The MAG Self Hosting Project: The MAG e-mail mailing lists

We've already got a mailing list, it's in my mail program

Most MAG local groups recognise the need to keep in contact with their members. Some feel that the weekly meetings are all that's necessary, others use a personal list of local members' email addresses embedded inside their email program (Outlook express, Thunderbird etc), some might even use a yahoo group or more recently a Facebook group. There are however problems with all of these approaches.

A lot of groups do nothing more than meet each week and still thrive. This is great and could easily continue for years. However, there always comes a time when the usual suspects move on or fall out with MAG or in some other way stop coming. What then? From my experience, what then is the group quickly withers and dies.

Most more advanced email programs like Thunderbird and Outlook Express, can accept a group name instead of an email address in the "To:" box and will then pick all of the email addresses you have put in that group out of your address book and quickly do a swap when you hit send. You last see the email with just the email group name in the To: box, but it is actually sent to everyone in that group. Again, as far as this goes, it works fine. However, it only works well when only one person is ever sending out these emails. it doesn't work at all as a discussion medium. Your mail program based email group is usable by you and you alone.

A big step closer is the Yahoo group approach. This allows many people to contribute, but does still suffer from a number of issues, one being it is not owned by MAG. This might sound possessive and parochial but the issues of succession and control in the case of abusive behaviour by either a member or one of the other people or companies on the list, the MAG NC has the democratic last say if the list is on MAG property. If it isn't, they don't.

So what's the answer

MAG has an internet server on the premises at central, wholely owned by MAG. On this server, among many other things, is a piece of software called "Mailman". This has been set up to allow each local group it's own mailing list, which can be maintained either by the server administrator, or by a local nominee. The control interface is a simple set of web pages. Many existing local group mailing lists are maintained locally by people who are by no means computer experts.

The local group lists are the core of the MAG mailing list system, in the same way that the grass roots membership is the core of MAG itself. Groups can use them or not as they see fit, but will obviously get more out of them if they use them. It is important however that they try and get as many of the local activists on their list as possible. Many groups send out a short weekly email after each meeting with a few comments and bits of news, including how many people were there. This helps keep a connection open to the floating membership and helps them to stay involved for when they are really needed.

The thing that differentiates MAG's approach from any of the others above, is that every night, the MAG server lists out the members of each local group in each region and updates a region-wide announcement mailing list with the total membership of it's regions local groups. This way, when the regional rep needs to send a message to their whole region, they can do it in one hit. After the regional lists have been updated, the server then does the same thing again, only adding the regional lists together to make a uk wide list.

The region-wide and national announcement mailing lists are not for discussions, they are just for getting the word out one way. From the reps to the membership and local activists. The national lists will, for example, receive all MAG's press releases.

If your local group does not have it's own mailing list, then do please contact the author and request one, giving your name and membership number number and the region this local group should be in.

As ever, if you have any other questions, please contact the author

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