I recently upgraded to version 8 of Stata, which is a nice program for advanced statistical analyses. During the registration of the software, the program asked me if I wanted to join Statalist, which is a listserv for discussion about Stata.
A listserv is an email discussion group that you subscribe to. People pose questions, these questions are distributed to all subscribers. If someone knows the answer, they will post a response to all subscribers. Sometimes a lively debate will ensue.
Listservs are very educational as long as you have the tolearance for the large amount of email that they generate. I belong to several listservs and to help keep my sanity, I place all of this email in a special folder so it doesn’t get mixed in with more important stuff.
There is a nice FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) about Statalist. This FAQ provides some general advice about listservs in general. A few interesting resources that they cite are worth mentioning.
First, there is a general protocol that you should follow when asking questions on a listserv. The people who provide answers on a listserv do this without any financial compensation. They do this because they want to pay something back to the community that helped them get started and they appreciate the technical challenge of the questions being asked. Ask politely, be specific, and don’t ask a question that has an answer you can easily find on your own.
Most email programs now offer fancy formatted versions for their email. These emails have different names, such as MIME, RTF, or HTML. It is a bad idea to send email to a listserv in this format. It takes up a lot of space, it is hard to read on certain systems, it can spread viruses. If your system sends email in MIME, RTF, or HTML format automatically, there are ways to turn this off.
I also learned about Web Bugs, little images inserted onto web pages and into email that can track who is reading what. This is a tool commonly used by unscrupulous commercial merchants. One reason to avoid HTML formatted messages is because they can include Web Bugs that can make you the target of spammers.
Listservs are great, but you need to know what you are doing when you subscribe to them.
You can find an earlier version of this page on my original website.