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The Perils - And Joys - Of Running A Mailing List
Wow, that was interesting today, trying to deal with that exploding mailing list.
First Off, Thank You
For those of you who are on the mailing list, I want to thank you for showing patience with getting your mailboxes bombed by the mailing list. It took several aborted attempts by me, but after tinkering with the list software for just over an hour, I was able to fix it.
It's great to have patient fans like you. I really appreciate it. A BIG thank you for your considerateness.
The Stage Is Set
If you are currently on the mailing list (if you aren't and want to join, go to Wizards Talk), you know who was responsible for the blow-up (besides me). However, for the rest of you, I'll spare him the embarassment.
What happened was that a member of the list went on vacation for the week and added an auto-responder to his e-mail account. (Essentially, the auto-responder acted like a vacation message on a voice mailbox.) The message is sent out any time an e-mail is received by the e-mail account, telling the sender of the original message that the recipient is currently unavailable and that if the message is urgent another person can be contacted.
So, when a message was sent to the mailing list today, this person received a copy of the original message. That started a wild, yet predictable cycle.
What Happened Next
Well, each e-mail that is sent out on the mailing list has a default Reply-To: address in the header information: the e-mail address for submitting mail to the list. So, when the auto-responder received an e-mail from the list, it sent it's message back to the list.
Of course, the list received an e-mail through normal channels, so it sends the auto-responder's message out to the mailing list. Ooops! The auto-responder responds to the message, then the list sends out that message... Ad nauseum.
Luckily for me, the latency of the turnaround time was about 2 minutes per cycle (from mailing list to auto-responder to mailing list), so the numbers didn't build up too fast. But I had to do something about it. The easiest thing to do was delete this person's e-mail address from the mailing list. That should solve it, right?
I've Made It Worse
It wasn't anything I did today that made it worse. It's the fact that my mailing list software was set up to auto-subscribe anyone who sends a message to the list and isn't already subscribed. To me, that feature seemed like the right thing to do and demand from someone who wants to send to the list.
Oops, bad move in this case. Just because I've deleted this person from the distribution list doesn't mean that his auto-responder doesn't have an e-mail from the list to respond to. Ouch. So, the next message from the auto-responder automatically re-subscribes this person to the list. I can't get rid of this person and stop the build-up of messages!
Well, changing the setting in the script didn't have an immediate response of not auto-subscribing this person each time I deleted him. I was left with one option - delete one of the critical scripts in the hope of stopping the cycle by shutting down the mailing list.
Luckily for those on the list, it worked. His final e-mail responses died in my personal e-mailbox, and I could bring the mailing list back up about an hour after taking it down.
What Can Be Learned
Well, the biggest I can say belongs to the subscriber: if you are going on vacation and you belong to a mailing list:
Needless to say, allowing this to happen is more than a little rude toward your fellow subcribers on the list. I hope this person realizes how serious what he did was. (I'm guessing somewhere between 60 and 100 e-mails were batted around before I shut the list down; in his case, he'll see all of the damage in his mailbox when he returns from vacation next week.)
- Unsubscribe from the mailing list and resubscribe when you return, allowing you to use an auto-responder
- Don't use an auto-responder on an account which receives from a mailing list
- Write a script/filter that moves all of the mailing list inputs you get to a different folder before the auto-responder can review the mail
Is there any way I can keep this from happening in the future? Well, I could shut off the auto-responder option, but I don't think that's fair to the list. If you want to post to the list, you have to receive messages as well.
The other option is to change the Reply-To: field to default to the address of the sender of the e-mail, not the mailing list. However, this then requires those who reply to a message from the list to remember the e-mail address to submit to the mailing list, rather than just hitting the Reply To button. I've always preferred my current set-up than trying to remember the list e-mail address all of the time.
Hopefully, this situation doesn't happen too often. Once is too often for me. However, if you ever get caught in this situation again, you can always do as one list member did: unsubscribe temporarily. If you do that during a situation like this (e.g., it happens when I'm not online or am on vacation), I will try to let you know when the situation has been resolved, either with an e-mail or on the front page of my website.
Once again, thank you for your patience. Let's talk some more.
wtf 31 July 1997