Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Using Gmail and Mozilla Thunderbird for Listserv Management

Subscribing to listservs can be a very valuable source of collaboration and professional development, but it has the potential to overload your email inbox.  I'm going to describe a simple way to manage and archive listserv emails using two free resources: Gmail and Mozilla Thunderbird.  You can replicate this process using other email services - the steps just may be slightly different.

1.  Get a Gmail account

2.  Set up Gmail filters for your listservs:
  • Click "Mail settings" under the gear icon in the top left corner of the screen

  • Click the "Filters" tab and then click the "Create a new filter" link

  • In the "To" box type the the email address of the listserv.  In the example below, I only have the portion of the email address after the "@" symbol since I subscribe to multiple NSTA listservs and I like them all to go into the same folder.  Click the "Next Step" button when you're done.

  • Check the options "Skip the Inbox" and "Apply the Label"

  • Click the dropdown box that says "Choose Label..." and click the "New Label" option

  • Choose the name for the folder that you want your listserv messages to go into.  If you want to use subfolders like NSTA/Physics or NSTA/Chemistry you can set that up as well (if you type in the whole email address in the filter setup).  Click "Create" when you're done.

  •  Click on the "Create Filter" button. and you're done with the filter part
  • Next, you need to enable IMAP access to Gmail.  First click on the "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" tab on the setting menu:

  • Next click the "Enable IMAP" radio button, and then click the "Save Changes" button at the bottom.

  • Now you're done with Gmail.  Next is setting up Thunderbird.  The instructions for basic configuration are at the bottom of the Gmail screen, so click on that link if you need help.  Ensure that you set up Gmail as an IMAP account, and not a POP account.

  • When you get Thunderbird configured, it'll automatically load all your folders.  This is what mine looks like:
 Notice that I have a couple subfolders under NSTA, one of which is my NSTA listserv folder.  You'll also notice that I have a LOT of unread messages.  I read the topics that are of interest to me as they come across.  The rest, I don't bother deleting as Gmail gives you 7GB of space!  That way if I want/need to go back to a conversation that happened long ago, it's easy to search for.
  • There are a few configuration settings for Thunderbird that you'll want to make.  First you should set how Thunderbird handles downloading messages.  Do this by first clicking on your email address in the above image (mine is partially blurred out and blue in color).  This will bring up the following option on the right side pane.  Click on the "View settings for this account" link.

  • That will bring up the following menu.  Click on the"Synchronization & Storage" option

  • Then you're presented with the following screen.  I have Thunderbird set up so that  it doesn't keep the messages on the computer by unchecking the option shown.  What this means is that the subject of the message is only downloaded at first.  The content of the message is only downloaded from Gmail if you actually view the message.  This setup prevents your hard drive from getting bogged down with thousands of messages, but the content of all the messages IS on your Gmail account.  The downside to this setup is that you can only search the message subjects and sender/receiver information within Thunderbird.  You can't search the contents since you haven't downloaded them.  If you need to search the contents, you can always do this in Gmail itself.  Click the "OK" button when  you're done.

  • Next right-click on your listserv folder and choose "Properties" from the pop-up menu.  

  • Put a check mark in the option "When getting messages for this account, always check this folder".  Then click the "OK" button.

  • The final setup involves the message pane, and here's where the real organization power of Thunderbird comes into play - this is really the most important part!  
    • In the message pane, the fist thing you want to do is click the date column header so that the little arrow is pointing down.  This sorts the messages chronologically with the newest messages first. (This is pointed out below by the hand on the top right)
    • Next you want to click on the column header symbol on the left (it's a symbol of a directory tree and it will say "Click to display message threads" when you hover over it.  This will group the messages by thread so you can easily see the flow of the conversation. (This is pointed out by the hand on the top left)
    • So, when more than one message is in a conversation, the directory tree symbol will show on that line and a [+] symbol will be shown.  If you click on the [+] symbol, the conversation will expand and you can see all the messages in that thread. (This is pointed out by the two arrows on the bottom left)
      • You can see an example of an expanded thread with the "Fortune Fish" thread
      • If you look at the "Physics/Chem position" thread, you'll notice that another unrelated thread "calendar ideas?" is attached to it.  This glitch happens every now and then (not often) but I just wanted to point it out.

So that's how to use Thunderbird and Gmail to tame the listserv wilderness!

Please post questions on this blog page in the comments and not the NSTA listserv.

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