Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(February 1995)

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Subject: Re: How should public relations pros work with mailing lists
From: Keith Moore <moore @ cs . utk . edu>
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 1995 02:07:18 -0500
To: nruggles @ panix . com (Neil Ruggles)
Cc: list-managers @ greatcircle . com, Keith Moore <moore @ cs . utk . edu>
In-reply-to: Your message of "Wed, 22 Feb 1995 01:13:56 EST." <v0211010bab70799ecfc4@[]>

> >Also, if the number of ads were even a small fraction (say 5%) of the
> >number of total messages, the utility of the list would suffer too
> >much to make it worthwhile.
> Keith, I was suggesting that YOU, as list manager, be in control of what
> gets into the list. Perhaps you are uncomfortable about "censoring" a list
> by deciding what does and doesn't get into it? Are your lists unmoderated?

I said in my previous message that I don't have time to handle
requests to allow advertising on my lists.  Neither do I have the time
to moderate them.  I'd much prefer that my lists be self-policing.

My comment about the "small fraction" was in that light: even if the
those who submit ads keep them brief and on-topic, when too many of
them do so the list becomes worthless.  So even self-policing doesn't
work after a point.  At that point I'd say it's better to ban all

> I suspect that charging people to place ads in a list would go a long way
> toward controlling how many want to be there. If there are too many
> advertisers, just keep raising the price. If a list is THAT popular with
> advertisers, the manager deserves to make some money.

Maybe, if the purpose of a list is to make money.  But my lists
weren't set up for that reason.  The lists I run exist because they
give me an opportunity to use my interest in a particular topic to
provide service to the net community.

Lest this seem strange, MY purpose isn't to make money, either.  I
have enough money, and precious little time.  Your offering to give me
more money for less time isn't very attractive (actually, it borders
on insulting), and it doesn't provide any useful service to my list
members.  (If the service of advertising were useful to my list, you
could do it for free).

> >I'd much prefer that people read the list and see whether it is
> >appropriate before advertising there.  One good rule would be: don't
> >even attempt to advertise to any list or newsgroup that you don't read
> >regularly.
> I think that's an excellent rule. What would you think of a service
> (heavily automated) that subscribed to _lots_ of lists, indexed their
> contents, and made the indexes available to advertisers looking for a
> compatible list? Would you support such an automoton if it meant
> advertisers were better educated about your list and its subscribers? 

No, because the effect would be to make it easy for prospective
advertisers to circumvent the "you must read the list" rule.

Let me put it another way.  Those who advertise on a list should be
contributing members of the community that the list serves.

Your automoton would not be serving that community.  It would be
taking information from the community and exposing that community to
increased abuse as a result.  You would be making money from the
lists, but it appears that you would be returning nothing to them or
to the net community in general.

> If it meant fewer irrelevant messages?

I doubt seriously that it would have this effect.

> >I would not join any list that accepted money for advertising.  The
> >reason is that no amount of money you could afford is worth the
> >interruption and time it takes to read even a single off-topic
> >message.
> And yet we both probably subscribe to quite a few magazines, each of which
> is filled with ads, usually located on the right hand page to force us to
> notice the ad before continuing with the story. 

Your assumption is incorrect.  I do not subscribe to magazines or
newspapers, because the signal to noise ratio is too low, and they are
usually not worth the time it takes to read them or the effort to
carry them to the trash can.  (No, I don't watch much television

And your analogy is not valid either.  Advertisements in magazines do
provide some value to the reader, by paying for part of the cost of
content, printing, and distribution.  But in the case of mailing
lists, the costs for these are already low, and advertising is not

> In fact, the current issue
> of Wired has 7 pages of ads in front of the Table of Contents. I hate
> turning those pages to get to the TOC, but I'll keep my subscription.

I don't buy Wired anymore either.  They weren't telling me anything
(well, not anything *useful*) that I didn't already know.

> Also, if the list manager is in control of the ads, why would they be
> off-topic? And how can we know what _anyone_ can afford to pay to advertise
> in lists when so few are doing it, and even fewer are discussing it.
> >> 5) Would you open your subscriber list to an unsolicited direct emailing
> >> under any circumstances?
> >
> >No.  I would consider this an abuse of my list members' trust.
> Thanks for reminding me how important trust is in the kinds of close
> relationships that develop oinline. Maintaining customer trust is one of
> the basic tenets of 1-1 marketing. I assume this means you disable the WHO
> (or like) function in the lists you manage?

There is no such function in the lists I manage.  But your question is
irrelevant.  In some cases it is perfectly reasonable to allow someone
to see who is on a list.  But it is still abusive for that person to
use that information for purposes which are counter to those for which
the information was collected.

> >If ads decrease the signal-to-noise ratio on
> >a mailing list to a point that it's unusable, you've destroyed a
> >valuable resource, and there's no way you can pay for that.
> As a reader of too many mailing lists I agree completely. I only wish we
> could also limit the noise in many non-commercial messages. 

Agreed, but that's a separate problem.  Actually I've had reasonable
success with this in one of my lists (sort of an experiment), with
little effort on my part.  Instead of actively filtering messages, I
simply send out an occasional message when the signal-to-noise ratio
gets too low.  I've had good support from the list on this, and some
of the members now take it upon themselves to inform newbies (via
private mail) and prospective members about the cultural norms of the

> As hordes of newbies join the net, I suspect the only _real_ control
> over signal-to-noise will come from a moderator.

Control isn't the only way to keep the signal-to-noise level high.

My experience is that a sense of community can be helpful here.  But
it takes awhile to develop the etiquette necessary for this to work --
for example, you have to train people to reply to inappropriate posts
politely, and via private email, rather than flaming to the list.

> And once a moderator is in place, ads won't make a list unusable as
> long as the moderator does the same kind of screening they do for
> non-commercial messages.

In my mind, this makes it more like a magazine than a list.  Magazines
can serve useful purposes, but they don't encourage community in the
same way as on a mailing list.  I think there is room for net
magazines that accept advertising and/or charge subscription fees, and
provide more value to their readers than ordinary mailing lists.  But
unless advertising provides more value to the *readers*, it doesn't
belong on a mailing list.

In any business transaction, both parties should walk away with
something more valuable (to them) than they had before the
transaction.  If this is not the case, the transaction serves no
useful purpose to society.  Advertising is the same way.  If those who
are inconvenienced by the advertisement are not compensated in some
way which is more valuable to them, the advertising is inappropriate.

On most mailing lists, the set of conditions under which the list
readers benefit from advertising is sufficiently small that all
advertising should be suspect.

Keith Moore

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