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My Mailman Role

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My Role in the Development of Mailman, the GNU Mailing List Manager

My Role in the Development of Mailman, the GNU Mailing List Manager

i was lead developer of GNU Mailman (described on wikipedia), the prevalent and useful open-source mailing list management system, taking it from an abandoned prototype to a production system over the course of 1997 and 1998. Barry Warsaw (mailman's current lead developer) lists me as "mailman's savior" in the acknowledgements, and here's the story.

While managing mailing lists on python.org, i got frustrated working with Majordomo, a perl package that was the prevalent free-software choice at the time. With Python zeal i unearthed a languishing prototype of a python-based mailing list manager, Mailman. The inventor, John Viega, had lost some substantial work on it in a disk crash, and had been too busy with grad school to resume development, so i picked it up. (He posted about this early on when i releasing my preliminary work.)

I did a lot of refinement and development - pretty much all of the unattributed entries in the mailman NEWS file from the earliest (0.91) to 1.0b4 are my work, and many of those up to 1.0b8. I continued to lead development until i left CNRI, in January, 1999, to dive into Zope development at Digital Creations (eventually known as Zope Corporation).

Possibly the most valuable choice i made in working on that system (except maybe giving early priority to conditioning the prototype's many too many unqualified python "except" statements:-) was using the system for collaboration while i was developing it, once it was sufficiently far along. As it progressed i ran mailing lists on python.org for two very different user constituencies:

  • mailman-developers and mailman-users - initially for those interested in following what i was doing, and after not too long, in contributing to development
  • dc-ci - a private mailing list for local Contact Improvisation practitioners

The diversity of these constituencies was especially valuable in driving the range, utility, and usability of the features on which i concentrated.

As things progressed i eventually migrated all the python.org mailling lists to mailman. As things continued to progress, and particularly through barry's attention, Mailman become the official GNU mailing list management software, and many of the world's open source projects - and commercial projects, for that matter - now use it, as well.

I was involved in writing the two original papers about Mailman: Mailman - An Extensible Mailing List Manager Using Python (pdf; i presented this paper at the seventh international python conference) and Mailman: The GNU Mailing List Manager.

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