Departmental Mailing Lists
The department runs a mail list server.
- The lists and their purpose
- Further advice on appropriate lists to use
- Main list administration page
- Mailman list owner users guide
The lists are generally used for departmental purposes with the list owner adding and removing relevant addresses as necessary (e.g. new students, staff etc) taking the information from other sources such as staff and student records. Membership of some key lists is strictly automated based on person data.
If you find you have been left off a list then email the list owner as specified on the listinfo page (or using the generic list owner address of the form
LISTNAMEfirstname.lastname@example.org where you would replace
LISTNAME with the particular listname). Alternative if you email @email it will directly generate a subscription request that the list owner can approve.
Posting to a list
The majority of lists are for official departmental announcements. In this case the majority of list members postings are set to be moderated. This means if you try to post to a list your message will be held until one of the list owners approves it.
For any given announcements list a small group of people are typically allowed to post unmoderated (provided their posting meets all other list configuration rules).
Good practice when posting to mailing lists
The very first thing to consider is is the message appropriate for the list?. If you are not an allowed unmoderated poster for the list and the message is not strictly appropriate to the list then it is quite likely the list owner will reject your message anyway. If you are an allowed unmoderated poster and you send/forward on messages that are not entirely necessary the list members may complain about the large volume of irrelevant information they receive. At that point they may ask to be removed from the list which compromises the effectiveness of the list, particularly if the list is an official announcement list where the purpose is to try to reach all relevant people.
Announce lists should generally only be used for official/relevant information that is likely to be of interest to that group of people. Occasional interesting but less relevant posting would typically be acceptable. The membership of announce lists is generally managed by the list owner to ensure all the relevant people are on the list and unsubscription generally only occurs if the person is no longer part of that group of people.
Discuss lists typically have a higher volume of messages and the content of those messages is less formal. The membership of a discuss list is typically by opting in or out at the choice of the individual.
Having decided your message is appropriate for the list then apply the following guidance
- The list address should appear in the To or Cc message field.
- The total number of addresses in the To and Cc fields should not exceed 30. If you do wish to cc a message to lots of additional addresses either put them in a Bcc field or send a second email separately to these addresses.
- Remember to post to a list using the exact address you are subscribe as/allowed to post with.
- Keep the message as concise as possible.
- If it is a general announcement where many people may not be interested in all the material then do not add lots of large attachments. Instead either point them to the material on the web or ask them to reply if they want further details and then send the additional material to those few that want it.
- Try to avoid large attachments. All mailing lists have a configured maximum message size, typical 5MB. If you email just a 1MB message to one or more lists where the total number of members is say 500 then you are generating 0.5GB of email! If you do send a large attachment to a list then it will bounce to the list owner to approve.
- If you do need to send out extra information as an attachment consider what format is best to use:
- Could you convert it to plain text and simply include it in the body of the message? Doing this will dramatically reduce the size of the information in a word document as well as making it easier for the recipient to directly read it.
- If the particular formatting of a document is important and hence conversion to plain text is not appropriate try to send it out as an attachment using an open format that is readily accessible to all, e.g. PDF. It is almost never appropriate to send out Word attachments to a list.
To configure a list visit the list configuration page and click on the link for the appropriate list. It will then prompt you for the list administration password before taking you to the lists general configuration page.
The initial/existing configuration should be suitable so most settings will not need changing.
Overview of settings you will need to change from time to time
- General Options: under here you can add additional addresses to the list of owners so you can share/change responsibility for the list.
- Passwords: under here you can change the owner password. There is no need to set a (separate) moderator password in general unless you wish to specify people as purely moderators on the general list configuration page. All list moderation request go to the list owner. If additional moderators are specified they too get these notices but can only access the moderation page and not all the list configuration.
- Membership Management:
- Membership list: shows the list members and allows you to unsubscribe addresses etc. Note most list members are moderated as the lists are for announcements by the few unmoderated list members
- Mass Subscription: subscribe new addresses here
- Privacy Options:
- Sender Filters: can add/create a list of non-member addresses that can also post unmoderated
Regularly Reviewing List Membership
List owners are responsible for managing the list membership. When using lists for internal university business only ever subscribe university email addresses as members. By subscribing university addresses you have the added precaution that as people leave the university their email address typically ceases to work after a period thus limiting the risk that messages go to someone they are no longer relevant to. Nevertheless list owners should still periodically review the membership of a list and remove all addresses no longer relevant. How frequently and when to review the list membership should be considered in the context of the level of private/sensitive/confidential business managed via the list, the cycles of any processes and the likely frequency with which people change roles and should no longer have access to the list information. Note in particular in some circumstances someone who leaves the department or university may retain an account for an ongoing collaboration or whilst they finish up supervising Oxford students so one cannot 100% rely on the fact their email will close down soon after they leave hence a periodic check is essential to avoid inadvertently leaving someone on a list who is no longer part of that group/activity/purpose. Even when a university account does close one also has to be mindful of any expired forwarding service offered by the department or university which if used by the individual will effectively mean their address remains valid for 3-12 months after they leave.
As well as reviewing the addresses subscribed to a list the list owner should periodically review the list of addresses that have been whitelisted for posting to the list without moderation. Keeping down the number of addresses that can post unmoderated provides better information security and management and reduces the impact of some incorrect messages sent to lists that in an unfortunate situation can result in a data breach. This needs to be pragmatically balanced with the expectation that regular trusted posters information goes out smoothly and quickly without excessive amounts of admin to manually review and moderate all such posts.
Adding list members
Using the list password access the list configuration page.
At the top left there is a link marked Membership Management.., which you would click on. This reveals some sub links of which one is marked Mass Subscription which you would click on to take you to a subscription page. In the top box enter the addresses to subscribe one per line and then scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the Submit Your Changes button. The address are now on the list which you can confirm by going back to the top and clicking on the link marked [Membership List].
Removing list members
Using the list password access the list configuration page.
If you need to unsubscribe an address you would go to the [Membership List] and find the relevant address and tick the box in the left most column marked unsub next to the relevant address. You then scroll to the bottom of the table and click on the Submit Your Changes button and the address is removed.
Changing individual list members settings (including whether their posts are moderated)
When you add an address to a list it is added with default settings that are typically correct. If you visit the [Membership List] page then you can see the settings for each list member. A detailed explanation of what each of the columns represents is revealed if you click the link Click here to include the legend for this table.
In general you are likely to only need two of the columns. Already discussed above is the unsub column used for marking address to be unsubscribed.
The other setting you may need to change is the mod column. By default this is likely to show a tick indicating any posting by that address will be held for moderation. If you uncheck the box and click on Submit Your Changes then that address is now not subject to moderation. Typically for an announcement list there will be a very small number of addresses subscribed to the list who also post official announcement and hence have the mod setting turned off.
Controlling moderation of non list member posting
By default all non list members postings will be held for moderation. However, it may be appropriate for some addresses to be able to post to a list without actually being a list member, e.g. if you need to send to the list but do not want to receive the messages or if someone important needs to send from a second address but not have that subscribed to the list.
In this case you need to visit the Privacy Options -> Sender Filters page and add the appropriate address in the section labelled List of non-member addresses whose postings should be automatically accepted. Having entered the address remember to click on the Submit Your Changes button.
As with list members who are allowed to post unmoderated, the numbers of other addresses that can post unmoderated should be carefully managed.
Moderating messages that have been held
If a message is held for moderation then the list owners (and list moderators if separately specified) receive an email telling them to review the message and take action. The message the list owners receive states why the message needs moderation and provides the URL of the list moderation page to visit. The logic behind many of the reasons is based on common characteristics of spam and other email that is sent in an attempt to abuse a list.
Common reasons a message needs to be moderated include:
- Post by non-member: the address the message came from is not on the list
- Post by moderated member: the address the message came from is on the list but marked for moderation
- Implicit destination: the sender has not put the list address in the To or Cc field (i.e. they have probably put it in a Bcc field)
- Too many recipients: there are more than a total of 30 addresses listed in the To and Cc fields
- Message size too big: The size of the message exceeds the configured limit (typically 1MB).
On visiting the list moderation page the list owner is presented with the details of the message and options to handle it.
- if the message is inappropriate for the list/spam then you would check the discard box and then click on the Submit button to have the action performed.
- if the message is appropriate for the list and has simply been held for one of the first 4 reasons above then you would check the approve box and then click on the Submit button to have the action performed.
- if the message was overly large you should consider whether the message is necessary in its current format, in which case approve it, or would be better reformatted and resent, in which case reject the posting and type in the space the reason. If you reject the posting the sender will receive a reply containing your reason so they know what action to take before sending a replacement message.
You can also use this moderator approval step to whitelist that person's email address for future posts to this list (rather than having to go through manually adding it to the accept_nonmembers as mentioned further above):
- if they are a list member then it will offer an option to 'clear this members moderate flag'
- if they are not a list member then it will offer options to 'add this address' to the 'accepts' sender filter
Note: if there are multiple owners/moderators of a list then they all receive the moderation emails. The first person to take action to moderate a post will clear the moderation page such that if other list owners visit it they will find nothing left to moderate. For this reason it is often useful to decide amongst the list owners who will act as a primary owner to handle most moderations. The other owners can then just act to moderate postings when they are aware the primary owner is unable to do so.