think you might ever want to either post or reply, subscribe to the mailing list now.

Like many mailing lists, Yahoo ties mailing list memberships to email addresses. Further, Yahoo apparently assumes each email address is tied either to one computer or to some sort of Webmail. So using the same email address from more than one computer –especially if their internal email fingerprints are a little different– will probably get all but one of the computers ignored. Likewise using multiple email addresses will almost always involve an email address that's not a list member, thus getting all of those posts ignored.

One way to avoid these potential problems is to create a Yahoo email account and use it just to subscribe to the mailing list. As Yahoo email accounts are typically accessed by a sort of Webmail, the list will never block any of them.

Commonly mailing lists try to prevent “junk” (SPAM) posts while yet allowing legitimate posts, so “call this number” never appears on the mailing list yet every legitimate posting is publicized. Striking the right balance is difficult - either there's too much “junk”, or too many legitimate posts are blocked. As a result the mailing list's anti-SPAM policies will change frequently. One common problem is if an anti-SPAM mechanism mistakenly classifies one of your posts as “junk”, the system will remember and all postings from your email address will be diverted to purgatory rather than posted for several days.

What Queries Are Appropriate?

The DansGuardian mailing list ranges widely. Welcome topics include:

  • administration problems
  • usage problems
  • pre-build packaged versions
  • older versions
  • the Webmin DansGuardian Module that provides a GUI
  • apparent flaws
  • suggestions
  • offers of help
  • publishing freely shared materials such as unrestricted utility scripts
  • problems introduced by new or revamped features of particular sites
  • obtaining and using auxiliary materials such as blacklists
  • packaging issues
  • build issues
  • tricks for getting around filtering

Be wary though with questions like “how do I manage DansGuardian on system X?”. The DansGuardian mailing list may not be very helpful with questions like this. Distribution-specific questions will probably be more usefully handled on a forum dedicated to system X.

Using Mailing Lists In General

Many mailing lists –including the DansGuardian mailing list– let you subscribe either to individual messages or to a daily “digest” of all messages. Individual messages will arrive more promptly, so the individual option is probably more appropriate if you expect to respond once in a while. A daily “digest” is one way to avoid mailbox clutter, but at the cost of delaying some messages for many hours. The digest option is most appropriate if you expect you'll virtually never respond.

A way to subscribe to individual messages yet avoid mailbox clutter is to instruct your email interface to divert all mailing list messages into a different folder rather than your general inbox. Most email interface programs can do this, generally by specifying a “rule” for processing of received emails. The tag [dansguardian] is inserted in the subject of all mailing list emails. So your rule (specifically for the DansGuardian mailing list) can say something like:

if subject includes [dansguardian] then deliver to dginbox

Also instruct your email interface program to sort messages in the new folder by “thread”. Then messages will be grouped into conversations, rather than just being presented in the exact order they were received. Mailing list postings will make a lot more sense this way.

When you post a question, originate a new email conversation with a new 'Subject:'; don't “reply” to any previous posting. If you do, your posting will have a misleading (or even irrelevant) 'Subject:' so the many readers who quickly scan emails by 'Subject:' won't ever see your query. Also, your posting will confuse may email interface programs that separate postings into different conversations, with the result that your posting is appended to the wrong “thread”.

And address new posts to the whole list, never to an individual. After all, addressing a post to one person implies you'll only accept responses from that one person. If that were really true, why didn't you send your message directly to just that person rather than posting it to a whole mailing list? Don't limit who can respond by addressing your question to an individual person. Although you're thinking 'X', you may get help from 'Y' that you've never heard before. The relative anonymity of a mailing list is one of its advantages; don't fight it, embrace it! No individual “owns” a mailing list. Implying otherwise is just a recipe for offending someone.

When you “reply” to an email, many email interface programs will quote the previous email (usually either with > in the first column or with a continuous line at the left). The goal is that each email can make sense by itself even if all the other postings in the “thread” have been lost. Where you're replying to a reply to a reply to …, you may see a varying number of > at the beginning of each line; one > is what the person before you said, two > > is what the person before that said, three > > > is what the person before the person before the person before said, and so forth. Quotes can become extremely large, so snip out the parts of the quote that are unimportant or not very useful. The quote provided by your email interface program is just raw material to be used as a starting point; it's almost certainly too much.

Some put their own words at the very top of their posting with the quote below (this is called 'top-posting'). Others put their own words after the quote (this is called 'bottom-posting'). Users on some other mailing lists have very strong feelings about which order is “correct”  …but they don't agree! On the DansGuardian mailing list you can just follow whatever your email interface program does automatically (some email interface programs do it one way, others do it the other way). What does seem to make sense is to arrange your posting so your own words are visible on the first screen; don't make readers scroll down just to see what you said. To keep your own comments on the first screen if you bottom-post, you may need to carefully snip the reply quote to only its essentials.

Mailing List Languages

Each mailing list (all mailing lists, not just DansGuardian mailing lists) mainly conducts itself in a single language. Occasional postings in some other language are clearly the exception. (This is not an ideal situation, but so far noone has figured out how to improve it.) Mailing lists do not have any automatic translation mechanism; it's up to each subscriber to translate as necessary.

A good (in the sense of free and quick, not in the sense of expert) translation tool is any of the web services such as http://translate.google.com. Beware that with these tools, depending on the post, the translation of a technical posting can be gobbledygook. To increase the chances your post can be translated reasonably:

  • avoid slang and jargon
  • avoid sarcasm and irony
  • avoid contractions and abbreviations
  • use complete sentences
  • enclose literal computer text (such as the name 'exceptionsitelist') in quotes

If you perform the translation yourself before posting, check it and clean it up a little rather than just copying verbatim what the translation service provided. Especially:

  • find literal computer terms (file paths, option names, and so forth) and make sure they were not “translated”; put them back if they were