I’ve been running a listserv called TheHillGB for some years now, and just received this question from a member: “I am considering creating a listserv for work-related purposes. As moderator of this list, do you have any good resources for the whats and hows of developing and maintaining a strong, functional listerv?”
(The word listserv was original coined by a software company, but became a generic term for electronic mailing list systems that send a single member email to all others on the list.)
At left, you see Joe Bozza, the neighbor who built a real-life bulletin board on my corner in 2010, based on one that connected (and still connects) my London neighborhood. That soon led to my creating an online bulletin board I called TheHillGB, because our neighborhood has long been known as “The Hill.”
For TheHillGB, I used Google Groups (look for the red CREATE GROUP button) and it works pretty well. I have looked for other options, but so far nothing quite stacks up when one has a group which varied technology skills. Some people really struggle to follow the basic sign-up instructions, but once they are “on” it is extremely easy to use. My first rule for a manager/moderator is this: Do not offer tech support. Provide clear written instructions (and get a few friends to test them) and insist that prospective members figure things out themselves (or find a family member or neighbor to help them). This is not your job as moderator.
But you should now and then remind people of whatever systems and rules you develop, and over time you may discover things about the software you’re using, as I did about Google Groups (the default for signups has occasionally been reset by Google to “no email,” and it seems to be hard to sign up on an iPhone).
Google Groups works well for TheHillGB, but for my publishing company, Berkshire Publishing Group, we use the messaging system within the Microsoft Teams app (this is not free). Many companies use Slack, a free messaging system that is more efficient than email for team projects, but is definitely not as simple for a widely varied group – like my 300+ neighbors – as an email-based system. Don’t get me wrong: Slack and Teams are simple, but they are new applications and have their own protocols. For people who just use email and texting, a listserv works very well indeed.
I have read about startups that try to do what we do on TheHillGB, and I’m intrigued, but keep deciding that simplicity is key.
One thing I really want to figure out is how to maintain information in a usable online guide. Members can search past posts to see what’s been said about painters or petsitters, but it would be nice to create a guide.
The other challenge is that people hear about TheHillGB and want to join even when they live in other parts of town, or in other towns. But the point of TheHillGB is that it’s based on real-life proximity – people you might meet on the street in the evening. This potential for face-to-face interaction is, I think, what makes it work. And there are occasional parties, too.
For background, here’s an article from the Berkshire Eagle in 2013: “Karen Christensen wanted to get to know her neighbors better, so she started a listserv.” Click here for the full article.
Here’s the text that is automatically added to every email sent to TheHillGB:
— You’ve received this message because you are subscribed to the “TheHillGB” Google Group. To send an email to everyone in the group, email email@example.com. When you hit Reply, you’ll also have the option to write only to the original author of a message.
If you would like to join TheHillGB (residents only), go to http://groups.google.com/group/thehillgb from your desktop (not iPhone or iPad), and click “Join this group.” Give your full name and address. You’ll soon receive a confirmation and subsequent group messages.
Karen Christensen is an entrepreneur, environmentalist, and occasional scholar who also writes about how women gain and wield power. She is the owner and CEO of Berkshire Publishing Group, a research associate of the Fairbank Center at Harvard, a member of the National Committee on US-China Relations, and founder of the Train Campaign. She was a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Press, Read Karen’s occasional dispatches from the frontlines of international publishing at Karen's Letter on Substack, and follow her on Twitter etc @karenchristenze.