Listservs (aka mailing list managers) explained

List servers (aka mailing list managers) are applications that allow a member of a group to email the other members of the group. They are mostly used for discussion and announcements. They are distinct from email marketing systems which handle email newsletters and other marketing email.

List servers go by various names, and there are several of them to choose from. They all have the same basic function. Here is an explanation of what list servers do, a list of their various names and an overview of the main differences between the most popular listservs.

Different names for list servers

A mailing list manager, sometimes referred to as a list server, can provide one or more mailing lists, each with its own membership. A electronic mailing list can be referred to as an email list, a listlistserv or listerve, email discussion list, or email group. Here at OnlineGroups.net we call them online groups.

The basic function of a listserv

When a group member emails the group, the list server sends the email to the group members. The email is usually also made available via the web. In this way, a mailing list manager provides an email address and an inbox for a group.

Group membership is maintained by administrators and group members themselves. Group members also manage their own delivery settings, choosing between one email per post, a digest (summary) or no email at all. Some mailing list managers allow posting from the web.

Popular list servers and the differences between them

The mailing list managers you are most likely to have heard of are Yahoo! Groups, Google Groups and GNU Mailman. LISTSERV and Sympa less common and the once popular Majordomo is now obsolete. Then there is our own OnlineGroups.net and the software that underpins it GroupServer.

There are two main factors that distinguish mailing list managers.

  • Some allow posting from email only, while others allow posting from email and the web.
  • Some are open source, others are proprietary or cloud-based.

Here are the most common mailing list managers arranged according to those factors.

  Open Source Proprietary Cloud
Post from email only GNU Mailman
Sympa
LISTSERV  
Post from email
or the web
GroupServer   OnlineGroups.net
Yahoo! Groups
Google Groups

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