The Clueless Users Network Test System

May 1, 1996

Is there anything more annoying than those recurring "unsubscribe me" messages that show up on mailing lists so often? Rarely does a day pass without someone sending out a plea to be dropped from a list, letting thousands of other subscribers know that he or she is too lazy or incompetent to figure it out on his or her own.

Their requests are pointless. Most lists are automated. They’re just a file of e-mail addresses; no one watches over them, at least not in the literal definition of the phrase. Petitioning to be let off one is akin to asking a self-serve gas pump to stop pumping gas. Sure, if you yell loudly enough, someone may come over to help—but it isn’t exactly healthy behavior on your part.

Educating the Net’s newest patrons was certainly on someone’s mind at the University of California, San Diego, home of the Clueless Users Network Test System. Clueless is the mailing list of the damned, an "intelligence test for the ignorant and impolite," as its welcome message explains.

Here’s how Clueless works: Anyone can subscribe anyone else to this list, and—as with any automated list—anyone can unsubscribe using a routine command, also given in the welcome message. What won’t work is sending messages to the whole list in hopes someone taking pity on you, for, one Clueless, the other subscribers are as equally as clueless.

"It’s an idea that’s been talked about for years," Netter Sameer Parekh of Berkeley California, who set up a similar version two weeks ago, says. Parekh started his when he noticed that some folks were replying to every mailing list message they received with a reply pleading to be unsubscribed from the list. This effectively doubled Parekh’s e-mail load.

Clueless may sound cruel, but the idea is to get people to learn how to extract themselves from mailing lists. It’s not hard. People who sign onto a mailing list are sent instructions on how to sign off. Even if you lose that message, most lists operate the same way. Directions can be found in any Net self-help manual, and in many introductory newsgroups as well.

Of course, there are those who won’t bother. And in its perfect form, Clueless will be composed of endlessly increasing numbers of people sending one another ever-more desperate unsubscribe pleas. They’ll be caught in a loop of ever-increasing traffic, their messages fraught with ever-greater tones of despair.

"It’ll be interesting to see what happens," Parekh says.

--Joab Jackson

[ The archive || [E-mail]