Exploring the Depths of Discussion Groups

Part 3 of 3

Exploring the Depths of Discussion Groups

By John Makulowich

Contributing Writer

In the last two columns I covered the more popular discussion groups, that is, Listserv, ListProc and MajorDomo, and reviewed the basic commands for navigating those using the Listserv list management software. According to the most recent data from L-Soft International Inc., the owner of Listserv, there are now 12,481 public lists with their program; total use, excluding intranets, comes to 55,431 lists. Total messages delivered the day of the survey? Nearly 15 million.

Beyond finding a list that caters to your professional or personal interest, you can usually probe deeper into any given Listserv list by using the commands detailed in Listserv version 1.8c. This program is impressive not only for its range of commands, but for the depth of information you can gather from an individual list.

As an example, I will subscribe to a list for network trainers to discuss network use and training, named Nettrain. The address is listserv@listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu; the command is, "subscribe nettrain firstname lastname." Within seconds, I receive e-mail requiring that I reply with "ok" in the text to confirm execution of the subscribe message. Again within seconds, I receive a confirmation of subscription acceptance, a narrative of Nettrain policies and a reply to my "ok" message.

At this point, I can gather relevant information for my research, pose questions to others or just sit back and read the messages sent by subscribers. If the e-mail from individuals gets too heavy, I can change to a "digest" distribution with varying frequency, such as end of day or once a week.

If I want to view the entire list of "unconcealed" users subscribed to the list, currently 3,355, I could send the command, "rev nettrain," (rev is short for review) in the text of a message to the listserv address. Returned by e-mail would be the list of subscriber names and e-mail addresses. I say "unconcealed" because one can conceal their identity from disclosure through the "rev" command by sending the request, "set nettrain conceal." Nettrain has 28 "concealed" subscribers.

Further, sending the command, "rev nettrain country short," returns a list of the 66 countries represented on Nettrain, along with the number of subscribers from each nation. The command, "short," omits the names of the subscribers. We see that 2,616 subscribers, or about 77 percent, have United States addresses.

The newly refined Listserv command, search or sea, allows subscribers to easily explore the list archives, in this particular case, Nettrain messages that go back to June 1992. If I want to review messages in which my name appears, I send the command, "sea nettrain makulowich." In seconds, back comes summary information on the 101 messages found since June 14, 1993, including item number, date, time and subject. The return message also informs the user how to retrieve a copy of individual postings. You can also restrict your search to specific dates, subjects and senders or authors, as well as prepare queries with complex Boolean operators. For quick-and-dirty work, you can search the Nettrain archives with this URL:http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/archives/nettrain.html.

John Makulowich writes, talks and trains on the Internet. Send e-mail to john@journalist.com.

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