Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(March 1995)

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Subject: Re: What to do when list gets too big?
From: stan @ tta . com (Stan Hanks)
Date: Sat, 4 Mar 1995 15:11:08 -0600 (CST)
To: List-Managers @ GreatCircle . COM
Cc: today @ di . com
In-reply-to: <> from "Todd Day" at Mar 3, 95 10:52:00 am

> You might remember from previous posts that I run the Talon/Eclipse/Laser
> list.  This list is going on five years now, and is starting to get a bit
> out of control.  I have something like 500 people on it (pretty small
> compared to some of your guys' lists, but getting large for me).

I run Porschephiles, and we're at over 1300 after about 5 years.  I hit most
of the problems you're talking about around two years ago, and have whole
'nother pile facing me as this thing pushes towards 2000 and above...

> I've gotten complaints from some of the old timers ...

This is the nature of "old timers" -- they like it "like it used to be".
My solution was so to get some of them involved in helping out with 
various aspects of list management (more on that later), and to, with 
deep regret and sense of loss, let some of them go their way.

> Another problem is that in '95, there is a new model of the car

Uh-huh. I'm supporting the same issue, in spades. Ownership on my list
ranges across 45 model years, 7 major models with various sub-variants,
plus the factory specials and racing cars... It's a lot harder to do
just a single model in my opinion, because you *DO* have so much tighter
focus. Look at the MR-2 list (for which I also run the digest) -- they
have the Mk-I, Mk-II, and turbo/supercharged splits. Somehow, it works out...

> 1) Split the list

I thought about that, and decided not to. The issue: how do you handle
distribution across topic lines?? The heading says "911" but it's really
also "autocross" and "PCA events". Making sure that no one misses info
that they want is a *BIG* deal -- some sort of semanticly driven infobot
is what's called for. Then you have to ask yourself if it was possible 
to have one of them, would it be worth the extra overhead or would you just
distribute a massive feed anyway and let people run their own infobots
to pull out the stuff they really wanted?

My stated policy is that the list won't split until I find a good clean
solution for this problem.

> 2) Stop the "live" feed.  

I wouldn't do that. I've seen too many "I'm in the middle of doing X, and
need to know Y -- HELP!" messages over the years. I've also noted with
some interest that a message-at-a-time feed is much easier for some of
the mail readers on some of the Major On Line Services to deal with --
if you send out a digest, then everyone has to download everything, where
with the right user agent, you can just tag the messages that look interesting
and download them only.

> I could solve the problem of heavy editing by threating to unsubscribe anyone
> posting any of my pet peeves, like too much attribution and long .sigs.

Automation is a BIG step forward. I put up three different filter packs:

1) trap anything that looks like subscribe/unsubscribe, or very very
   short messages that *could* be the above, and route to the list admin.

2) fully block messages containing certain key words and phrases
   This also can be used to block certain individuals from posting

3) trap anything that contains certain other key words and phrases
   for approval before release into the main mail reflector.

I've had to yell at people for being boneheads more than a few times, but
have only had to fully sanction someone ONCE. It was not pleasant. I would
hope not to have to do it again.

There's also a useful trick I picked up from another list I subscribe to.
Getting old timers involved in doing certain things is very good -- let
everyone know that Old Joe is going to answer questions about Tires
and Old Bill is going to answer questions about Oil, and have them 
maintain FAQs. When someone asks a newbie question, everyone knows that
Joe or Bill or Brad or Mark or someone is more or less the "designated
hitter" for that one. They send out a private e-mail, everyone is happy.
IF they discover something new or think it merits a PUBLIC response, they
can do that too.

The *BIG* problem is that once you clear the 1000 subscriber point, it starts
to get a netnews "feel" to it -- these topics pop up that develop a life
of their own like radar detectors, good cop/bad cop, speeding, etc. and
you can't shut them down (unless you have a filter capability).

The other big problem is resources. I had to modify a bulk mailer program
that I picked up somewhere over the years to handle my message load. From
a 486/25 running BSDI, I send -- on average -- 58,000 mail messages *A DAY*.
Do that counting on sendmail to handle it all, and it chokes. MajorDomo
turns greenish just thinking about it. Clearly a faster system would help
but only masks the real issue: it's  alot of work to push that much mail.

Stan Hanks

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