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Digest-only & Improving the list

I've read many complaints about the digest-only format of the APD, and
requests for a non-digest form.

There are very good reasons for the APD and other lists on actwin.com being
digest-only.  This reason is bandwidth.  

A mailing list that sends out mailings in digest format only has to send
out one message per subscriber per digest interval (twice daily for the
APD, although large digests will be split into two mailings).  Mailing
lists in normal list format send out one message per subscriber for each
message that comes in.  For a server like the FINS server
(http://www.actwin.com/fish/index.cgi), which not only supports a large,
very popular aquaria web page, but also supports numerous mailing lists
(four fish-lists, plus who knows how many other lists on different
subjects), using a digest format on the larger lists is a good way to
maintain a good response time for the web server.

A second reason may not be a direct reason for keeping digest-only, but I
consider it to be a good one.  In a list that offers digest-only *or*
normal list operation, traffic generally increases because of the immediacy
of mailing-list response.  This tendency adds the likelihood of "noise" to
the "signal" of on-topic discussions.  In my experience with mailing lists,
subscribers on normal lists also have a greater tendency to argue and start
flaming one-another because they don't have the mandatory cool-off period
that a digest format creates.

A third reason spins off of the second reason.  Subscribers who prefer the
digest version of a digest or normal format list get the short end of the
stick.  They wind up with giant digests of old news, filled with noise and
low on signal, and generally not worth responding to.

Several others have mentioned this already, but I'll throw it in just for a
semblance of completeness.  If you want to read this mailing list like a
newsgroup, where you have to continually check to see if there are new
postings instead of just waiting for the digest to come out, go to the
archives at the FINS site above, where you can read the list in threaded


Improving the list

I've read a few calls for improving the readability of the list.  Without
software modifications that might perhaps add somewhat to the readability
of the list, list contributors can follow a few easy steps to improve the
quality of their contributions.

1.  Edit the subject line when replying to the list.  The subject of your
contribution is listed at the top of the digest.  (If you don't appreciate
this, try subscribing to the killifish list digest on aquaria.net.  You'll
find out how easy a digest is to read when you can't peruse the subject
lines first.)  The originator of the message that you're replying to is
more likely to read your post when the title isn't "Re: Aquatic Plants
Digest V3 #XXX".  Granted, this is a downside to the digest format, because
just hitting Reply isn't enough, but it's not that difficult to cut and
paste the title.

2.  Make sure to trim unnecessary text.  This is another of the downsides
to the digest format, in that if you hit reply instead of cutting and
pasting the relevant text to a new email, you start out with the entire
list to trim out.  Nearly all of us have seen a rogue APD posting that
contains an entire previous APD in the body of the message, and many of us
have probably wanted to strangle the originator of that message at one time
or another.

3.  If your email reader supports rich text in HTML or Microsoft format,
make sure to turn it off when contributing to the APD.  Since messages are
posted in digest format, you won't get a clean looking rich text
contribution any way you slice it.  Netscape provides an option on a per
email address basis for sending a message as HTML-only, Text and HTML, or
Text-only.  For the APD, Text-only is the appropriate choice.  I'm not
familiar with Microsoft Mail, but I suspect that it offers the same range
of choices.

David W. Webb
Live Foods Digest administrator live-foods at actwin_com