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AOL discontinues LISTSERV mailing list service

Joab Jackson | Nov. 3, 2011
AOL is shutting down its free LISTSERV-based mailing-list hosting operations.

The AOL LISTSERV currently hosts about 640 mailing lists, ranging in topics from the cotton industry to the New York Mets. Some lists are still active; others aren't.

One list still somewhat active is the discussion list for AOLserver, AOL's open-source Web server software. The administrator for this list moved it to SourceForge, where the AOLserver code is housed. However, the administrator, Dossy Shiobara, noted that there was no immediate way to move the decadelong archives of this mailing list, along with related announcement lists, to SourceForge. Fortunately, much of the content is mirrored on other sites, however.

"It's always sad when we lose a way to communicate with others," said David Cassel, who ran the AOL Watch site through the late 1990s. "Mailing lists have always represented one of our best impulses for the Internet: to let people connect to other people, and to talk about whatever they want."

Cassel attributed the discontinuation to AOL's changing priorities, as it moves from being an Internet service provider to a digital content hub. "To be fair, AOL offered the service for a long time--but in retrospect, the communities should've known that there was always the possibility of a LISTSERV Armageddon," Cassel said. "It's like having a book club that only meets on [Star Wars'] Death Star. Sooner or later, you're going to have to confront the institutional indifference to your community."

Mailing lists still can provide a unique service for public discourse, said L-Soft's Thomas. With mailing lists, users are not limited by any specific character count, and they can add attachments to their missives, Thomas said. People's dispatches are easier to find than with Facebook's newsfeed, where they can be buried under posts of other topics.

"You are coming to the mailing list to discuss a specific topic. When you are on a social media site, it is a bit of a free-for-all. You put something on your wall, but you don't know how many people will see it," Thomas said. "There is more of a community with a mailing list."

 

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