Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Lost in Cyberspace

Keeping in touch just got easier

This article was originally published on September 7, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

My kids and I just returned from my high school reunion in Ohio, followed by a family reunion in Maryland.

The first week, I compared gray hairs with people I'd last seen when we were still comparing zits. The second week, the kids got to play with cousins they'd not met before, while I caught up on all the family news we miss out on by living in California.

Both weeks ended with the usual heartfelt promises to keep in touch – promises made in the full sincerity of pending separation; promises to write or call more often; promises promptly forgotten once the suitcase is unpacked and the stress of daily life kicks back in.

This time, though, I think some of those promises just may be kept – if only because it's now much easier to stay in touch.

With the variety of free services available on the Internet, it's more convenient than ever before in history to keep everyone in your extended circle connected.

In the traditional method of communicating with your distant friends and family, you write letters or call. The telephone gets expensive pretty quick; letter writing is time-consuming and repetitive.

Besides, even if you don't resort to the dreaded holiday form letter, you're still writing basically the same letter to Aunt Edna in Bakersfield, Cousin Zeb in Texarkana, and your former best friend Caleb in Missoula.

And if you send a letter to Aunt Edna but not to Aunt Ida, you're going to hurt Ida's feelings.

It's no wonder that the emotional promises to write are usually forgotten within a day or two. It's too intimidating to even get started writing that first letter, knowing another 10 wait behind it.

E-mail list

But consider the e-mail list: In the time it takes to write one letter, you can write to everyone – and they can respond to everyone, or just to you.

The informal nature of e-mail almost guarantees you'll avoid the stuffy formality of those hated Christmas form letters. ("Our little Johnny is now participating in a five-year program to learn about the inner workings of the penal system.")

Nor do you have to be a computer expert to set up and maintain an e-mail list. While it's easy enough to set up an e-mail list on most commercial mail programs (Eudora, Netscape, Outlook), when the names get into the dozens or even hundreds, editing it can be tedious.

Plus, not everyone on your list is likely to be computer-savvy. When responding to a message received from a self-maintained list, will everyone remember to use the "Reply to all" option, or will they reply only to the sender but think everyone will see it?

And will everyone want his or her address listed on each message (assuming your program or server doesn't support the "Blind Carbon Copy" or BCC option)?

An e-mail subscription list takes care of these headaches for you: The list resides on a remote server; anyone who subscribes to the list can remove himself if he wishes, and the list itself is hidden (meaning it can't be stolen, or private e-mail addresses revealed, simply by looking at the message header, as would be true on a self-maintained list).

List services
Free e-mail list services are available at Each e-mail group on eGroups has its own password-protected page where subscribers can check messages via their browser should they choose (although they don't really need to check the site, as the messages are also sent via e-mail).

As with most free services on the Net these days, it pays its bills by selling advertising on its site – so if members of your subscription list visit the site to check messages, they will see ads on the page.

Those with greater computer expertise might want the power and control offered by older mail list managers, such as MajorDomo or Listserv.

You'll have to find a host on the Internet for your list; check with your ISP to see if they offer mailing list hosting.

Web site

Another way of keeping everyone in touch is with a Web site. There are so many ways of finding a free Web site nowadays that cost should no longer be an issue.

Check with your Internet service provider to see if your account provides you a free Web site; if not, check out Homestead, GeoCities and Tripod.

All of these services offer easy, menu-based Web editors that allow you to build Web pages even if you don't know a single html> tag.

(And if you're organizing a Web site for a graduating class, contact the school in question to see if they'll let you use their Web page as a host. It can make a good fund-raising tool for them as well.)

Take precautions

On a Web page set up to help keep your circle together (whether family, graduating class or former neighbors), you can have an area for the latest news, a list of e-mail addresses, a virtual photo album – anything you want.

There are a few common-sense precautions to take, of course. Unless you pay for a page, it's unlikely to offer password protection, so anything on the page is going to become public; don't list home phone numbers or street addresses.

And even listing e-mail addresses may well bring on a new batch of unwanted spam.

But for many people, a few extra advertisements in their mailbox is a small price to pay for being able to renew and maintain valued relationships made more difficult by time and distance.