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How to use Gmail to manage high-traffic mailing lists

So this is probably useful for people other than Wikimedians, but it is definitely useful for Wikimedians. :) This is a HOWTO on using Gmail to manage mailing list mail, get what you actually want to read and skip the irrelevant crud.

Why Gmail?

No mail client I know of comes close to providing these things, but I’m happy to be corrected on that matter. Even if you don’t trust Google to store all your mail, I think it’s worth using it just for mailing list mail for these reasons.

A credible alternative is Gmane. They do decent mailing-list-to-web/news archiving, with some very useful features. For example, at the Gmane equivalent of foundation-l you can find four different types of feeds. So if you don’t want your inbox being cluttered up, you can take your pick from RSS, web-based frames view or news (for your newsreader). Gmane is seriously awesome. You can also use the Gmane website to post to the list, although it’s a little cumbersome.

The only disadvantages to it are

OK, so onto Gmail. The plan is to make Gmail archive by default all the mailing list mail except for certain keywords, and put it all under a label for easy reference.

  1. Go to Settings

  2. Go to the Labels tab

  3. Enter whatever name you want for your label (maybe, “mailing lists”)

    Click Save.

  4. Go to the Filters tab

  5. Click on “create a new filter”. We’re going to make a filter that archives everything unless it has some certain keywords.
  6. In the “From” field [or maybe that should actually be the “To” field… hm…] list the domains of wherever the mailing list mail comes from. Check the welcome message you got from the mailing list when you signed up; it should be the same as that.

  7. In the “doesn’t have” field, put whatever keywords of things you find interesting and if the mail has that keyword then you actually WANT to see that mail in your inbox. For example, your name or your username might be one. :) Your country or town. Topics you work on or are interested in. Etc.

  8. Click “Next step”
  9. Tick the option for “Skip the inbox (Archive it)”

  10. And click “create filter”.
  11. Now the filter is completed and you can see it listed under the Filters tab.

    Last step.

  12. Go to the General tab and turn “Keyboard shortcuts” to ON. (And save.)

With Keyboard shortcuts you can use the best feature of Gmail since conversation-threading, that is muting. When you archive a conversation it disappears from your inbox. But if someone replies on that thread then the conversation comes back to your inbox. Mute is like permanent archive, for stupid mailing list threads that you don’t care about and that won’t die. Now they will!

Once you’ve done this, you can access all the mailing list mail under whatever label you gave it (it will listed in a menu on the left). This is useful as your filter may be too strong and miss threads you’re interested in. So whenever you have some spare time you can look at the threads under the label, and move the interesting ones back to the inbox. That kills the muting/archiving and after that that thread will pop back into your inbox with new messages. Over time you can also tweak your filter if it is too strong or too weak.

And possibly the best part is, as the days and months pass, you will build up a better archive within Gmail at your ready reference for searching. You will only wish you had started it in 2005…

Thus concludes the lesson on how to use Gmail and Gmane to manage crazy-traffic mailing lists. :)

03 February, 2008 • , ,

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