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TAKING IT PRIVATE

You remember the old adage about not discussing sex, religion and politics at the dinner table. Some things are better discussed privately. And that goes doubly for some discussion threads on legal mailing lists.

Archived messages don’t always reveal the full extent of a list’s activity and subscriber participation. Substantial off-list communication, immeasurable, often takes place among subscribers. And that’s not a bad idea. In fact, a growing number of mailing lists have started urging subscribers to discuss matters, once introduced to the list, among themselves.

Some mailing lists are configured so that replies only are delivered to the entire list; that doesn’t prevent a subscriber from copying and pasting a desired address to the reply. Other mailing lists have two options: reply to all and reply to sender. Study the options and decide which is most appropriate under the circumstances. Before sending off that message, take notice of who’s destined to receive it.

There’s a lot of merit to encouraging off-list correspondence once a topic has been introduced. Simply reducing the volume of e-mail is the first and most obvious result, but that’s not the only reason. Some topics don’t bear boring and taxing a large mailing list with boring and extensive discussion interesting to only a few participants. Sometimes the response is germane only to the poster who asked the question; there’s absolutely no need to fill others’ inboxes with e-mail that pertains only to the original poster. Some intimate details shouldn’t be broadcast, particularly where archives may be publicly accessible. And some writers would rather address a topic more frankly in one-to-one communication instead of one-to-all.

Take the time to decide whether a response should be taken off-list or shared with the entire mailing list. And once a conversation has been taken private, don’t take it public by re-posting it to the entire list, absent permission. The sender may well have intended the message for your eyes only.

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