The ATLAS Mailing List Systems

25 February 2008

In my previous columns, I have primarily focused on direct communication tools, both synchronous, like video and audio conferencing, and asynchronous, like lecture archiving. Here I will discuss the usage of e-mail, in particular bulk e-mail, as a means to make announcements and invoke discussion within a group. For ATLAS, this is typically done using mailing lists.


Q: How do I set up an ATLAS mailing list?

A: There are two mailing list sytems commonly used in ATLAS: CERN Listbox and ATLAS Hypernews. To use the listbox system, login to the SIMBA interface (above link) with your NICE password. To use Hypernews, create an account following the instructions on the home page listed above.


Top: SIMBA interface to the CERN Listbox system. Bottom: ATLAS Hypernews forum category listing


Q: Two systems? What's the difference?

A: There are several differences. The Listbox system, with the SIMBA interface, is developed and maintained by CERN IT. It is integrated into the existing mail servers, so various features, like usage of the single sign-on password and single posting to mail addresses existing on multiple destination lists, are possible. The support address is

ATLAS Hypernews, on the other hand, was developed at SLAC and is maintained by a group of ATLAS developers. Although it is not as well integrated to the CERN system, several of its features attracted our interest, and many of us have adopted it as our primary mailing list tool. The support address is

Q: There must be other differences then?

A: Yes. While both systems support the archival of messages, for the Listbox system, this is a non-default option, while for Hypernews, it is an essential feature. The main working scenario behind the Listbox system is that a group member sends a mail to the list, which usually comprises all members of a particular project. Those members are expected to have read the message and can refer to the archive, as they like. The owner controls the membership of the list.

For Hypernews, members of a group might or might not subscribe to a list (which is referred to as a forum). The owner has no control over membership. In fact, users might decide not to receive e-mail at all. Instead, they might prefer to browse various forums, perhaps over a morning coffee. It really depends on work habits and the active or passive nature of the user. Since the archives are so important, the archive interface is more advanced than that of SIMBA, the Listbox interface. For example, messages are sorted by threads, one can view the most recent postings (regardless of forum), and one can even design one's own home page, allowing one to build a morning newspaper, so to speak.

Q: Will the systems merge?

A: I don't think merging is an option, as the philosophies of the two systems are so different. The Hypernews developers would prefer not to enforce the rigidity of the SIMBA system, with owners controlling membership. The SIMBA developers are somewhat limited by the technology of the system (which is based on 3rd party software), so they will probably not be able to create the same archive viewing tools that make Hypernews popular.


Q: Which should I use?

A: That's up to your taste, of course. I prefer to use SIMBA for creating and maintaining announcement or administrative lists: those lists for which one needs to be sure that news is communicated. For other informative lists, like the collaborative tool list, I use a Hypernews forum:


Q: What is the future?

A: I don't know for Hypernews. The Listbox system, however, is going to be ported over to a new collaborative tool called Microsoft Sharepoint. This is part of an effort to provide integrated web environments at CERN for document sharing and communication. I am going to play with Sharepoint in the coming weeks and will let you know how it goes. CERN IT will take care of the hard work, so that we have a seamless transition, of course!


Q: Where can I find more information?

A: Here are some links and contacts:
CERN Listbox
ATLAS Hypernews
CERN Listbox Support:
ATLAS Hypernews Administrators:
General CERN Collaborative Tool Issues:
ATLAS-Specific Issues & Announcements:

Steven Goldfarb

Steven Goldfarb

University of Michigan


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