An electronic mailing list is a special usage of email that allows for widespread distribution of information to many Internet users. It is similar to a traditional mailing list — a list of names and addresses — as might be kept by an organization for sending publications to its members or customers, but typically refers to four things — a list of email addresses, the people ("subscribers") receiving mail at those addresses, the publications (e-mail messages) sent to those addresses, and a reflector, which is a single e-mail address that, when designated as the recipient of a message, will send a copy of that message to all of the subscribers.
How automated electronic mailing lists work
Electronic mailing lists are usually fully or partially automated through the use of special mailing list software and a reflector address that are set up on a server capable of receiving email. Incoming messages sent to the reflector address are processed by the software, and, depending on their content, are acted upon internally (in the case of messages containing commands directed at the software itself) or are distributed to all e-mail addresses subscribed to the mailing list. Depending on the software, additional addresses may be set up for the purpose of sending commands.
Many electronic mailing list servers have a special email address in which subscribers (or those that want to be subscribers) can send commands to the server to perform such tasks as subscribing and unsubscribing, temporarily halting the sending of messages to them, or changing available preferences. The common format for sending these commands is to send an email that contains simply the command followed by the name of the electronic mailing list the command pertains to. Examples: subscribe anylist or subscribe anylist John Doe. Some list servers also allow people to subscribe, unsubscribe, change preferences, etc. via a website.
Electronic mailing list servers can be set to forward messages to subscribers of a particular mailing list either individually as they are received by the list server or in digest form in which all messages received on a particular day by the list server are combined into one email that is sent once per day to subscribers. Some mailing lists allow individual subscribers to decide how they prefer to receive messages from the list server (individual or digest).
One type of electronic mailing list is an announcement list, which is used primarily as a one-way conduit of information and can only be "posted to" by selected people. This may also be referred to by the term newsletter. Newsletter and promotional emailing lists are employed in various sectors as parts of direct marketing campaigns.
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