How to set up your vacation messages to get thrown off mailing lists

June 14, 2009

There are at least two ways to set up vacation messages; they can go to the envelope sender (the SMTP MAIL FROM), or they can go to the apparent author of the mail message, usually plucked from the From: header. It's my personal view that mailing list managers should immediately unsubscribe people who have the second sort of vacation message system.

(I admit that I haven't always had the courage to do this for lists that I run.)

It's one thing to harass the list owner with your vacation messages (but it is still a bad idea); the list owner sort of signed up to be harassed by virtue of running a mailing list, and these days most mailing list software probably swallows these messages anyways. But it's another thing entirely to harass people who post to the mailing list with them, because it effectively functions as an unpleasant disincentive to post to your mailing list. Under most circumstances, discouraging people from participating on your mailing list is exactly the reverse of what you want.

(The more people with such vacation messages, the larger the disincentive is.)

Of course, one of the problems with my view is actually finding the people who are doing this. Unless you regularly send email to your own mailing list (and you may not), you're going to have to rely on list members complaining (or reporting) the issue to you. Encouraging them to do so may or may not help.

(If you are designing a vacation message system, please do not ever have it send email to the Reply-To:. If you are ever tempted to do so, just think about what happens when your software is combined with mailing lists that add a mandatory Reply-To: header that points to the mailing list.)

Written on 14 June 2009.
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Last modified: Sun Jun 14 00:18:30 2009
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