General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology eReport

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

SEP 2009

Vol. 8, No. 3


  • MacNotes »
    Updated iPhone software will even help you find your phone if you lose it.
  • SurvivingEmail
    Could Google-hosted mailing lists make real money?
  • Sites for Sore Eyes »
    Where to go to find out where and how to go: travel websites.
  • TechNotes »
    How to primp your PDFs.
  • ProductNotes »
    Xerox's Phaser 8860MFPMFP and Quickbooks for the Mac.
  • DivisionNotes »
    Call for Nominations of Officers and Council Members Election—2010/11, 2009 Fall Meeting and National Solo & Small Firm Conference


Could Google-Hosted Mailing Lists Make Real Money?

April Fool’s Day had rolled around, and it was time for Virgin Islands lawyer Andy Simpson to play his usual prank.

The American Bar Association was upset. Its most successful listserve, Solosez (, was some 3,700 strong, but its 7 million emails supposedly ate up nearly 40 percent of its server capacity, accounting for more than half of the ABA’s email traffic. Bar politicians, ruing the day the list was created some 13 years back, tried to defund the list, insisting that a mailing list was old technology.

U.S. Virgin Islands lawyer Andy Simpson ( had a trick up his sleeve, naming himself head of a strategic planning committee to explore ways to improve the list and contain costs. Here’s his report:

The first thing we did was look at the infrastructure the ABA is using for listserve traffic. To our horror, we discovered that all of the ABA’s listservs are run from a offbrand server running Windows NT Server. Thus, one of our suggestions is to upgrade to two state-of-the-art Dell or HP servers running Windows 2008 Server. One would be dedicated to Solosez and the other would be dedicated to the remaining ABA lists. Of course, cost is always a factor with the ABA, and we may need to pass the hat to accomplish this goal.

The second suggestion is a bit more controversial, but also far more exciting. We have been in extended discussions with Google about having it take over Solosez and spin it off from the ABA. An essential condition of this idea, which Google has agreed to, is that Solosez must always remain free. There are many advantages to this: (1) Google will pay the ABA a small fee for every message that is posted to the list; (2) the five message per day limit will be removed; (3) using Google’s extraordinary filtering algorithms, political content will automatically be filtered and sent to a separate list that you will be free to subscribe to; (4) again, with the filtering algorithms, water cooler topics and other topics will automatically be flagged by Google, so that we won’t be required to use labels like [WC], [TECH], [BK], [FAM] etc.; and (5) the algorithms will detect jurisdiction-specific questions and send them only to subscribers in that jurisdiction. One of the most exciting things is that Google would generate a knowledge base from prior Solosez posts. Hence, a member’s post asking about backup strategies would come with a post directly from Google directing readers to links to past messages where backups were discussed. Think of it as the archives on steroids. We are only just beginning to explore all of the ways that Google can enhance Solosez.

The controversial side of the Google concept is that Google would add advertisements to Solosez messages based upon the content of the message. Thus, if someone posted a question about backups, there might be an ad for an on-line backup service along the right side of the post, much the way ads appear when you do a Google search.

We know that the Google idea in particular will be controversial, and there may be negatives that we haven’t thought about. Accordingly, we’ve created a short survey on and invite you to chime in with your thoughts.

Even though the final survey question asked respondents if they’d ever been the victim of an April Fool’s Day joke, an amazing number of lawyers believed Simpson’s proposal to be the real thing, offering to send in donations and questioning the downside of the Google option. All joking aside, can we expect to see Google hosting mailing lists in this manner before long?

jennifer j. rose receives her email at in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico.

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