Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(August 2003)

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Subject: Re: list policies about vacation programs
From: Nick Simicich <njs @ scifi . squawk . com>
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 2003 23:22:05 -0400
To: list-managers @ greatcircle . com
In-reply-to: <200308141712 . KAA29935 @ eskimo . com>

At 10:12 AM 2003-08-14 -0700, Berg Oswell wrote:

        That assumes the auto-responder is broken...from what the original
poster has said, this one is not broken, since it has sent just one
response to each person that sent it mail.

If the autoresponder is responding to mail that comes through the list by sending mail to the person who posted to the list, it is broken. The right place for automatic notifications of delayed delivery to go (if it is appropriate to send them at all) is to the RFC821 envelope address, and not to any address in the RFC822 header.

        Letting people know you can't answer their email right away is a
polite, thoughtful thing to do...providing your autoresponder isn't
configured by an idiot.  Why punish someone for doing the right thing?

Because it is not the right thing for an auto-responder to respond to list mail. I am not talking about mail that is sent directly and copied to the list, I am talking about list mail that comes through a mailing list. And, as a list owner, it is right to become involved in this.

I have seen broken undeliverable bounces that go to the poster to a list rather than to the list address. This is exactly the same situation - when someone is generating automatic mail to posters to a list, for whatever reason, you unsub them. Whether the mail claims that they are out of town and that this would be the perfect time to rob their house, or whether it says that they no longer have an account.

(This is not a new problem - see RFC 1211 "Problems with the Maintenance of Large Mailing Lists" section 3.1, "Misdirected Error Reports").

I am a purist on this matter who believes that content is immaterial. I remove someone for the action of automatically sending a response to any poster, and not for the content of the response. Vacation message, notice of non-delivery, political message, or whatever, the content is immaterial.
        Sure, getting 50 emails from one list post saying they're out of
town might be annoying...but if the autoresponder is configured properly,
you'll get ONLY 50.  So what's so bad about 50 emails?  Or 500?  Or half a
million?  The point is that the guy running the autoresponder decided to
do the polite, proper thing and not leave everybody hanging.

There are lists I will not post to because of the auto-responder mail. I find it very annoying, more annoying than the equivalent amount of spam.

Reading ahead, you quoted the "end-to-end" principle, which is certainly a red herring:

A properly configured mailing list ALWAYS changes the RFC821 sender address, so that it can get non-deliverability bounces. In my opinion, it should change other things in the header as well, for maximum usability, but there is no denying that it should change the envelope sender address.

It is clear to me that a vacation notice is simply another form of notice of delay of deliverability, and therefore should always go to the RFC821 sender address.

See RFC2821, section 3.10.2.

>   The return address in the envelope is changed so that all
>   error messages generated by the final deliveries will be returned to
>   a list administrator, not to the message originator, who generally
>   has no control over the contents of the list and will typically find
>   error messages annoying.

Also section 2.3.1, Mail Objects:
>The SMTP envelope is sent as a series of SMTP protocol units
>   (described in section 3). It consists of an originator address (to
>which error reports should be directed);  [....]

Finally, there is a RFC1855 (also known as fyi28), Netiquette Guidelines, which has a section 3, discussing "mailing lists and Netnews". Section 3.1.1. General Guidelines for mailing lists and NetNews under section 3.1 User Guidelines:

>Delivery receipts, non-delivery notices, and vacation programs are neither
>totally standardized nor totally reliable across the range of systems
>connected to Internet mail. They are invasive when sent to mailing lists,
>and some people consider delivery receipts an invasion of privacy. In short,
>do not use them.

Personally, I consider this to be the best advice of all. It is not the right thing to let any random person who e-mails you know that you are out of town, and (if you are a security administrator, say) that this is the right week to run the exhaustive password guessing attack. And it is a violation of common netiquette to use such an autoresponder with list mail. I also edit headers that I pass through to remove any headers which (1) set priorities (2) ask for delivery receipts. I do other edits as well, to standardize the headers produced by mailing lists.

It is clear that this is an opinion, and that not everyone agrees.

By the way, I used to move people to digest when they started bouncing and later I would remove them if they kept bouncing. I no longer do that. It confused people more than simply being unsubscribed. I will move someone off digest for posting to the mailing list and attaching the entire digest or for using the digest subject in the response. Those people are frequently so out of it that they don't notice anyway.

He said: "There are people from Baath here reporting everything that
goes on. There are cameras here recording our faces. If the Americans
were to withdraw and everything were to return to the way it was before,
we want to make sure that we survive the massacre that would follow
as Baath go house to house killing anyone who voiced opposition to
Saddam. In public, we always pledge our allegiance to Saddam, but in
our hearts we feel something else."
Nick Simicich - njs @
scifi .
squawk .
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