How to run mailing lists of the Society For Creative Anachronism II

Resolved: That any and all practice of honor, courtesy, and consideration demands that no mailing list whatsoever force all replies back to the mailing list.

Cassiel C. MacAvity





    To My Correspondents in the Kingdom Of The West of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and to whomever my correspondents may chose to share and extend the following words, I, Felix MacAvady, do send greetings.

    In doing so, I do note that my correspondents do indeed freely and willingly have my permission to so share and extend these following words; By this point I have enough experience in both administration and playing in the SCA, and both, to find myself utterly, totally, and completely disgusted with particular choices I find to be totally without merit and unworthy of my honor, my game, my kingdom, my society, my people. I find I subsequently just have no concern and nothing whatsoever to lose from any actions from any and all who may oppose or object to a preference for honor, courtesy, and consideration of any and all others, particularly as concerns the playing of the game of the SCA.

    As you and I have discussed by email, the situation is the configuration and administration of SCA oriented email mailing lists, particularly the configuration of these lists so that when a person posts to the list, all replies returning to that person Must only go to that person and not to the list. That all replies to all can go to both the list and the original sender. And most importantly, that any and all persons so choosing may thus see that choice go through without confusion, without doubt, by established internet and mailing list custom, with the honor, courtesy, and goodwill that is the sole and ongoing focus of the SCA.

    The alternative that has been chosen on a number of occasions of mailing list configuration is to deliberately and willingly force all replies back to the mailing list. In doing so, this denies the sender the choice of where to reply. In doing so, this risks, and in many instances does cause, the broadcast to the entire mailing list of the private concerns of individuals which have no relevance to any other person without the explicit and knowing permission of the sender. This alternative choice is against the stated, documented, regulations of the modern internet that these emails travel across. This alternative choice is against the spirit, the intent, and the practice of all aspects of the SCA.

    For those who wish to read in detail the original, and other, discussions of this matter, I offer the following;

    "Reply-To" Munging Considered Harmful
http://www.unicom.com/pw/reply-to-harmful.html

    "Reply-To" Munging Still Considered Harmful. Really.
http://woozle.org/~neale/papers/reply-to-still-harmful.html

    Bureau of the Netiquette-Challenged, item number one, by my friend Rick Moen
http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/faq/index.php?page=netiquette#replyto

    On the administration of mailing lists of the Society For Creative Anachronism (SCA), authored by myself, using one of my pen names
http://thecuria.com/sca-lists.html


    In the last paragraph I note there being documented regulations, and in the paragraph before I note there being established customs. To quote from the second link immediately above;

In April of 2001, the IETF issued af new document, RFC 2822, which obsoletes RFC 822. In this new RFC, the author addresses the Reply-To header in a few places, but the most relevant to this discussion is the following in section 3.6.2 "Originator fields":

       When the "Reply-To:" field is present, it indicates the mailbox(es) to which the author of the message suggests that replies be sent.

Your list software is not "the author of the message", so it must not set or in any way meddle with the Reply-To header. That header exists for the author and the author alone. If your list munges it, you are violating the standard.

These standards are not written flippantly, they are carefully crafted in such a way as to ensure everything on the Internet works as smoothly as possible. So do the Internet a favor and leave that header alone.

    I have an additional support for my fellow beleaguered mailing list administrators who get besieged with demands that a mailing list be broken because A) I can't be bothered to play by the rules for everyone, or B) I can't be bothered to remember how to do something correctly. At the bottom of every message posted from an SCA mailing list, or even any non-SCA mailing list, have the following;

This is a mailing list.
To reply to an individual, select reply (to one)
To reply to the mailing list, select reply to all.


    One definite issue that all administrators can face is the default setting of a mailing list when it was created. Because Yahoo mailing lists have been so easy to set up, quite a few mailing lists in the West Kingdom and elsewhere in the SCA are on Yahoo. Yahoo has long had a default setting of broken mailing list on creation, in direct violation of established custom and practice. If a list is created broken and no one thinks to check then that list will so remain broken until fixed to correctly allow reply by choice.

    In addition, I have recently discovered that the same egregious flaw exists in the standard setup of Google Groups as well, so until that is corrected, the same sorts of interpersonal screwups will occur there too.

    In such a case the solution is extremely simple and does not require grandstanding, speeches, justification, just the simple, quiet action of a competent administrator to be certain that to hit reply (to one) will reply to the sender, not to the list.

    Of ascertaining whether a mailing list is broken, the simplest test is to pick any random post from that list and hit reply. On a normal mailing list, the reply will go to the sender, and reply to all will go to the list. On a broken mailing list, all replies are hijacked back to the mailing list, regardless.

    For those who make the clearly untrue statement that hijacking all email back to a list is the only way to communicate, what such persons have in mind is an online forum, and is clearly not a mailing list. Usenet is such a forum, and a number of websites have their own forum areas. In all such circumstances, posting to such can only be the deliberate choice of all who post. They themselves make the effort and are aware at all times of what they do. Guaranteeing quality and wisdom in posting is another story, but accident is not an option.

    Other recurring observations among those who claim that a mailing list is a forum and vice-versa is the claim that when a mailing list is broken, it's always someone else's fault when the message goes to the list, and that a sender must never need to use the reply to all button to reply to the mailing list, because replying to a list and replying to a person is the same thing. Of the first argument, that is mere blatant denying of adult responsibility to have and keep the best communication, and of the second, that is a blatant falsehood, as communication with and among the many is never communication with the one. Not only is there a very clear understanding of the difference between the operations of a broken mailing list and a normal mailing list, there is also an example available that particularly resonates for us in the SCA.

    Of the first, to demand the blame go to an other is the selfish scream of a child of any age demanding that the universe revolve around it, that there must never be consideration for others. The phrasing always follows some form of the following; I want to hit reply to sender because A) if I hit reply to all there might be two messages sent out instead of one, and B) when I want to reply to the one, I'll hit reply to one while trying to remember which reply I think it is this time, then I will just go and somehow, depending on the email program, dig out the email address of the sender of the message, without of course then admitting that the sender is a person and not the mailing list, and C) No, I have Not just admitted that hitting reply to sender and having the email address already be in place is the more efficient and better method of the two, and D) if someone posts to the list because A, B, and C are inherently contradictory and unsupportable, it is that person's fault because I am and remain totally free of guilt in accepting a system that deliberately causes confusion.

    Regarding that scream of selfishness, the only additional thought that comes to mind is that of item B from above, that claimed concern that two messages may go out, going to the list and to the sender, this being irrelevant is demonstrated by several demonstrations of the ability of adults to converse in large numbers without difficulty. For one, getting back to that concept of supporting the group and communicating with the many, so what if two intended and welcomed messages come through on occasion, where on one hand, a sender can remember to delete one address, where such deletion remains a trifle, where in many instances, email filtering programs can and do detect and delete the redundant message. In All cases with no exceptions, the desired message does indeed reach its audience, and the undesired message does not.

    Of the second argument, to say that to do absolutely the same action is to practice two completely and utterly different results is clearly the lie underneath the claim that to receive from a list is the same as to receiver from a person because everyone remembers that replying to a list is not replying to a person, that all must be seen as the same.

    Where that claim breaks down is that to state that a the mailing list is unforgettably a large room is metaphoric only, and is also faulty; When all are literally in an actual large room, There Is Everyone. He's over there, I'm over here, they and I are across from them over there, and we all know we're here---private conversations will be held later or pointedly off on the side. Only with the cobbled together result of a mailing list, that general conversation is badly tied into the operations of email . . . and there goes the certainty of knowing and remembering that one is in a large room.

    When a mailing list is correct, I and everyone have One choice and once choice only;

    When a personal message arrives, I hit reply to sender and send to the one.

    When a mailing list message arrives, I hit reply to all, and send to the many.

    One set of Two Different reflexes. A or B. B or A. A is not B. B is not A.

    Now, let's twist that so that the mailing list is broken, so that I and everyone else becomes forced to chose between two utterly opposite choices while using one action and one action only;

    When a personal message arrives, I hit reply to sender and send to the one.

    When a mailing list message arrives, I also hit reply to sender, and send to the many.

    There is no difference, it is all the same. A is B, B is A, unless B is B, or maybe A is A, unless B is A, given when A is B---and because it is all the same, someone then suddenly screams "No, that wasn't supposed to happen that way", the West Kingdom list wasn't supposed to see the question, with names, about consideration of banishment---An actual conversation a few years ago, By Way Of The West Kingom List.

    Now let's raise the stakes with the exact same behavior.

    In An Tir, shall we say, light and easy playing with fighting is done in clothing, with foam swords, and the arm gets tapped, and the chest gets thumped, and if someone gets whacked across the head, Eh, it's just foam . . .

    In An Tir, shall we say, heavy combat is done with armor and helmet, because the sword is rattan, and the same force is used, but there is So much more impact with the rattan that foam just does not deliver, but the target is a Helmet, not a skull.

    Oh, and if a foam sword accidentally gets used to hit someone wearing a helmet, Oh well, pick up the very different rattan and go at it again to get that really big impact.

    Now, here in The West, it's all the same thing.

    Here in The West, light and easy playing with fighting is done in clothing with foam and nobody wears a helmet, and really heavy combat is done with armor and rattan and nobody wears a helmet. Yes, everyone knows what will happen when rattan smashes into a skull, but everyone knows to just don't do that, only hit someone in the head with foam, don't hit someone in the head with rattan. Oh, Ok, fine, so every once in awhile, so someone does get a skull smashed in with a sword, with a staff, but that's Ok, everyone just knows not to, so no, we're not going to demand that everyone must fight heavy with a helmet . . . . . . . .

    Uh huh, that would be insane, that would be irresponsible, no one would Ever do that, and besides, a mailing list is not a tourney list.

    Is it?

    Where *Is* that dividing line, really?

    Particularly for we who marshal the lists, but actually for All Of Us, because anyone present is forced to take part just by being present to see . . . . How is one behavior perfectly safe in word and not safe with rattan?

    Where Is that dividing line?

    Answer; there is No dividing line, the two Are the same.

    Borrowing from the Japanese and probably many others, whether anyone picks up the sword or the pen, There Is No Difference.

    Is there honor to stand around on a tourney field where someone is guaranteed to bash in someone else's head because the default is to have no helmet, instead of taking the effort to put on the helmet and be safe?

    No, there is no honor there. There is no consideration. There is no courtesy.

    So someone will claim that a mailing list is just a mailing list . . . . But, in turn, to look at deliberately endangering procedures, thousands of people risk death and dismemberment in just driving a car . . . but how often is the law of road declared to be that on the same roads, a car with no passenger will drive on the right side of the road, and all cars with passengers will drive on the left side of the road?

    Never. But those who demand that a mailing list be the same way do get to see all those car crashes that always do happen.

    Of fighting with a helmet on, it is hot and sight is limited, and the helmet is heavy. And as the list proceedings continue---Any list proceedings---, someone directly taking part does not get his or her brains spattered across the list, and those watching don't have to see it, and the marshals don't have to shrug and say "It's just brains on a sword, get used to it."

    And, scaling back down to "it's just a mailing list, and everyone gets to talk to each other" . . . . no one has to remember to hit this button this time but not that button the other time, unless its the other this time or . . . .

    A forum, like a newsgroup, will always be the place that one Has To Go To, because there, speaking in public, to the many, Is indeed deliberate and reasoned.

    A private email post, like swinging just a piece of foam, is always going to be small and quiet and any impact is only between the sender and the receiver.

    And when the two get mixed, and in every mailing list that forces the private action into the public so that the two are Always mixed, brain and broken skull does spray across the list with great regularity.

    And in this, there is indeed no consideration for the marshal, the admin, the viewers, the subscribers, of any form of the list, and no consideration for the participant who posts and fights in that list.

    And of standards that can not be enforced, such as RFC 2822, where there are the actions between two and then there are the actions that affect many, but indeed no enforcer is just standing there to enforce either . . . . .

    With this inevitability, do we plan for the mistake of the one that affects I, or the mistake that affects Us? I and others and the writers of the RFC point out that the smaller mess of the two is the one to plan for because to shrug and wave off the impact of the greater mess remains irresponsible and inconsiderate, and, yes, dishonorable.

    So again, because how to hit is irrelevant to the greater intent of To Hit, how to post is irrelevant to the greater intent of To Post, the error of confusion between this how and that how does indeed happen.

    So, again, because The Error Of Confusion Is Inevitable And It Occurs, repeat, The Error Of Confusion Is Inevitable And It Occurs, do we thus say "Oops, one or two of I got 'embarrassed'", or do we say "Oops, The Entire Mailing List of Us got 'embarrassed'."?

    That is the choice, and the only choice, that is being discussed here. You are the poster, you are going to screw it all up. Now, are you going to screw it up for only yourself, or are you going to demand that you have the ability to screw it up for all of us?

    I choose to "inconvenience" the fewer, any fewer, be my enemies or me, whether on a mailing list or a tourney list.

    The RFC demands to "inconvenience" and "embarrass" the fewer. Fighting regulations demand to "inconvenience" and "embarrass" the fewer.

    And therefore the marshals demand that if you are going to be on this list, you Are going to wear a helmet, because if you get killed because you refuse to accept a helmet, you disrupt us and in doing so you ruin our game . . . . .

    And finally, of those who have no honor, no consideration, there will be the demand that all replies go back to the list because "I sometimes rather enjoy seeing posts to the list that the author thought was private. Sometimes they give answers to something I was also wondering. Sometimes they give some personal news (new job, love, whatever) that I enjoy hearing. And once in a while it can be entertaining to watch others disagree on some topic from a safe distance."

    A thought at this point is to inquire if such a person has ever considered taking up the art of communication. Of being considerate, of saying Hello. Of asking, with consideration, How are you. Of politely inquiring and sharing information, rather than preferring an antagonistic arena, ambush, discourtesy.

    My reply to that writer was, and is, that the issue here is the amount of overhead that gets generated. This concern is not just for an administrator, but for every list member involuntarily faced with a failure to administer; a failure that results in pointless and needless frantic scrambling in all directions, usually beginning with "That wasn't supposed to go out!!!!" and sometimes following with the pointless and deceitful "You didn't see that."

    I did not start playing in the SCA to gleefully pick over other people and their failings.

    I Am Not Going To Start Now.

    Are we going to be polite and considerate and courteous to all posters and readers, or are we going to deliberately and malevolently hijack mail programs and openly and blatantly embrace annoyance and discontent?

    Of particular broken mailing lists that I have had to deal with, the egregious example that led you to demand the involved administrator names is that which I discuss at http://thecuria.com/sca-lists.html . The date I'm seeing in my archives was June of 2004. That particularly echoing silence and lack of support for consideration and courtesy and honor so cited was provided by rather a few people in the SCA peerage orders during that time that several of us requested the courtesy and consideration of all. As noted, that closing comment I quoted about the vote results came from one of that group's own senior staffers. Of the Seneschalle at the time, the one who called for her vote and announced her results that resulted in an arena rather than a community mailing list, I'm very fuzzy on the name, I think she succeeded the staffer, the WK History project Who's Who is not helping . . . and general memory at that distance in time tells me no name.

    I'm really not good with those names anymore, but then there was no point in wasting any further time or attention: I put all the email addresses of that list into a filter, and all of them who may have posted to the West Kingdom list since then have happily just disappeared into trash. Apparently I have missed utterly nothing of them since then, and I see no reason to change anything of the sort. As I noted, we in the group had and sustained a place of fun and good people, and the group was welcoming to all. I was, and am, truly sorry and extremely annoyed to see a good group clearly come to that end.

    Going more in general though, you did cite the West Kingdom list as one you read, and as I type this, when I pull up the most recent message I've received, when I hit either of the reply buttons, I get no choice and the reply goes to the list and not to the original sender, as it should.

    One issue discussed here so far is that the flaws of a communication system can be so used to turn it against those using it. The other is that unfortunately and with a total lack of honor or justification, there are those who so demand so that they may get entertainment. Beyond and extending from these two occurrences, there is a bigger issue. In the several years I've been playing in the SCA, I have had a number of times where my interest in the SCA has continued, but logistics, or scheduling, or whatnot have not so supported. Attacks of life are like that. On my part, between the interest and being online a fair bit, I've been subscribed to quite a few mailing lists for quite a few years. At one point I was running about five or so separate mailing lists on behalf of three local groups and the Kingdom of The West.

    Of mailing lists in the SCA, while they are not the anchor of the SCA, they do provide communication and introduction to those who are new to the SCA. On quite a few of the SCA mailing lists that I read, a recurring topic these days is indeed how to attract and keep newcomers. Of both of these issues, keeping people, and keeping people in communication, anything that detracts from a welcoming and considerate environment is something which may just drive someone away. On my part, that list of five or so mailing lists that I helped run is now just one. In all instances, the demand or action was made to force all replies back to the list, following which I resigned administration because I refused to have any official connection with a broken mailing list. And in many instances, especially the group noted in detail, I and others were attacked for that same insistence that the members of the group continue to practice and receive courtesy and consideration.

    We in the SCA need to keep people interested, need to give reasons to keep interest, need to provide the greatest support and encouragement, or we may as well just go back to our books, our sewing rooms, our dojos, whatnot, because there will be no point in playing. The majority of my SCA experience is my home Kingdom of The West, but what I write of is the exact same issue elsewhere. Even if the West Kingdom mailing list is correctly configured, even while we are The First Kingdom, we are not the entire SCA, and anything that has a negative connotation, whether elsewhere or among us, is something that will hurt us, unless clearly and directly addressed and eradicated.

    For this reason I propose that The Kingdom Of The West call for a society wide practice of correct and courteous mailing list practice and administration, that all mailing lists that claim to relate to the SCA be so set so that all instances of reply to individual go solely and automatically back to those individuals alone, that all instances of reply to all go back to the mailing list, that in accordance with repeatedly and clearly stated internet and SCA practice, all instances of forcing all replies back to a mailing list are and should be banned from all SCA mailing lists.

    To borrow your own words; "If folks want to have private email lists used for SCA purposes they can do what they want. If they want to publish their email list as the "official" medium for communication for any SCA group and branch related business, then those lists will have to be managed in accordance with this guidance."

   

    We are the Kingdom of The West.

    We are The First Kingdom Of The SCA.

    We must lead by our example.

    Let us so lead.

   

                                                    Felix MacAvady



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Cassiel C. MacAvity