Volume 30 Number 65
                 Produced: Tue Jan  4  8:55:14 US/Eastern 2000

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Administrivia - Mail Jewish Moderation and Ramblings
         [Avi Feldblum]


From: Avi Feldblum <mljewish@...>
Date: Tue, 4 Jan 2000 08:53:59 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Administrivia - Mail Jewish Moderation and Ramblings

Hello All,

For those of you who were back yesterday for your first day past the Y2K
turnover, I hope all has been quiet for you. I wanted spend a few
minutes describing some of what I view my role as moderator of the list
to be, along with why I like moderated / edited lists. Along with it, I
will point out the potentially negative aspects of a moderated edit
list. At the end, I clearly prefer the moderated edit format, and I hope
most of you understand and possibly appreciate it as well. (So if you
choose to send in a subscription donation, you know what you are getting
for it :-) )

To explain moderated edit, let me first describe the main alternative,
which is an unmoderated list. This is probably the most common form of
list, at least partially because it is the easiest. Once you subscribe
to the list (and acceptance of subscription could be either open or
controlled), anything you send to the list is automatically sent out to
all other members of the list. The main control over content is based on
self / group censorship and as last resort, removal from list by the
list-owner. On the content / format side, however you send it to the
list is the way that everyone else gets it. Time delay from you send
something to when people get it is either just the transport and
processing time or if in digest form, when the digest reaches the
required size or the standard time to send out a digest is met.

When Dave Chechick first set up mail-jewish (called mail.jewish in those
days) one of the driving forces was the inability then on
net.religion.jewish to have a reasonable conversation with Orthodoxy or
Halacha being attacked. So the content control was a prime issue from
the beginning. As the list has evolved, along with the entire Internet
communities, we have a large enough self-selected group that we can have
a conversation without worrying about that kind of attack. I would guess
that less than 1% of submissions might fall in that category. A related
issue is ensuring that the conversation / discussion remain focused on
the topic and not move to the ad hominum / personal attack mode. This is
something that always comes up, often when the topic raises peoples
emotions. Here I at times send back a posting with suggestions where to
tone it down or redirect the discussion back to the basic topic.

The way moderated edit works is that all submissions to the list get
redirected to me (or as I prefer now, simply gets emailed to me in the
first case). I first read all submissions to the list. I delete any
"spam" mail, so you don't see any "junk email" on the list. I next
review content of the email to make sure that it meets the content rules
in the Welcome message. If it doesn't, or if I have questions about it,
I will try and resolve them with the submitter. This is an area where I
find that once the rules are clear, they are basically followed without
too much work from me, because people know that if they want the
material to appear, it needs to follow the rules.

A second level of content type editing / moderation I supply, is that
when there are many very similar replies to a single point, I will try
and pick the few that cover most/all of the points that are being made
and publish those, with often a comment in brackets that similar
submissions were receive from others. Thus, you the reader, do not see
the same point repeated 10 times. (Of course we have some favorite
topics that if you are on long enough, have probably been repeated at
least 10 times during our history, e.g. Chumrot.) A related type of
content editing / moderation are postings that basically quote a
previous submission and then add at the bottom one line like "I agree"
etc. I generally do not post those to the list, and may send them back
with the suggestion that you tell the poster directly, if you wish, but
it is not appropriate use of everyone's time to say you agree. If you
just say you disagree with no additional content to it than that, I
would also do the same, but in those cases, people always explain why
they disagree, and that is what the list is for, right?

Not sure that I am fully finished with content, but as this is somewhat
stream of conscience writing, we'll move to format issues and then may
deal with content again in a while. So once the content is basically OK,
the next check is for format. I do some of that in the initial read of
the submission, and some when I am putting the actual issue together. As
mentioned in an earlier email, there are a few things about the
unmoderated unedited lists that I find very annoying, so I ensure that
they do not happen here. The first is that this is a text based email
list, so I don't want to see HTML code. There appear to be a bunch of
mailers that put that at the end of email messages. Any such message
gets redirected immediately to an edit queue to get that cut out. The
same is true when someone attaches an entire previous issue with their
submission. I fix those problems after I have gotten the days issues
out, so if you end up in that queue, you probably have at least 1-4 day
delay before going out to the list. Pretty much all other format editing
occurs when I assemble an issue.

Assembling the issue and editing the issue is the next major step. Each
issue is approximately 15000 characters in size (about 350-400 lines). I
do try to pick related material and pack it together into each issue. So
if there are a few hot topics in discussion, you will often find that I
will pull them together for an issue. So it is not a first in / first
out system. The criteria for relatedness is not always that obvious.
Sometimes it is all topics for which I do NOT have enough related
material to make an issue of it, i.e. a misc.  relatedness.  Sometimes
it can be all the short submissions. Often you will see an issue with
mostly one topic and then a few misc.  submissions that I will include
to bring the size up to the 15K target. Generally, my goal is that the
queue size should be no more than 3-4 days. One problem I have, and that
is something I need to deal with better, is when something does not
violate any clear content rule, but is marginal in some way, either in
my view as to it's general interest to the list, it's content or at
times it's readability. I tend right now to pass over it as I am making
issues, and then it gets further back in the queue. My goal for 2000 is
to be better at informing people if I am not using their material.

The total volume of material sent out is a concern. Based on various
conversations over the years, once we reach a level of 15-18 issues per
week (that would be 3/day for 5 or 6 days) that is about the most that
people can handle. Once the submitted material reaches over that point,
that is where the most difficult part of the job lies. Now I need to
make a judgment on what material is of most interest to the list. I do
try to ensure that I am not simply posting what is of interest to me,
there are some topics that I for one cannot "get into", as they say, but
know that there is interest in them on the list. I currently do that by
going through the active queue each day and choosing submissions for
inclusion. What I have not done until now, and will try to improve on,
is to send an email back to posters once their submission has stayed in
the queue for more than X days, that I will not be using that
material. It is not that anything is intrinsically wrong with it, just
that based on what has come in that week, it did not make the cut.

I think that if I were to define what I think are the negatives, at
least from some peoples view, of this kind of list it would be these two
points. I put a time delay into the process from when you submit to when
others receive it, and some fraction of what is sent in is not
used. Just to get some idea of what the fractions here are, I just took
a quick look at my files from June 99 till now. There have been about
200 issues during that period, with I'm going to guess about 8
submissions per issue. So that means about 1600 submissions went out. I
have about 20 that I have records that they were rejected or not used
and the submitter was informed. So that is about 2% that I consciously
have not used on the list. I have about 100 that are in the queue
file, so that means about 7% meet content requirements but either did
not go out due to the volume of issues going out, or more likely due to
my not always having the time to get 3 issues out each day. It is this
group, in particular that I want to communicate better with in the
future. There is one more group of probably about 100-200 submissions that
are buried in my main Inbox, that are either submissions with content
issues that I did not get to discuss with the submitter, or possibly
submissions that are fine, but came during a period I could not spend
the time on mail-jewish, so got buried. This is the group of material
that I have to ensure gets moved more efficiently into one of the other
two groups in the future.

Once I have selected the submissions for a given issue, I now begin the
editing process. What I look to do is to have the issue be as readable
as possible for the list members. What that means to me includes the
  The From: line should include a real name. If the name is not put in
by the email system, but I know the name from either the body of the
submission or from my subscriber list, I will edit the from line and put
the real name there.
  The Subject: line should have a real subject. If it does not (often it
is Re: mail-jewish volume XX no YY) I will fix it with the proper
subject, often it is found in the included text, or I go back to the
quoted issue, or sometimes I simply have to assign a subject line based
on my reading of the submission.
  I trim all non-essential quoted material. Often the quoted material
contains either extraneous quoted material or the person may quote an
entire previous submission (not issue, we dealt with that earlier) and
the comments really need only a portion to be fully understood. I will
trim the material before it goes out. I find in some other lists (and
much more so in non-list email at work) there can often be a long
"trail" of the previous discussions attached. I try to make sure that
the context is still clear, but that it is kept manageable.
  I reformat paragraphs to 72 characters per line. I suspect this is at
least a partial carry-over from doing email in a text based Unix
environment, but I find both the very short lines (say 20-30 characters)
as well as email where each paragraph is a single line to be annoying to
read. Different email systems are better or less able to nicely display
email from other systems, by reformatting the paragraphs, I hope that the
result looks clean for everyone.
  I read each submission again, looking for obvious typo's,
mis-spellings that even I notice (I cannot spell, and for work depend on
the word processor spell checker. I have to admit that Word's tool is
much easier to use than gnuemacs' version.), places where the meaning
might be misunderstood and can be clarified with minor changes. I will
try and make as many of those edits as I can. I do not check grammar,
etc. I will sometimes correct capitalization, but not always. Just a
quick note, I would appreciate if people followed standard English
capitalization. I know that ee cummings wrote his poetry with no
capitals at all, but i for one find text easier to read if you use
  One of the list rules is to translate most Hebrew words that you
use. If you don't, and there are only a few, I will often try and
translate them for you, putting the translation in []'s with my (Mod.)
signature at the end. 
  If I want to try and direct replies to a submission in a certain
direction, or prevent a flurry of replies to a specific point, I will
enter editorial comments into the submission, again clearly marked using
[]'s and the (Mod.) signature. Sometimes I will also give a quick reply
to something that way, but I do try and put that in as a separate
submission most of the time, if that is Avi speaking as Avi rather than
Avi speaking as moderator.
  Last item is that I trim signature blocks to be no more than 4 lines,
with the lines containing actual information (name, phone, email,
address, web etc) and will usually trim any simple quotes, disclaimers

After that, the issue(s) goes out to you and then it is off to work for
me. One question I often get is how long does all this take. Including
time involved in checking bounced addresses etc, it takes me about 1.5 -
2 hours per day to get this done, with often a little more time on
Sundays to catch up on items that I've let slide. It is a lot of time,
but I think that as a result and with the excellent material I get from
the list members, mail-jewish is one of the best email lists I've
seen. I've had the opportunity over the years to meet mail-jewish
members in different cities, and I've really enjoyed that. 

Avi Feldblum
mail-jewish Moderator


End of Volume 30 Issue 65