Hopkins in Cyberspace By Mike Field Probably one of the greatest opportunities presented through the Internet is the ability to exchange information on a worldwide basis with others who share similar interests. One way this can be accomplished is through e-mail. If you know the Internet address of a colleague or friend, it is possible to share daily, nearly instantaneous correspondence. Two researchers working in tandem, for instance, can exchange observations and ideas on an hourly basis if they choose to do so. While such intensive, one-on-one correspondence can be helpful in dealing with specialized problems or exploring a specific idea, many Internet users want a broader, more generalized approach. They look to the Net for new ideas and input, for introductions to colleagues unknown to them and to stay abreast with the latest developments in their field. For these individuals, the best thing on the Net is discussion groups, where like-minded individuals from all over the world can gather to discuss everything from applied physics to zoology, Kabuki theater to molecular genetics. Most of these discussion groups rely on a program called LISTSERV, which enables members from all over the world to participate in--or just follow--threads of conversation that will often continue for weeks, even months. To make the most of one of these discussion groups it is helpful to understand how LISTSERV works and to master a few basic commands. The idea behind LISTSERV is fairly simple. Instead of requiring members in a discussion group to mail their comments to everyone on the list (which could run to over hundreds of addresses), LISTSERV resides at one central source. Members of the list send all their correspondence there; LISTSERV in turn, "explodes" each message by copying it and sending it to every member of the list. Because LISTSERV uses an e-mail format, sending messages to the list is no more difficult than sending e-mail; furthermore, even individuals with the lowest level of Internet access (basic e-mail) can participate. Although the idea is deceptively simple, there are a few complications that seem to confound all but the most experienced Internet traveler. In essence, LISTSERV can be thought of as a giant relay station that receives your message and echoes it across the world to every member on the list (including you). Since it does this automatically_and without thinking_it is easy to imagine what happens when the poor hapless discussion group member decides to leave the list. "Thank you very much, but I no longer wish to subscribe to the list," he or she writes, only to receive the message back later that day (as does everyone else on the list). "No, really, I no longer want to be a member," goes the next message, which of course comes back again. "LOOK! Stop sending me messages!" comes the third message, and so on until some kindly soul in the group takes the time to contact the person and explain how to leave the list. Leaving a LISTSERV list, or for that matter joining or taking a temporary leave of absence while you're on vacation, is a relatively simple matter. It depends, however, on members understanding that there is not one but two addresses for each LISTSERV group. The first, known as the list address, is where you send comments to have them "exploded" throughout the list. The second, called the LISTSERV address, is where you send commands (such as UNSUBSCRIBE, which will remove you from the list). Luckily, if you know one address, you can easily figure out the other: Both are identical after the @. Say, for instance, you've heard of a LISTSERV discussion group concerning Hopkins Lacrosse. We'll say this fictional group can be found at H-Lacro@jhucomp.jhu.edu. Knowing this, and wanting to join in on the discussion, you would simply send a message to LISTSERV@jhucomp.jhu.edu that reads, in the body of the letter, SUBSCRIBE H-Lacro (your full name). Finding the conversation on the list exceedingly dull, you could later leave the list by mailing the command UNSUBSCRIBE H-Lacro (your full name) to LISTSERV@jhucomp.jhu.edu. It's that simple. Yet LISTSERV has some additional features that users tend to overlook. For instance, on many groups the messages that come through LISTSERV each day are automatically saved and indexed. To get a copy of our fictional lacrosse discussion group index you would again send to the LISTSERV address with the command INDEX H-Lacro F=MAIL. In this instance, the F=MAIL component of the command is telling LISTSERV to send the file in an e-mail format. If there was a discussion listed in the index you wished to retrieve you would then use the GET command, again sending it to the LISTSERV address. Say you came across a file discussing last year's game against Loyola, titled LOYOLA 1993. In order to retrieve that file you would send the command GET LOYOLA 1993 F=MAIL. Mastering INDEX, GET, SUBSCRIBE and UNSUBSCRIBE can enable you to travel to all kinds of informational sources on the Internet and meet people who share your interests from all over the world.
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