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Some Answers to FAQ's about Mailing Lists and List Netiquette
I've been administrating message boards and mailing lists for over 20 years, beginning as a Sysop at CompuServe and Section Leader at ZDnet, then as a board admin at GenConnect (now Ancestry message boards), and now as ListAdmin for over a dozen mailing lists at RootsWeb and owner of several lists of my own.  Over these years, I've often heard complaints that there are no written rules or guidelines about how lists work and what is acceptable behavior on them.  While most list/board owners have some basic guidelines online somewhere (these are RootsWeb's), many aspects of list behavior fall into the category of "netiquette," most of which is learned by (sometimes painful) experience. 

To spare you the embarrassment of a faux pas — or the chagrin of being corrected by a listadmin — I began compiling answers to "Frequently Asked Questions" about mailing lists and list netiquette.  Each FAQ below is a response to an actual list problem that occurred, some of which are chronic problems, while others have cropped up only once in all these years.  I hope you find them helpful — and please feel free to link to this page from your web site, but not to copy it to your web site because, as the author, I own the copyright.

Before beginning the Answers, I have this word for those who are totally new to mailing lists:

Please be aware that when you've subscribed to a mailing list, any message posted by any individual subscriber is sent to every other subscriber to the list — that is the intended function of a mailing list.  A message from the list is not necessarily a message to you, personally, so you don't necessarily need to respond to it.  You can distinguish list messages from other email by the presence of the list's prefix [in brackets] at the beginning of the Subject line of the message.  (Please see also this FAQ.)

Most of the items on the FAQ list amount to common sense and standard norms of acceptable behaviour, to such a degree that it's surprising some of them have ever become problems.  If you're already a well-mannered, friendly person, you should have few problems figuring out how to behave on a mailing list once you've learned a few things specific to mailing lists, the most important of which is the first one in the list below, that is, to remain on topic.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions


1. Why do I have to stay "on topic"?
2. What is an ad hominem attack?
3. What right has the listadmin to tell me what to do?
4. Why do I need to post in Plain Text?
5. How do I subscribe / unsubscribe?
6. Is there a size limit to messages?
7. How do I contact a Listadmin?
8. How do I reach the RootsWeb HelpDesk?
9. Where can I lodge a complaint?
10. I think the listadmin is treating a subscriber unfairly.  Can I take their side?
11. What does it mean to be moderated?
12. Is it OK for me to correct another subscriber's behavior on the list? 
13. How can I make it easier to organize list messages?
14. Why do I need to address list messages to only one address at a time?
And what is cross-posting?
15. Under what circumstances may I post to multiple lists?
16. Is there a list archive?
17. What do you mean by being conscious of "keywords"?
18. Why are you asking me to remove the "surnames of interest" list from my messages? 
19. Why are you asking me to remove DNA information from my tagline?
20. Why in the world would I not sign my message with my full name?
21. So, just what can I put in my tagline?
22. What about information on living persons?
23. I posted something I wish I hadn't.  How can I remove the message?
24. What if someone's error really does need to be corrected?
25. What does it mean to "trim backquotes"?
26. Am I responsible for the messages I backquote?
27. What is Digest mode, and how do I deal with it?
28. When should I answer someone's question?
29. What's an administrative request?
30. How can I tell what RootsWeb lists I subscribe to?
31. How do I change my email address?
32. How can I tell if my message made it to the list?
33. What about copyright?
34. What about private messages?
35. I'm being messaged offlist.  Why can't the listadmin do something about it?
36. When is it OK to change the Subject?
37. Why are you objecting to another subscriber's name in the subject?
38. Why won't the listadmin engage me in a discussion offlist?
39. Why am I being asked to "agree to disagree"?
40. How can I get someone to stop responding to my messages?
41. Why am I seeing SPAM Alerts in the Subject of list messages?
42. Can we mention commercial labs and testing costs on DNA mailing lists?
43. Can I respond to old messages in the list archive?
44. What's wrong with posting an announcement?
45. What's a "newbie"?  Or a "lurker"?
  If there is some other topic you would like covered, just let me know, and I'll add it.
1.  Why do I have to stay "on topic"?

We all dislike SPAM, and most of us go to considerable lengths to avoid it.  Any unsolicited email constitutes SPAM, not just commercial advertisements.  When someone subscribes to a mailing list, they have agreed to take down the barriers between themselves and SPAMMERS for messages about a specific topic — but about that topic only

When you post off topic, you are breaking your compact with your fellow subscribers and subjecting them to what they will likely perceive as unsolicited email.  That is the reason staying on topic is the cardinal rule of mailing lists.  So, please, if a listadmin calls a halt to a topic, stop messaging — and don't start an argument over whether the thread was or was not on topic.  That judgment is solely the prerogative of the listadmin.

Most importantly, please do not include commercial, religious, or political content in your messages.  Over and above being off topic, commercial messages are against RootsWeb's policy, while any statements regarding religious beliefs or political opinions have a high probability of being inflammatory to at least someone on the list.

So, do not tout issues or candidates in election years; do not solicit contributions to charities or causes, no matter how worthy; do not post content unsuitable for viewing by minors; do not post virus warnings, hoax alerts, or inappropriate announcements; and do not post content that is racist, sexist, ageist, or discriminatory in any way.  In other words, please try not to offend anyone and keep in mind that your audience is multi-cultural and international — when you're on the list, you're not just on RootsWeb, you're on the global Internet.

Please see also this FAQ regarding commercial content on DNA mailing lists.

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2.  What is an ad hominem attack?

Basically, it means attacking someone personally, which includes any form of insult or disrepect — in the new vernacular, "dissing" someone.  You can disagree with someone, even strongly, without being disrepectful or ad hominem

Let me repeat for emphasis:  Simply disagreeing with someone over an issue does not constitute a personal attack, no matter how forceful the argument.  It is when you become insulting that you are off base, so don't even think of using that tactic to silence your opponent on my lists because I have zero tolerance for it. 

It may surprise you to know that only about 10% of the membership of any list ever post and only about 5% post regularly.  Why?  There are a number of reasons, but the major one is fear of embarrassment.  I want to encourage maximum participation on the list, so I will not allow anyone to deliberately insult, demean, disrespect, or embarrass another subscriber — and doing so will immediately place you on moderation

Attempting to resubscribe to a mailing list with a different email address to get around being moderated, especially if the purpose is to post a rant, may result in both email addresses being permanently banned from all RootsWeb mailing lists — and the RootsWeb / Ancestry message boards, as well. 

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3.  What right has the listadmin to tell me what to do?

Every right.  Mailing lists are not democracies, and you have no "right to free speech" on one.  Every mailing list is legally and privately owned by the person or company paying the bills to keep the list online.  As private property, the listowner sets the rules for participation, not the subscribers.

In the case of RootsWeb mailing lists, the listadmins are not the legal owners, but they have been appointed by RootsWeb, so they act as their agents.  RootsWeb does, in fact, call us "listowners," not "listadmins" — our mailing list at RootsWeb is called, "Listowners."

Most mailing lists were, in fact, started at the request of their listadmin (all of mine were), and thus RootsWeb tends to stand back and exert minimal control over them.  In other words, it is not the case that RootsWeb opened the list and then sought a volunteer, much less an employee, to administrate it.  RootsWeb is here functioning as the free host for a mailing list related to genealogy that someone else wanted to start (see this page for the form to request a list at RootsWeb).  As long as the listadmin adheres to RootsWeb's minimal guidelines — most of which are designed to avoid legal problems for them, such as claims of copyright infringement — they don't usually become involved in list management.

Because nearly all listadmins are unpaid volunteers, RootsWeb treats them accordingly (i.e., with kid gloves).  You may want to go over the listadmin's head and complain about them, but be aware that RootsWeb nearly always sides with the listadmin — and nearly always because the subscriber's complaint was unwarranted in the first place.  Listowners/admins do not invite criticism from the Listmaster, so we are generally very careful to stay within our boundaries.

Bottom line:  Subscribing to a mailing list is not parallel to congregating in a public place.  It's parallel to being invited into someone's private home, where the homeowner sets the ground rules and the overall tone of the gathering.  Some lists feel like a tea party, some like a coffee house, some like a beer hall, and a few like frat parties, so you may need to adjust your normal behaviour to the tone of the particular list, which is fundamentally set by the personality and preferences of the listadmin, not the subscribers.

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4.  Why do I need to post in Plain Text?

Not all mailing list software requires that you compose your posts formatted in Plain Text, but Mailman does, and that's the software used by RootsWeb — and by me on the lists I personally own.

If you send a message to Mailman formatted in HTML (or RTF), Mailman will do its best to strip the coding and send the message on to the list formatted in Plain Text.  Even when it does, however, it may have unexpected consequences for the appearance of your message, so I recommend you avoid leaving it to Mailman to convert your message formatting. 

By the way, when you see a list message with multiple blank lines between paragraphs, it's a pretty sure sign that it was an HTML message stripped of its code.  Other symptoms are odd punctuation marks or numbers scattered repeatedly and inappropriately throughout the message.

When Mailman runs into code it cannot decipher, it will bounce the message to the listadmin, who then has to contact the poster explaining what went wrong and asking them to repost their message, this time in Plain Text.  So, please save yourself and the listadmin unnecessary work and always compose your messages in Plain Text.

One reason for the Plain Text format requirement is that Plain Text email not only uses less bandwidth and storage (by at least half), it is far less able to transmit viruses.  For the latter reason, alone, I wish everyone would go back to messaging in Plain Text, in all contexts, not just mailing lists.  For RootsWeb, with over 32,000 mailing lists being handled and archived, doubling or tripling the bandwidth and storage requirements by allowing HTML formatted mail would not be a trivial demand for more resources.

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5.  How do I subscribe / unsubscribe?

When you subscribe to a list, you are sent a Welcome email containing various instructions and links pertaining to your subscription, including how to sub and unsub.  Please save this email.

If you have lost that email, the way to subscribe to or unsubscribe from a mailing list is to send an "administrative request" to the listserver, which will read the message as a command to act.  The email address takes this form:

listname-request@rootsweb.com 

Put just the command "subscribe" or "unsubscribe" (without the quotes) in the message Subject and body.  Include nothing else in the message Subject or body.  The listadmin does not receive these messages, and thus, they do not act on them.  The listserver does so automatically.

Another way to sub/unsub is to bookmark the list's web page in your browser and follow the instructions there.  RootsWeb mailing list web pages can be found via the "Old Index" or the "New Index."

Sending a request to sub/unsub to the list address will not be effective, except to let everyone on the list know you made a mistake in doing so.

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6.  Is there a size limit to messages?

Yes.  Mailman has a default size limit of 40K.  A larger message will bounce to the listadmin.  Some lists use a smaller limit, in part to limit the size of outgoing Digests.  I don't recall ever making an exception and allowing a larger message to reach the list because, in all cases so far, the message was too large because it contained material inappropriate for a list message in the first place.

Update:  I have found some Digest subscribers so non-compliant about trimming backquotes that I have reduced the message size limit to 20K, to make it more difficult for them to backquote an entire Digest.  Time will tell whether this is a workable solution.  Another option would be to put everyone subscribed in Digest mode on Moderation or, at least, just the repeat offenders.

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7.  How do I contact the listadmin?

The admin of any mailing list can be reached by using an address of this form:

listname-admin@domain.ext

For example, the admin of the RootsWeb CORBIN surname list can be reached at this address:

corbin-admin@rootsweb.com

Some software uses "owner" in place of admin.   For example, in the case of my own mailing lists, the admin would be reached using an address of the form:

listname-owner@dgmweb.net

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8.  How do I reach the RootsWeb HelpDesk?

RootsWeb HelpDesk.

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9.  Where can I lodge a complaint?

First and foremost, do not complain publicly, that is, on the list.  Send your complaint privately to the Listadmin.  Secondly, once the circumstances are understood by the Listadmin and the Listadmin's explanation is given or decision made, it's almost certainly going to be futile to further dispute the Listadmin over the matter.  If you want to go over the Listadmin's head, you can do so via this form or by emailing the Listmaster.

However, be advised that the Listmaster almost always sides with the Listadmin, for the obvious reason that it's more important to RootsWeb to keep the Listadmin happy than it is for them to keep an individual subscriber happy.  Listadmins are volunteers, not paid employees, so one round of hurt feelings may be more than enough to make one say, "Take this job and…"

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10.  I think the listadmin is treating a subscriber unfairly.  Can I take their side?

You can, but please do it politely and privately, off list.  Criticizing a listadmin publicly only makes it harder for them to back down; likewise for the subscriber if you side with the listadmin.  The best solutions are ones where everyone saves face, and that's more difficult to accomplish when the blood-letting is public. 

And do keep in mind that you probably don't know the whole story — most of the discussion is probably taking place offlist, behind the scenes.  It's also likely you are unaware of this subscriber's entire messaging history or their previous "run-ins" with the listadmin.  You may actually be making it harder for the matter to be resolved amicably by encouraging one side or the other to hold their ground. 

Do follow your conscience, but minding your own business is often the best course here.  Remember what road is paved with good intentions...

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11.  What does it mean to be moderated?

Being moderated means your messages are screened by the listadmin before they are released to the list (i.e., they are held by the listserver until the listadmin either releases or rejects them). 

Experience has taught me that about 99% of list problems are caused by about 1% of the subscribers.  So, if you start having repeated "run-ins" with the listadmin, please be aware that you are likely to become permanently moderated, if not banned.

12.  Is it OK for me to correct another subscriber's behavior on the list? 

No.  Never tell another subscriber on the list that they are breaking a rule, especially don't declare they are off topic or that it's time to end a thread.  Doing so is a sure way to start a flame as other subscribers take sides in a debate over whether the message was or was not off topic or the behavior was or was not inappropriate.  If you think a thread is off topic and should be stopped or that a subscriber should be admonished for their behavior in some way, message the listadmin privately.  The listadmin is the sole arbiter of what is or is not on topic or acceptable behavior for the list.  It is not your place to teach that person — or the rest of the list's subscribers — a lesson

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13.  How can I make it easier to organize list messages?

If you belong to numerous mailing lists, especially if some of them are busy, you can deal with the messages more efficiently by giving each list its own /folder/ in your email client (software), then creating Rules to direct messages to those folders.  I use the list's Subject Prefix (the name in [brackets] at the beginning of the Subject field) as the sorting criterion.  For example, email with [CORBIN] for the Subject Prefix gets sent automatically to a /CORBIN/ folder in my email client.

By having your email client sort your list email this way, it's easier to separate your regular email from list email, and it's easier to prioritize the order in which you read your mailing lists.  Personally, I much prefer this way of dealing with a busy list over subscribing in Digest Mode because it avoids the trickiness of responding to a single message in the digest or the delay in receiving the Digest — and, it's just plain easier.

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14.  Why do I need to address list messages to only one address at a time?

Ideally, you will post your message to the list address and to the list address only.  Posting your message to multiple addresses can create a host of problems depending on several factors, for example, the nature of the addresses, how many addresses are used, and which address field the addresses are in (viz., TO, CC, or BCC).  I will begin with a couple of cases, but will add more because the consequences vary by circumstances.  And I'm going to put the "bottom line" here at the beginning —

Please address your list messages to one address and one address only, that is, with the list address in the TO: field, for these reasons:

a)  Any email with an address in the BCC field will be rejected by Mailman as SPAM. 

b)  Multiple recipients in the TO field or CC field may cause Mailman to reject your message as SPAM, as having multiple recipients is one of the clues used by Mailman to detect SPAM.  For certain, any message with more than four addresses in the CC field will be rejected.

NOTE:  If your message is rejected by the server as SPAM, you will not be notified of the rejection and neither will the listadmin be notified.  Unless you are careful to check whether your message got through, either by keeping track of your incoming mail or checking the list archive, you may not notice that the message never made it to the list.  Once rejected, the message cannot be retrieved, so if you don't automatically Save copies of Sent messages, you will have to completely rewrite and re-send it, properly addressed, to get it on the list.

c)  If you address a message Reply to both the author and the list, Mailman, in an effort to be "helpful," does not send both a personal copy and a list copy to the author.  Mailman will send only the personal copy to the author, not the list copy, in which case, the thread has essentially "dropped off the list" because, when the author Replies, the Reply will go to you, personally, not to the list.  So, before you hit Send, check to see that the message is addressed only to the list.

d) A moderated member may Reply to a list message with a noxious reply addressing it both to the list address and the author's address.  The copy that goes to the list will bounce to the listadmin, so it can be rejected, but the author receives their copy.  If the author then sends a Reply to the list, backquoting the noxious message, it will get through because the original author is not on moderation.  I realize that I've just told a noxious member how they might bypass being moderation, but let me assure you, you will do it only once because then you will be banned from the list, not just moderated.  And if you are the author who received the noxious response, please send your reply to the listadmin, not back to the list. 

e)  Posting the same message to more than one list (cross-posting) is frowned upon, unless there is a clear reason to do so.  In general, you should pick the one best list and post there and only there (see also, next FAQ).  This is especially true when the subjects of the lists are similar and people are likely to belong to the same lists you do.  But please note, it's only cross-posting when you do it to multiple RootsWeb lists.  Posting the same message at Yahoo Groups or GenForum or some other non-RootsWeb blog does not constitute cross-posting.

For an example on RootsWeb, the Y-DNA-HAPLOGROUP-I, Y-DNA-PROJECTS, and AUTOSOMAL-DNA mailing lists all formed as subtopics spun off the original GENEALOGY-DNA mailing list.  Pretty much anyone who belongs to any of these newer lists also belongs to GENEALOGY-DNA.  Therefore, it's highly undesirable to post the same message to one of the spinoff lists and to GENEALOGY-DNA.  Not only does it cause unnecessary (and boring) duplication, it can become confusing.

To begin with, it starts the same thread on two lists.  Subscribers to both lists may or may not feel they need to reply on both lists, leading to more duplication, in the former case, and an inadvertent splitting of the thread on another, which may lead to it dropping off one or the other of the lists.

There is another form of list behavior sometimes called "cross-posting," which involves taking someone else's message and posting it to another list.  This raises all the issues just mentioned plus the issue of infringement of the author's copyright.  You will need written permission from the author and the permission of the listadmin of the list where you intend to post the message before cross-posting someone else's message.  As it is probable the listadmin will deny your request, the solution is to post a link to the message in the list archive or to re-write the meaning of the message in your own words.

f)  A more serious issue is cross-posting one message to two or more different lists at the same time (i.e., "gang" addressing).  Some people routinely respond to messages by clicking "Reply All."  This will send their response back to all the lists.  If they are not a subscriber to all the lists, the message sent to the list(s) where they don't subscribe will bounce to that listadmin, making extra work for the listadmin because they have to figure out what happened and decide what to do about it.  Even if the responder just clicks, "Reply," rather than "Reply All," the consequence can be unintended.

When someone hits "Reply," the individual's email client will pick one of the addresses to Send the response to, but it may pick the wrong address and send it to a list the person does not subscribe to, with the same consequence described above. 

Even if the people responding belong to both lists, the responses on one list will show up on the other, causing the thread to "jump" back and forth between the lists.  If it's a busy list and an active thread, it can get very confusing, and people belonging to only one of the lists will be even more confused because they are seeing only some of the replies.

g)  Another problem caused by gang addressing is that many people use the [Subject Prefix] to sort their incoming mail into folders.  When a message comes in with two subject prefixes, your email client will send a copy to both folders, even though the message came from only one of the two lists.  The recipient then has to check the header to see which list actually sent the email, so the response goes back to the right list.  Even if they use the list address, not the Subject Prefix, to sort their email, the same problem can result.

h)  Sometimes a subscriber will "gang" address an interesting list message to multiple addresses of people who are not subscribers to the list.  When they in turn Reply, their messages bounce to the admin because they are not list subscribers.  When you want to send a list message to one or more non-subscribers, please remove the list address from the From: field and replace it with your own. 

i)  There are more reasons, but do I really need to go on?

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15.  Under what circumstances may I post to multiple lists?

There are times when multiple postings are not necessarily undesirable.  Using one of my ancestors as an example, Rev. Thomas THOMPSON (1797-1872) was born and raised in Christian [now Todd] Co., KY; migrated to Boone, then Monroe, Co., MO; then settled in Santa Clara Co., CA.  It would be appropriate for me to post a query about him on the THOMPSON surname list and these county lists:  KYChrist, KYTodd, MOBoone, MOMonroe, and CASClara.

However, I would customize the message for each list making it pertinent to that particular list.  Creating one long "covers all bases" message and posting it in multiple places is frowned upon because, among other things, much of the message is bound to be off topic for each individual list.

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16.  Is there a list archive?

Yes.  Most mailing lists maintain an archive, and RootsWeb is no exception.  If you haven't been making use of the RootsWeb Mailing List Archive, you are overlooking a valuable source of genealogical information.  The RootsWeb Mailing Lists have been around a long time, and they contain messages from researchers who are no longer with us, that is, information you may find nowhere else. 

For RootsWeb lists, there is a central search engine that can do either "keyword" searches across all lists or more "advanced" searches on individual lists.  You can also go to the list's web page where you can do either a keyword or advanced search, or you can browse the list archive by month and year.

Browsing the current month is a handy way to find out if a message you sent actually reached RootsWeb.  It is not necessarily an indicator that the message has been sent out to list subscribers — there can be a delay between its arrival and its being sent on to the list — but if it's in the archve and hasn't been sent, yet, it soon will be.

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17.  What do you mean by being "conscious" of keywords?

The RootsWeb archives are not only indexed by RootsWeb, they are also indexed by Google and other search engines.  Assuming you want people to find your messages, you need to be conscious of the wording in them. 

Before you hit Send, ask yourself if someone interested in this topic might actually find your message based on the words in it, and re-word the message if necessary.  For example, don't just say, "My GGG-grandfather lived in Waco."  Instead say, "My GGG-grandfather, John SMITH (1823-1876), lived in Waco, McLennan Co., TX."  Yes, it's more tedious, but not only is it more informative, you are vastly more likely to be found on a search.

An alternative is to add a string of actual keywords at the top or bottom of the message, for example, and literally,

Keywords:  SMITH, Waco, McLennan, TX, Texas

Note:  RootsWeb does not index the list Archives continuously.  I'm not certain what the current schedule is, but I was once told the archive was indexed nightly.  So, don't be surprised if it takes at least 24 hours for a new message to turn up with a search.

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18.  Why are you asking me to remove the "surnames of interest" list from my messages?

There was a time when writers querying in genealogical newsletters, bulletins, etc., habitually listed a string of "surnames of interest" at the bottom of their query.  This listing was an attempt to reach other genealogists researching the same surnames because, pre-Internet, it was difficult to find other researchers with similar interests.  Even in the early Internet days, there was such a thing as "Surname Lists" where you listed the surnames you were working on, in an attempt to reach other researchers with similar interests — and RootsWeb still maintains its RSL (RootsWeb Surname List).

Thanks to the Internet and its search engines, the need to do the above has virtually vanished.  Now, there is not only no need to list your surnames of interest at the bottom of your messages, doing so is detrimental to searchers in the RootsWeb mailing list archive (or via Google) because they produce bogus hits.

As valuable as the archive is, if you have ever spent much time searching it, you may find yourself exasperated by the number of bogus hits on surnames listed at the bottom of the message that are not relevant to the content of the message.  So, please, discontinue the practice of listing off topic surnames in your messages. 

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19.  Why are you asking me to remove DNA information from my tagline?

The above FAQ (No. 18) also applies to having DNA information (e.g., your haplogroups) and/or DNA projects listed in your tagline.  Like "surnames of interest," they create bogus hits in the list archive, a major inconvenience for people searching the list archive, either directly or via Google.

20.  Why in the world would I not sign my message with my full name?

Closing your message with your full name produces the same kind of bogus hit in the archive as listing surnames of interest (see above FAQ).  As an example of the problem this causes, there is an active researcher on one of my most important surnames who signs her messages with her full name.  When I search the list Archives on that surname, I have to wade through hundreds of irrelevant hits generated by this poster.

Your full name is in the header of your message — or should be if it isn't (the display of your name is controlled by you, via a setting in your email client).  Having your full name in the header is sufficient to identify you as the Sender of the message.  So, please, do not include your surname in your signature, unless you alter it in such a way that it does not come up on a search.  For example, you could sign yourself, "John_Smith," instead of "John Smith."  Adding the underscore (or slash or hyphen or whatever) between John and Smith is enough alteration to prevent your messages from coming up on a search for "Smith."

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21.  So, just what can I or should I put in my tagline [signature block]?

When messaging on a mailing list, ideally, nothing.  Whatever you put in your tagline [signature block] is, by its very nature, going to be repeated on every message you send, which means it will appear in every one of your messages preserved in the archive.  When it comes to taglines, it is simply good netiquette to ask yourself:

1)  Is this tagline off topic for the list?  Or, is this tagline irrelevant to the subject of my message?  [Most taglines are both.]

2)  What is the likely effect of this tagline on recipients of this message?  Will they view it as SPAM?  Will it offend or inflame anyone?  Will they get bored with seeing it over and over?

3)  What is the effect of this tagline on the list archive?  Am I being inconsiderate of those searching it?

4)  What is my real motive in using this tagline?  If it's a selfish motive (e.g., bragging or advertising), does that really reflect well on me?

Most importantly, please do not include commercial, religious, political, or any other emotionally charged content in your tagline.  (See FAQ #1.)

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22.  What about information on living persons?

You should not post information about living persons, even about yourself, for all the obvious reasons (e.g., invasion of privacy, identity theft, etc.).  This includes snail mail addresses and telephone numbers.  Women, especially, are cautioned not to post information anywhere online that would allow someone to find them, even if only by telephone.

Your email address is in the header of your messages, so there is zero need to place it in the body of your messages or in your sig/tag line.  Posting it in the body of your message only makes it more easily available to spambots and search engines.

You should never post a message on a public list or board saying you are going out of town, and no woman should ever disclose the fact that she lives alone.  Especially, never give out the names, ages, or locations of minor children on a public list or board.  These are all invitations to criminals trolling the web.  Yes, the vast majority of people online are trustworthy, but you don't want to become the target of the few who aren't — and you really, really don't want to put children at risk.

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23.  I posted something I wish I hadn't.  How can I remove the message?

Once Mailman has sent the message out to subscribers, I'm afraid there's no way to retrieve it.  You can, however, remove the message from the list Archive.  To do so, first go to the list Archive with your browser, find the unwanted message, Copy the URL, then Paste the URL into the textbox on the Archive Removal page.

You will shortly get an email asking you to confirm the removal.  Just click the lower link in the message, as instructed, and the message will disappear from the Archive — no questions asked, and no intervention needed.

Only the author of a message can remove a list message this way.  You cannot remove the posts of other subscribers, nor can the listadmin.  If you think someone else's message should be removed, then go ahead and make the Removal Request.  Sometimes, the other poster will go along with the request (they will get the confirmation email, not you), sometimes not.  If not, you can wait a few days to see if the message disappears.

When a Removal Request is not confirmed after a day or two, RootsWeb staff takes a look at the message to see what's wrong with it.  If the message needs to be removed for some obvious reason, the staff will go ahead and remove it.  If not, you can email the HelpDesk and explain the reason you want the message removed.  If they don't accept your reason, you're stuck with the message in the archive.  (Or you could bribe the author...)

If you feel the removal is an emergency, you should immediately contact RootsWeb via this form.  Don't waste time contacting the listadmin, they have no power to remove messages.

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24.  What if someone's error needs to be corrected?

No one likes to be corrected, especially publicly, so please be as tactful as possible when correcting someone.  Don't make fun of someone's error, don't rub it in, and don't belittle the person for making it.

On the flip side, if you're going to post to a public mailing list, please react to criticism or correction in as adult a manner as you can muster.  If the criticism is valid, the easiest way out is to take it lightly and not get defensive.  A simple, "I stand corrected," or "Oops, senior moment," or "Oops, my bad," or "Oh, now I see/understand…," etc.  Even the dreaded, "You're right; I'm wrong," is less damaging to your image than continuing to argue.  Another out is to simply stop messaging, as in, "when you're in a hole, stop digging."

If the criticism was not valid, do defend your position, but don't take it as license to rip your critic to shreds personally.  The civility admonition works in both directions.

We've all been caught making mistakes, we've all lost arguments, and we've all made utter jackasses of ourselves in public at one time or another, so don't take it so seriously.  If you don't have a thick skin, please do grow one.  It makes life a lot easier, for yourself and for everyone around you.

Probably the best sysop I ever knew, back at ZDNet (the message forums for the Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.), had a wonderful way of treating being caught in an error.  She'd say something like, "Oh, what a ninny I am!"  She was, at the time, a highly respected "computer jock" writing for PC Magazine, among others, so she had the ego strength to laugh at herself — and she's still a highly respected writer in the computer field.
And do remember that most mailing lists are publicly archived and most of those archives are indexed by search engines.  Do you really want your uncivilized behavior recorded for your grandchildren to read?

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25.  Why are you asking me to trim backquotes?

When responding to a list message, your reply will often make more sense if you include (backquote) at least part of the message to which you are responding.  But please use some judgment when backquoting and only backquote the portions needed to make your reply intelligible.  Otherwise, please trim as much as you can from your backquotes; especially, trim previous messages and copies of the list's own footer.  Not only is the excessive backquoting unnecessary, no one wants to waste time wading through it to find the "new" parts of the message, and no one wants to wade through the duplicate hits on a search of the list's archive.

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26.  Am I responsible for the messages I backquote?

Yes, you are.  You did have the option not to backquote it or even reply, at all.

If someone sends you an offensive or otherwise "rule-breaking" message, and you decide to respond by backquoting it in a message to the list, you will be held equally responsible for making an objectionable post because you inflicted it on your fellow subscribers a second time and added a second copy to the list archive.  The way to deal with an offensive message is the way to deal with any problem you're having on the list:  contact the person and/or the listadmin, privately.

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27.  What is Digest mode, and how do I deal with it?

If you subscribe in Digest mode, you will receive multiple list messages bundled in one message.  This mode can be useful on a very busy list, however, it has its drawbacks.

One drawback is that, when you reply to one, you will have to do some careful and extensive trimming of your backquotes to remove all irrelevant messages.  You also need to manually change the Subject of your message to match the Subject of the particular message to which you are responding.

Please do not fail to change the Subject.  Many people decide which messages to read, both in their email Inbox and in the list archive, based on the Subject, alone.  If the Subject simply says, "Digest…," it's a considerable inconvenience to your fellow researchers and may result in them skipping your message unread.

How often the list Digest is sent depends on options set by the listadmin.  The default is to send a digest when its size reaches 30K.  This size can be adjusted by the listadmin, but I have left it at the default.  The listadmin also has the option to send a digest daily, even if the default size limit has not been reached, and that's what my lists are set to do.

In my opinion, none of my lists is busy enough to warrant the hassle of subscribing in Digest mode.  The hassle being the need to trim so much backquoting and change the Subject, plus the fact that, by subscribing in Digest mode, you may receive a list message as much as 24 hours after everyone else has received it.

I recommend making it easy on yourself by subscribing in List mode, not Digest mode, and using your email client's sorting Rules to organize your incoming list messages (see also this FAQ).

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28.  When should I answer someone's question?

When you know the answer.  This may seem patently obvious, but a few subscribers appear to feel compelled to respond to every list message, even when they don't know the answer.  Please give the questioner credit for being as capable as you are at guessing, so you're not really helping by supplying more guesses.  If you don't know the answer, please sit back and let the subscribers who do know reply, instead.

To those new to mailing lists, please remember that a list message is not a personal message to you.  If you don't know the answer to someone's question, you do not need to say so.  Most lists have dozens, if not hundreds, of subscribers, so it would be a huge waste of everyone's time and bandwidth if everyone on the list responds that they don't know the answer. 

Unlike one-on-one private emailing, a mailing list is a place where it is not rude to leave a message unanswered.  Your silence is your answer.

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29.  What's an administrative request?

Administrative requests are things that have to do with managing your subscription to the list.  The most common administrative requests are the ones to subscribe to or unsubscribe from the list.  These are the only two requests RootsWeb allows its subscribers to use although, in fact, there are others actions possible if turned on by the listowner.  Requests are addressed to the server following this form:

listname-request@domain.ext

Requests to sub/unsub should be posted to this "request" address, not to the list (see FAQ #5 above) nor even to the listadmin.

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30.  How can I tell what RootsWeb lists I subscribe to?

You can check what lists you are subscribed to, among other things, by sending a request at Password Central, which you can reach directly from this link or via the "Passwords" menu item when logged into your own "My Account" at RootsWeb.

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31.  How do I change my email address?

You change your email address by unsubbing your old address, then resubbing with your new address (see this FAQ). 

If you have already closed your old account, so can't send the unsub request, don't worry about it.  After four attempts to send a message to that address (four bounces), the listserver will automatically remove your old address from the list.  Your admin would appreciate it if you don't deliberately unsub this way because the listadmin is receiving copies of all these bounces.

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32.  How can I tell if my message made it to the list?

There are any number of reasons why return of a message posted to a mailing list might be delayed, the most common being that the listserver is simply overloaded.  In most cases, just wait awhile, and it will appear — though "awhile" can mean a day or more if the server crashed under its load.

There have been several occassions that I'm aware of where one or more (in one case, all) RootsWeb listservers where down for up to several days.  When the listservers came back online, the backlog of undelivered messages took days to clear — and they were not sent in the same order posted.  So, when a message you posted on one day comes back before a message posted the day before, this is what's happening.

Any time delivery is delayed, you can check the list Archive to see if the listserver at least received it because the message is posted to the Archive_before it's sent out to subscribers.  If it's in the Archive, it either has been or will be sent to the list, and there's nothing you or the listadmin can do to hasten its delivery, so please be patient and wait.

If your message is not in the Archive, but other list messages are coming through normally, chances are your message didn't make it to RootsWeb, at all, and it certainly hasn't gone out to subscribers.  In such a case, you can contact the listadmin, privately, but whatever you do, please don't ask on the list.  This is a personal, technical issue that is off topic for the list.

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33.  What about copyright?

Respecting someone's copyright is not just good netiquette, academic ethics, or a RootsWeb rule, it's Federal law.  Needless to say, I will do my best to see that subscribers comply with the law, which means not posting any copyrighted material to the list, unless you are the copyright owner.

This restriction includes re-posting messages written by someone else on another list or material from someone else's web site.  The author of an email message owns the copyright to it, so do not repost it without their written permission.  The one exception allowed here is backquoting of a previous message in an ongoing thread on the same mailing list.

If you want list subscribers to read something you've found on the internet, post a link to the message or to the web page; don't post the material, itself.  That is the beauty of the internet:  there's no need to infringe on other people's copyrights, we can link to their work, instead.

Ultimately, it is your own responsibility to know what the copyright law is, but I have compiled this page as an aid to understanding how it applies to genealogists.  This discussion will also help you anticipate what I likely will or will not allow posted on my lists. 

It would be an understatement to say the subject of copyright is complex (and ever-changing), and it's invariably controversial when brought up on mailing lists.  So, the issue of copyright, itself, is off topic for all my lists.  If you wish to discuss it, please join the COPYRIGHT mailing list.  There are some really knowledgeable folks on this list.

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34.  What about private messages?

Just as it would be a serious breach of etiquette to allow anyone else to read a snail mail letter written to you privately, it is a serious breach of netiquette to publicly post any part of an email sent to you privately.  Don't forget, too, that the author of any letter or email owns the copyright to it, so you have no legal right to re-publish or distribute it. 

There will be times, during a list discussion, when you may wish to say something to someone privately, offlist.  You need to make certain the recipient notices the message was sent to them, privately, or they may accidentally reply to the list.  Some people just visually use the list prefix in the Subject line as an indicator of a list message, without necessarily looking at the message's TO: or FROM: addresses.  So, to make the private status of the message absolutely clear, please remove the list prefix from the Subject line and replace it with "OFFLIST."  To be doubly certain the recipient notices, also put "OFFLIST" on the first line of the body of your message.

Some people use the list prefix to sort their email, and removing the prefix will prevent the message from being sorted into the list's /folder/ and, thus, help prevent the private nature of the message from being overlooked. 

Many an embarrassing situation has arisen because the recipient of a message didn't notice the message was intended to be private, then backquoted it to the list with their response.  This situation is easy to avoid if you take the above precautions.  On the other hand, if you know the message is intended to be private and you deliberately post it to the list — for example, with the aim of embarrassing the sender — you will immediately find yourself on moderation.

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35.  I'm being messaged offlist, so why can't the listadmin do something about it?

Sometimes, another subscriber may decide to message you offlist, then ignore your request to stop doing so.  I'm sorry, but there is nothing the listadmin or RootsWeb can do about it.  My best suggestion is to ignore the person.  What they want is attention, and when you don't give it to them, they will likely get bored and give up.

Your email client (software) no doubt has a way to block messages as SPAM, so I recommend blocking them that way.  If you're like me, you scan the message Subjects in your /Junk/ folder before deleting the messages, but that doesn't mean you have to read the message.

Depending on how you get your email, you may be able to blacklist the address at your mailserver, so the messages never reach you.  However, you will only be able to do this with a list subscriber's address if the messages are simply discarded by the mailserver.  For example, in my case, such messages are sent to a /null/ folder where they vanish into the ether, unseen and unread.

If your mailserver bounces such messages back to the sender, it will be effective when the person messages you privately, but it will backfire when the person posts to the list because then the sender is RootsWeb.  The RootsWeb listserver will view the bounce as meaning your address is "dead."  After four such bounces, you will automatically be unsubbed from the list.  So, unless you know how your ISP deals with blacklisted addresses, blocking the person in your email client is the safer option.

If the messages are truly abusive, you might try contacting the sender's ISP, though I can't say whether they would really step in and do something, unless they're getting multiple complaints about the same person, and possibly not even then.

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36.  When is it OK to change the Subject?

If the subject of the thread has change significantly since it started, then do change the Subject of your response.  This will break the existing thread, but if the subject has changed, a new thread really should be started.  Conversely, if the subject hasn't substantially changed, please don't alter the Subject in your response because any change to the Subject — any change at all — breaks the thread.

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37.  Why are you objecting to my using another subscriber's name in the subject?

Partly because if the Subject of the message truly is the discussion of a specific subscriber, the message is then, by definition, off topic and ad hominem for any of my lists — but mainly because being the Subject of a message makes most people feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. 

And if it appears to me you did it to deliberately make someone else feel uncomfortable, you will almost certainly be put on moderation.

If you are merely trying to target your message to a specific person on the list, all you need to do is put their name on the first line of your message, as you would give an opening greeting in any letter or email.  If the measage is targeted solely to this person, please go offlist and message them privately.

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38.  Why won't the listadmin engage me in a discussion offlist?

Mainly because it defeats the purpose of the list, which is to discuss topics in a venue where everyone can participate.  Not only are dozens of heads better than one, list discussions are archived, so the benefit continues even after the discussion is over.  A private conversation benefits, at most, two persons — and often just the one who is imposing on the other.

My lists have a combined membership of over a thousand subscribers, and experience has taught me that, if I answer queries offlist, not only do my lists suffer (from the loss of traffic), I suffer, as in going under with the workload.  If you have a question or want to discuss something, please do yourself a favor — and the listadmin the courtesy — of asking on the list. 

I make an exception for my DNA project members, whose private questions it is my responsibility to answer.  If you have a question about your testing that is too sensitive to bring up on a public mailing list or even the DNA project's own mailing list, please feel free to contact your project administrator, whose responsibility it is to give you a satisfactory answer.  If they are not forthcoming please contact Customer Service at your testing company.  In the case of FamilyTreeDNA, that would be their HelpDesk.

Otherwise, please don't ask privately — of the listadmin or other subscribers — what could be asked on the list.  This will give the people who are willing and able to reply the opportunity to do so, while not putting someone who doesn't want to reply or doesn't have the time to reply "on the spot."

To put this situation in a typical social context…  Would you ask someone, especially someone you barely know, to take you to dinner?  I hope not because it would be rude to put anyone on the spot this way.  Likewise, don't ask someone — whether a listadmin, list subscriber, or webmaster — to do something for you, unless they have first made a specific offer to help.

A message posted to the list is a request for help that puts no one on the spot — and gives the eager beavers a chance to respond.  A request for help sent to an individual person puts them on the spot.

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39.  Why am I being asked to "agree to disagree"?

Because the person you are debating believes the discussion has become pointless, that there is little hope of a meeting of the minds, and that both of you are just repeating the same arguments, over and over, in different wording.  The expected response is, "OK," or silence. 

Please do not come back with another round of arguments, and if you haven't been a participant in the debate up to this point, this is no time to jump in.  Let the thread die.  Deliberately prolonging the debate at this point will probably result in the listadmin stepping in and calling a halt to the thread.

People have different goals, different likes, different opinions.  It's enlightening to hear how others view things, so airing a different perspective is always welcome.  Everyone on the list is encouraged to participate by doing so.  But it is not necessary that every discussion end in a concensus, with everyone in agreement, especially when the issue is a matter of preference, taste, or values, rather than an issue of fact.

So, speak your piece; clarify it, multiple times if necessary; then, when you've nothing new to add, stop.  If it's been an intense, one-on-one debate, one way to stop the debate gracefully, without appearing to have accepted the opposing view (i.e., without having "caved in"), is to ask the person to agree to disagree.  Please_accept such a request, either with an "OK" or with silence.  The list and, especially, the listadmin will appreciate it because to ignore the request may force the listadmin to intervene, something no listadmin likes to do.

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40.  How can I get someone to stop responding to my messages?

You can't, not as long as their messages are not breaking some list rule, such as being rude or going off topic, in which case, if the listadmin hasn't already dealt with it, you can contact them offlist (privately).  It is the nature of a mailing list that, if you post to it, anyone subscribed to it is free to respond, whether the message was specifically directed towards them, or not.

There is no requirement, however, that you respond to their reply, and if you don't, they will probably stop bothering to post to you.  However, if you do respond to them, don't complain (to me, to them, or to the list) that they messaged back.  It's their prerogative to respond to you, just as it's your prerogative to ignore them.

If the exchange is becoming really tedious (i.e., I'm getting complaints offlist from other subscribers that it is), I may intervene and call a halt to the thread, but I'd definitely rather not do so, allowing the members to decide for themselves when they've had their say.

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41.  Why am I seeing "[SUSPECTED SPAM]" in the Subject of list messages.

It is likely that your anti-virus software or some other subscriber's anti-virus software is inserting this SPAM alert (or some other variation of it depending on which AV application is being used).  Please whitelist the list address in your email client and your AV software.  If this doesn't stop the problem, then you can assume someone else's AV software is inserting the alert.

If you are going to Reply to a list message that has a SPAM alert in the Subject — whether generated by your AV software or someone else's — please remove the alert before Sending your reply.

The best solution here is for all subscribers to whitelist their mailing list addresses — or simply whitelist the entire domain @rootsweb.com — then there will be no SPAM alerts to pass on.  If you persistently pass these on, your listadmin will probably put you on moderation until you learn how to stop doing it.

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42.  Can I mention commercial DNA testing labs or costs on DNA mailing lists?

You can on my lists, but before doing it on any other lists, you should ask the listadmin because most won't allow it.

RootsWeb has a restriction on commercial posts for the obvious reason that commercial interests would love to flood the lists with SPAM if they were allowed to do so.  Some listadmins take this stricture so literally, they do not allow any message that mentions something commercial, even though the message would not constitute SPAM in the eyes of the subscribers. 

DNA testing is not something any of us can do for ourselves; it has to be done by a commerical testing laboratory.  For that reason, discussion of different labs, their test offerings, and prices are allowed on my lists.  What wouldn't be allowed is if the labs, themselves, attempted to SPAM my lists, but none has ever tried, so it's a non-issue.

Other valid messages might be, and as real life examples, that a particular family bible was on sale at eBay or that a new book on the topic of the list has become available.  Posting such messages to multiple lists may, however, raise them to the level of SPAM, so make certain the message relates very specifically to the topic of the list and is not shotgunned to multiple lists.  If you are uncertain whether a message would constitute SPAM, please ask the listadmin before posting it.

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43.  Can I respond to old messages in the list archive?

You can, but I advise against it, especially if your response is an attack on that message.  One goal on mailing lists is to be as non-confrontational as possible, not to deliberately drag up an old message as an excuse to start a debate or criticize someone.  I will likely put you moderation if you do this.  The major exception, here, is if you quote or link to your own past messages.

One reason not to respond to old messages is that circumstances and opinions can change over time.  The author may no longer hold the opinion you are challenging, so your disputing it, now, may be totally unwarranted.  Also, the person may no longer be subscribed to the list, so isn't aware of the challenge — or may be deceased, so cannot rebutt your criticism.  If the person is still subscribed to the list, by responding to their old message, you are forcing them into a debate they may no longer be interested in having (e.g., because they may view it as beating a long dead horse or because they lost the debate the first time around and don't care to repeat the experience).  By singling them out, you've put them in an awkward position, and one goal of civil discourse is to avoid putting other people in an awkward position.

If you want to discuss the topic, instead of exhuming an old message, please just start a new thread on the subject, giving your own opinions as the starting point.  This way, every subscriber has the option of responding, or not, without embarrassment.

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44.  Why can't I post announcements?

You can, but only if the announcement is directly — not just generally or tangentially — relevant to the topic of the list, and post it to that one best-suited list, only.  Especially, don't post an announcement you picked up on another, related list because, obviously, the announcement has already been made!  If you've seen it, assume others have seen it, too.

Most genealogists subscribe to multiple lists, especially the general ones, and most genealogists interested in genetic genealogy belong to GENEALOGY-DNA.  If the announcement has to do with genetic genealogy, and it has already been made on GENEALOGY-DNA, especially if there is a thread about it going on there, please do not re-post the announcement to other lists.  If announcements are shotgunned to multiple lists, not only are people going to get bombarded (SPAMMED) with multiple copies of the announcement, they're going to be subjected to multiple simultaneous threads about it.

If you are an FTDNA project admin and you've received an announcement from FTDNA, please do not repost it to a mailing list.  If you've received it, the other project admins have received it, too, so there's no need to post it publicly — and please note that doing so would likely be copyright infringement.  FTDNA usually puts a copyright statement on the bottom of their announcements, so you should respect it.  (And it's amazing how often people will repost an announcement and include the copyright statement with it!  Duhhh.)  You can certainly bring up the subject of the announcement (e.g., "What do you think of FTDNA's announcement that they're going to....?"), but please don't repost the announcement, itself, and please don't start another thread about it if one is already in progress on another list.
Bottom line:  please only post announcements that are directly and specifically appropriate to the topic of the list.  I mean... how many announcements did I get that the 1940 census had been released? — all on lists where it was off topic.  Please suppress the impulse to "spread the news."  Your audience already knows, probably for the same reasons you know.  And if you are deliberately "hawking" something, yourself, do check with the ListAdmin, first, before posting to the list.

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45.  What's a "newbie"?  Or a "lurker"?

These are descriptive terms, neither of which is in any way derogatory, so please don't take it as an insult if someone identifies you as either one.

"Newbie" means someone who is new to something, still "learning the ropes."  It behoves every experienced person (every "Old Timer") to help the Newbie advance to "Old Hand" status as quickly and painlessly as possible.

A "lurker" is someone who subscribes to a mailing list (i.e., "follows" the list), without ever posting to it — for whatever reason, which is no one else's business, but their own.  Please note that the vast majority of subscribers are lurkers because some 80-90% of list members never post, at all.  There is utterly no reason to snear at lurking or lurkers.  As list admin, I'm gratified that they find the list sufficiently interesting to subscribe, and the active posters should be equally grateful that so many people are interested in what they have to say.

The list is here for the use and enjoyment of everyone — even people who don't subscribe, at all, accessing its messages only via the search engine to the archive.

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