So you want to start a listserv

So, you’re ready for the useful insanity of the listserv. Now what?

Curb Alert apple

Neighborhood listservs can be fantastically useful and maddeningly crazy.

You’ve read our piece about The useful insanity of the listserv. You’ve been hearing your friends across the country talk about the things happening on their listservs. You’ve decided that it’s time for your neighborhood to get online and get social. So, where do you start?

You can easily set up a basic email listserv using on of the big email providers. And now there are a couple of more innovative sites out there that create a neighborhood dashboard and allow a lot more options. A few of the options are described below.

The Basic
Most traditional email listservs are run either as Google or Yahoo groups. If you have some old school computer dude in your ‘hood, then you may use an older or different platform, but the two biggest are easy and user friendly.

Setting up a new group works basically the same with both sites. You pick a name for your group, an email address and write up a short description. You’ll want to pick an obvious address that is easy to say –, instead of GLN! Maybe you’ll upload a picture of your neighborhood to greet users.

Users will sign up by going to the website and putting in their name and email info or sending an email to subscribe email address. They do not have to have a google or yahoo address to subscribe, but the administrators will need one. Users can post to the listserv or reply to posts either through email using the address you create or using the groups website. They can also opt to receive each message as an email as it is posted to the list or receive the daily digest (the previous 24 hours of posts collected into one email).

You will need to sit down with some others in your neighborhood and decide on the ground rules. Who will be the administrators (you’ll probably want to share the responsibility to monitoring the list)? Will it be open to all comers or will new users require approval (some groups ask that you submit a sentence or two saying who you are and why you want to join the list)? Will certain topics be off-limits for discussion (politics/electioneering, advertising, etc.)? And you’ll want a statement that says that people should mind their manners, and the administrators reserve the right to remove abusive or obscene posts and/or ban repeat offenders (what is abusive or obscene can be a fun conversation). Many neighborhoods post all this info to their neighborhood association website (examples here and here).

Then you get people to sign up. Include the address in your neighborhood newsletter. Post signs up at the local park, coffee shop, telephone poles. Tell all your friends and neighbors. Print up simple cards and hand deliver them to houses.

It’s likely to be a slow start, but like many things in life, the more you use it, the better it gets.

The Advanced
A fellow in my neighborhood, Hartmut Jahn, has created a website that serves as a complete online dashboard for the neighborhood. It integrates traditional listserv posts, forum style discussions, an event calendar, and ads for local businesses. Plus, once more than one neighborhood is using it, you can see both what’s going on in your neighborhood and elsewhere in the city.

Plus, Neighborship requires users to sign up with their real name, address and phone number, so that there are no anonymous spammers or fraudsters. Posts are screened from web search engines so that communication between neighbors is truly private and not available for scammers or identity thieves.

Next Door
NextDoor takes a Facebook like approach to neighborhood communication. Each person has a profile, which they create with their address, hobbies and interests. Then they can post questions, comments and events to the neighborhood page. Like Neighborship, nothing is anonymous or indexed by search engines to protect from spam and fraud.

NextDoor also includes an interface for municipal leaders to communicate with their constituents. So, the police can keep specific neighborhoods or the whole city advised about crime statistics and alerts. City Hall can post notices about public meetings or construction projects. Residents can submit requests and comments to the city.

There are some other great sites used for civic and neighborhood communication discussed in this article at Next American City.

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