The Listserve: Your chance to send a message to 25,000 people.

A great experiment; a huge mailing list that one randomly selected person gets to write to every day. For free.

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Credit: epicantus / Pixabay

I posted this piece elsewhere sometime in 2012 and I’m revising it for my next post:

There are millions of email lists on the Internet. Some lists you’re probably on but would rather not be, such as those that endlessly offer pharmacies and (ahem) “enlargement," while there are others you might belong to by choice that are interesting and or entertaining enough for you to actually want to remain a member.

Usually these "good" lists concern topics you care about such as dogs, cooking, or technology but they’ll almost always be lists that have a relatively small number of members; it’s hard for a list to have thousands of members and still be interesting and not collapse under its own weight.

That said, there’s one huge list that is remarkably different from any I’ve ever been a member of and that seems to go from strength to strength: It’s called The Listserve.

The Listserve is a clever idea: Each day you get one message from one person on the list. This message will be from a member chosen at random and they can write about anything they please. There are no rules about what can be in a message other than a prohibition on links and a maximum of 600 words, and by submitting message you agree to the content being licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

If you are selected to send a message to The Listerve you have three days to submit your content. Your message can be anonymous or you can include your name and whatever contact details you like.

The Listerve commits to never using the list or messages sent to the list for any other purposes which includes reposting messages to anywhere else. There’s also no advertsing in the messages … in fact The Listserve has no money-making underpinnings at all. That’s it, that’s everything there is to know about The Listserve.

The first message from The Listserve, on April 18, 2012, wasn’t sent until 10,000 people had joined … impressive considering that The Liserve only launched on April 10! That first message was from Emil in Sweden and began:

I’m sorry to break this to you, in an e-mail from a random stranger like this, but it needs to be said: Most of your life won’t be fantastic. I’m not joking. The adventures you’ll tell your children about will be a minuscule part of it. So if you want to avoid the feeling of utter disappointment as you grow older, you need to accept that fact. Sorry.

Lest you think that the rest of the message was a complete downer, the Emil was writing to suggest that making the tiniest things in your life fun by doing simple things mindfully to changet the context to something positive and upbeat. Emil suggested:

* Challenges: When brushing your teeth tonight, use your left hand.

* Mind games: When you enter work (or school!), imagine the sound “Kabaaaam!” as you enter, as if your presence changed the whole room.

* Action: Jump down from the side-walk, instead of just stepping down.

* Changes: Buy some fancy tomato sauce tonight, instead of your usual brand.

* More action: Count the number of pink things on your way to work, as if your life depended on it.

(I particularly liked his “Mind games” suggestion.)

Since then we’ve had people write about their hopes, their feelings, their philosophies, their faith, and their insights. While some are longer and or more thoughtful than others none have been boring. The messages come from all over the world, for example, today’s missive was from Arthur in New Delhi advising how to fit into Indian culture by judicious use of “the head tilt”:

This is a very simple gesture: just tip your head from side to side with a small angle (around 15°), repeatedly. Don’t make it start at the top of the head; your chin should be driving the movement. Limit yourself to three or four tilts, in a fluid movement. Got it? Yes, you’re doing it right.

You just learnt the secret to Indian communication. A stranger is talking to you in an unknown language? Just concur, using your newly learnt skill. Congratulations! You successfully communicated. Look at the visible satisfaction in your new friend’s eyes.

As of writing there were 19,560 subscribers to the Listserve and every day you’ll get a little slice of someone else’s thinking with no commercial goal and often on topics and ideas that you probably won’t have thought of in quite that way. The Listserve is a fascinating experiment in communication and is, I’d suggest, something well worth joining.

Since I wrote the above, The Listserve has grown to 23,433 subscribers. In the 1,228 days since there have been that many messages and I have yet to win the lottery! This is rather annoying as a number of winners have commented that they joined only a few days before winning. Ho hum. The wonders of probability.

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