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Yahoo Groups are fun and useful

April 2002

I'm addicted to e-mail. But not as bad as the guy I know who found himself checking his e-mail when he got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. He told me, "When I did that, I decided that things had gone too far. I sold my computer. I just didn't want it controlling my life like that."

I'm not going to sell my computer, because my addition is more controlled. I wait until I get up at 5:30 a.m. to check my e-mail. And then I check it often throughout the day. And in the evening before I go to bed. But not during the night!

I don't even mind spam that much. When I check my e-mail, and a dozen messages come rolling in, I get the feeling of abundance. Even though only one might be a real message, I like it better than hearing that little binging sound indicating my mailbox is empty.

Now for my secret. There are ways that you can increase your e-mail. Really, this is a serious suggestion. You don't have to be addicted to check out Yahoo Groups. You just have to have an interest in something.

Yahoo Groups are e-mail lists that can be started by anyone, on any topic. There must be well over a million of them. Say you're interested in gerbils. Let's see if there's a group on this topic.

Yep, a search shows no fewer than 25 discussions related to gerbils. Turns out, some of these are for fans of a band by that name. But among the 25 are quite a few that are for those who favor gerbils as pets and for those who breed them.

The American Gerbil Society, a "non-profit organization providing support and education to breeders, caregivers, and gerbil enthusiasts," offers one of the most active gerbil discussions, with 156 members and 720 messages posted this past February.

Or if you're a little sick, you can sign up for the group entitled "Gerbil Warfare" that has this description: "A list set up one boring day to get a little humor into the world around me...... " I'm not kidding. You can find it there yourself. And to the credit of all humanity, this list has only 17 members and no posts since October of last year.

How does it work? You go to Yahoo Groups, look through the directory for a topic that interests you, or do a search on a keyword related to that topic. Once you find a group that interests you, signing up is a simple matter (though you will need to set up a free Yahoo account first if you don't already have one).

You simply click on a link that says "Join This Group" and then indicate the e-mail address where you'd like to receive messages. And then you indicate how you'd like to receive messages, such as individual e-mails or as a daily digest. After you've set these preferences, then you click the Join button.

Once you're signed up, you start receiving e-mail messages on that topic. If you reply to a message, it goes to the whole group. If you want to send a message to the group, you just send a message to a simple address such as mac-powerbook@yahoogroups.com (the address for the Macintosh PowerBook group, with over 500 members).

At any time you can change the settings or leave the group by going back to your My Groups page and selecting different settings or clicking on Leave Group.

Of course, if you're having a boring day you can set up your own group. This is fun. You have complete control over everything. You can set it up so that it's not public and only approved people can join. You can make it a newsletter so that only you can send messages to the group. You can configure it so that you approve every message before it goes out.

I'm going to set one up for a committee that I'm chairman of. It'll be a simple way for everyone in the group to communicate. They can send a message to one address, and it will go to all the members. I'll set it up so that no one else can join and so that no archives are visible or saved in Yahoo Groups. In short, it'll be a private discussion.

One the other hand, if you're a gerbil fan and want to start a group titled "Ban Gerbil Warfare," then you can do that. Make it public and see if people sign up. Maybe it'll be a big hit and you'll get hundreds of members.

© 2001 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen