Magazine article Information Today

How to Find Subjects and Subject Experts

Magazine article Information Today

How to Find Subjects and Subject Experts

Article excerpt

One of the "secrets" of electronic mailing lists is that many of them are archived somewhere. What this means to you is that you have available a searchable database on the topic of the list in question. If you're new to a list, searching the archives can be a good way to find out whether a discussion topic you are tempted to raise has already been covered in depth. It can also be a quick way to do research on a current or popular topic.

The really cool thing about searching mailing list archives is that only e-mail access to the Internet is required. The way you structure the search depends on the type of software being used to manage the administrative functions of the mailing list.

There's Good News and There's Bad News

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. Majordomo is a popular mailing list management software because it is free and, ostensibly, easy to set up and operate. Unfortunately, its functions are limited, and it does not incorporate commands that allow you to search the archives of mailing lists that are managed by it.

Listserv, on the other hand, is a popular commercial mailing list management tool. It tends to be used by large, usually academic computers that host many different mailing lists. Listserv is a very powerful software package with many capabilities. If you send a "help" command to a Listserv address (leave the subject line blank and type "help" in the body of the message), you'll get back a document containing a brief summary of the commands you can use. For a more extensive help document, send an e-mail message to the Listserv address, leave the subject line blank, and type "info refcard" in the body of the message.

Remember: When dealing with any of these mailing list management programs, you are, in effect, sending a command to a remote computer. Computers, as we all know, can be obtuse. They are picky about how things are structured, and they expect to see commands typed in a specific format. Keep this in mind while reviewing the instructions below, which describe how to search the archives of Listserv mailing lists. It may look like gibberish to you and me, but to the computer it makes perfect sense.

1. Send an e-mail address to the listserv address (e.g., listserv@xxx.xx.xx.).

2. Leave the subject line blank. (Note: If you are dealing with an e-mail program that will not let you leave the subject line blank, you actually can type anything there, and the remote computer will simply ignore it.)

3. In the body of the e-mail, type the following message exactly as it appears, except you'll be substituting your own keyword and listname where indicated:

//

database search dd=rules

//rules dd*

search yourkeyword in listname

index

/*

4. Send the message.

Usually, you'll receive a rapid response from the mailing list host computer. A message will come back to you containing an access number and the subject lines of all messages that contain your keyword in that particular mailing list archive. Each individual message will be numbered. To retrieve the full text of the messages you wish to read, send the following command in an 3-mail message to the Listserv, with the same keyword and listname, and the numbers of the messages you wish to see:

//

database search dd=rules

//rules dd*

search yourkeyword in listname

print all of number 1, number2,...

/*

(Note: If anything in the above procedure should not work for the archive you're trying to search, send the command info in a message to the Listserv for any searching information unique to that Listserv.)

Another popular type of mailing list management program you may encounter is Listproc. To search the archive of a Listproc-managed list, send the following command to the Listproc address:

search listname yourkeyword

You should get a reply message from Listproc containing all files in that particular list's archive, with each line in that file in which the keyword appears. …

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