Live Chat: Eric Thomas, L-Soft Founder & CEO, Inventor of LISTSERV

Eric Thomas
L-Soft Founder & CEO
Inventor of LISTSERV

Thursday, September 15, 2011
12 Noon ET/6 PM CET


About the Topic

Submit questions for Eric Thomas, who will be hosting a videocast and live chat as part of the global celebration of the 25th anniversary of LISTSERV®, the software that pioneered opt-in email list communication.

Have you ever wondered why Eric invented LISTSERV? Are you curious how LISTSERV has changed over the years? Do you want to know what some of the very first LISTSERV lists were? Are you interested to hear Eric's vision of the next quarter-century of LISTSERV and the permission email industry? Just Ask!

About the Host

Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas
L-Soft Founder & CEO
Inventor of LISTSERV

M.

Moderator (Seattle, WA)

The live chat will take place Thursday, September 15, 2011. The time is listed in the top-right corner.


Monday, June 13, 2011 1:40:00 PM


M.

Moderator (Seattle, WA)

Welcome everyone! The videocast and live chat will start shortly. I will be the moderator of this chat. The videocast will be broadcast from L-Soft's European headquarters in Stockholm:

L-Soft's European headquarters


Thursday, September 15, 2011 17:58:22


Q.

Rebecca Brindle-Scala (New York)

What was the very first list that used LISTSERV software and what was the first commercial list (non-government or educational institution) that ran on LISTSERV software? (and what years did they begin?)


Saturday, September 10, 2011 06:21:37


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

The first LISTSERV list was TEST-L Smile My first customer, even before L-Soft, was the Pentagon and they wouldn't tell me anything about how they used the product Wink The first corporate customer was SAS Institute and they used LISTSERV in conjunction with software development.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:05:08


Q.

Mark (Seattle, WA)

Looking back at the early days of LISTSERV, are you surprised how ubiquitous email and email lists have become?


Monday, August 22, 2011 20:59:41


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Not really, because back then we were a bunch of young idealists who of course thought that e-mail and the net would take the world by storm. So I guess we always "knew" that the Internet society we have today would come to pass – we just did not know how or when.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:06:10


Q.

Karen Reznek (Maryland)

Did you have any inkling of the enormous benefit LISTSERV would have for the disability community?


Wednesday, September 14, 2011 22:25:51


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Back when I wrote LISTSERV, the net was dominated by IT students and faculty who mainly discussed technical issues. I vaguely remember a list called $HCAP that discussed handicap issues, but the disability community did not seem to be on the net, so I had no idea that LISTSERV would make such a big impact.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:08:24


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Sometimes people would take, "send mail to LISTSERV with a SUBSCRIBE command" very literally Grin


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:09:31


Q.

Jesus (Spain)

The future of LISTSERV is the future of email. Email is being migrated to social tools. LISTSERV has a big opportunity to mix both environments. What is the roadmap for LISTSERV?


Friday, May 13, 2011 10:04:09


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

I do not think e-mail is being migrated to social tools. I think social tools complement e-mail just like instant messaging complements both social tools and e-mail. Social media are our big focus for 17.0, there will be a "social media view" in the web interface as well and document sharing, calendar, events, personal profiles, etc.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:11:41


Q.

Marty Hoag (Fargo, ND)

Congratulations on the longevity and success of LISTSERV(R). There have been lots of changes in the types of network infrastructure (store and forward to Internet) and in the expected means of access (in addition to e-mail we now have the Web, RSS feeds, social networking, etc.). What are the major "architectural" changes in LISTSERV that have had to be made to adapt, if any?


Wednesday, September 14, 2011 19:53:47


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

LISTSERV originally worked on IBM mainframes and in text mode only and had to be rewritten completely in 1992-1993 to work on Windows, unix and VMS. I also had to switch from IBM's proprietary network protocols to TCP/IP. In 1996 we added the web interface. Then came database support, LDAP, and now social media.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:13:17


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Using LISTSERV is now a piece of cake.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:13:48


Q.

Steve (Castro Valley, CA)

What do you think explains LISTSERV's longevity? I can't think of many software that have been around for 25 years.


Monday, September 12, 2011 23:44:05


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

I think it is because LISTSERV and e-mail fulfill a fundamental human need – the need to form communities and share ideas, experiences, joy and pain. People have been doing this for as long as mankind has existed, but LISTSERV removes the barrier of physical distance.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:15:23


Q.

JP (United States)

What do you think email offers that social media does not, and vice versa?


Monday, September 12, 2011 21:47:58


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Social media has the huge benefit of offering a network of people who are already interconnected and have existing trust relations. You can drop your message into this network and potentially reach millions of people in a matter of hours.

Or you can post something on your wall and it will be completely ignored.

E-mail gives you control and depth. You can decide who receives your message exactly and you can see who has acted on it. You are not at the mercy of changes in security policies on social networks. And you can write more than 400 characters Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:18:13


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Ten years ago...


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:18:49


Q.

John B Harlan (Alexandria, VA)

Of all the many uses of LISTSERV(R) that have benefitted its users – disaster relief, healthcare support groups, crime prevention, etc. – which one(s) are you most proud of, or touch you personally the most directly?


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:12:03


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

When I wrote LISTSERV, I had absolutely no idea that it would save lives by permitting medical research that would not be possible otherwise (among others). This is without doubt the use of LISTSERV that touches me the most.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:22:06


Q.

Carol (Carson City, NV)

No question. Just best wishes on your 25 years of success!


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:13:37


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Thank you Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:22:55


Q.

Wayne Smith (United States)

LISTSERV is email as we know it. Have you considered expanding LISTSERV to include SMS lists? Teens love texting and, unlike their parents, think email is, er, quaint. Thoughts?


Saturday, May 21, 2011 02:56:27


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

The challenge with SMS is that it costs money and that there are so many different operators, many of which will not offer SMS roaming services to high-volume senders. But most operators offer an e-mail gateway and you can integrate text messages in your e-mail lists this way.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:24:49


Q.

Marina (Tulsa, OK)

LISTSERV has been the communication lifeline of many online cancer organizations. I would like you to know that LISTSERV saved my life in year 2000 when I was desperately running out of time with advanced sarcoma. When I had less than a few weeks to live, word of a small and barely publicized drug clinical trial trickled to me over LISTSERV. I was able to join that trial, and I have been on the drug now for 11 years, after having once been at death's door. The drug ultimately became famous in oncology world – Gleevec. I think many other cancer patients have similar stories.

I've always imagined that LISTSERV might be more powerful for rare diseases if patients from around the world could chat with each other across language barriers. I've always wondered whether LISTSERV would be able to have a language translation feature within the email program, or within the archives?


Thursday, September 15, 2011 09:09:32


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

This is an amazing story!

I think the time might come when computers can translate e-mail messages reliably, but unfortunately we are very far from this goal. Centralizing translation solutions like Google Translate can give you a rough idea of what the poster was trying to say, but one of the challenges is that there are so many dialects of each language, idiomatic expressions, etc. I don't know much about translation software but it would seem that a translator installed in your browser or e-mail client would have more information about you, the dialect you speak, etc.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:28:58


Q.

Susan (Maryland)

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing email list communicators in the near-term?


Tuesday, September 13, 2011 17:48:32


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Spammers have been the main challenge for quite a few years now. The industry has managed to get the spam problem more or less under control but it remains a big headache.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:29:50


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Spammer congregation in Paris


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:30:36


Q.

Leila (London)

How would you describe the email and Internet industry of today? What do you see as the key challenges and opportunities for the near-term?


Monday, September 12, 2011 23:46:33


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Other than spam, I think that the main challenge for the email industry is to successfully integrate mobile devices, ideally to the same extent that social networks have achieved. The opportunity is that we are moving towards a society where people can be reached by e-mail wherever they are and whenever they are awake. This makes e-mail even more useful than it already is today.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:33:20


Q.

Pete (Auburn, WA)

How do you see the continuing evolution of email for mobile devices and does this have a bearing on LISTSERV development?


Monday, September 12, 2011 21:49:13


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

I think people will want their mobile device to become as good an e-mail client as their regular computer is. We are getting there where viewing is concerned, but data entry is still a major downgrade from even a tiny laptop. I think manufacturers need to add some kind of "air keyboard" that you would type on a bit like when pretending to play "air guitar" – with some practice you could type really fast.

LISTSERV needs to follow suit and provide an interface that will make it appealing for users to interact with LISTSERV from their mobile devices.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:36:30


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



The house of émail in my father's natal town, Morez


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:37:17


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Not very far from the previous shot – sometimes I wonder why I left all this for a computer room Wink


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:38:02


Q.

Scott Anderson (Tallahassee, FL)

When will the next major release of LISTSERV be? Is it possible for LISTSERV to be on an annual release schedule? This would assist with planning upgrades.


Monday, September 12, 2011 21:00:33


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

The next release will be when the code is ready and works, not when the CEO tells the press that it will be ready give or take 14,000 bugs Wink But it will be next year.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:39:44


Q.

Manfred (Germany)

From the early days: What happened to the LISTSERV Backbone?


Wednesday, August 17, 2011 16:14:31


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

The LISTSERV backbone was instrumental in allowing e-mail lists to scale back when the US and Europe were connected by two 9.6kbps lines. Without it, people would have ended up shutting down all e-mail lists to give one-to-one mail a chance of being delivered. I think it was the first backbone of its type (before the Mbone). But today we have so much bandwidth that it does not matter so much any more.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:41:48


Q.

Gabriel Goldberg (Falls Church, VA)

How are you doing in the struggle to preserve LISTSERV as trademarked name of your product vs. generic term for mailing list? I swat people misusing it but some people resist being corrected and the press is more clueless about this than they should be.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:07:00


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

When I incorporated L-Soft in 1994, the lawyer who did the paperwork introduced me to a trademark lawyer who seemed very impressed about LISTSERV (I was surprised that lawyers were even on the net back then). He advised me to spend approximately $500,000,000.00 a year defending the trademark given how ubiquitous it had become. I thought he was joking but he was not.

Well, we do what we can with the resources we do have Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:43:55


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Grand opening of L-Soft's EU headquarters in 1999


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:44:31


Q.

Teresia (Stockholm, Sweden)

Just curious, this "cover page art of the first LISTSERV manual", what does it represent?


Tuesday, September 13, 2011 17:49:54


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

It is an artistic rendering of the approximate topology of the net in 1986 as seen from France Grin


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:45:55


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Kick-off after the EU office launch


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:46:27


Q.

Arty (CUNY)

Thank you Eric. We tend to take LISTSERV lists for granted (we use them countless times each day). Thank you for your efforts and stunning perseverance. Congratulations once again!!!


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:33:50


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Thanks Arty!


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:47:31


M.

Moderator (Seattle, WA)

This is what the original manual cover looked like, BTW:

Manual Cover


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:47:32


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



15th anniversary party in Washington DC


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:47:43


Q.

Bob Kaneshige (Tempe, AZ)

Are there any plans to extend your tech support hours to 24/7 in the near future? We plan our software upgrades on a Friday evening MST and if something goes awry we are stuck unless we back out the changes and wait until Monday for assistance. Do you not have an European branch office with technical staff? They could possibly cover the US after-hours support.


Thursday, September 08, 2011 23:39:01


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

We do offer 24x7 support at an extra charge – check with your sales rep. But the EU office can only provide before-hour support. We have a small presence in Australia for after-hour support but it is not something we are able to guarantee due to the small scale.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:49:57


Q.

Frank (Unites States)

How does the everyday worldwide use of LISTSERV compare with what you had in mind when you invented it?


Monday, September 12, 2011 21:50:36


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

People's creativity in using LISTSERV for things I could never have imagined never ceases to amaze me. Likewise the creativity of my employees is beyond compare. I am proud to be leading such a team of talented individuals Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:51:08


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



PARTY ON – 15th anniversary in Washington DC


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:51:53


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



PARTY ON AGAIN – this time in Lund, Sweden


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:52:32


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



From the L-Soft casual wear collection Wink


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:53:21


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



US headquarters, 1998-1999


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:54:04


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



One of the first conferences L-Soft attended


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:54:41


Q.

JP (United States)

What do you make of the consistent declarations of email being dead over the past decade, particularly with social media becoming more popular in recent years?


Monday, September 12, 2011 21:47:03


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

People were already predicting the death of e-mail when I wrote LISTSERV in 1986 (Usenet was going to make e-mail lists obsolete). Then the web was going to kill e-mail, then AOL, then "push" (Pointcast), then the fact that LISTSERV is not written in Java, then RSS, then blogs, then Google Wave, today it is social media...

I think that when new exciting technology is developed, people have a natural tendency to think that it is going to take over the world by storm. The truth is that some technologies, the telephone for instance, are so useful that they are very hard to displace no matter how exciting the new technology might be.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:57:33


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Early adoption of cell phones at L-Soft


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:58:12


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Fire at L-Soft's US headquarters Frown


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:58:48


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



More casual wear Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:59:24


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



I forgot what we were celebrating Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:00:15


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Someone's new car just outside the US headquarters


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:01:05


Q.

Leila (London)

Why do you believe the Internet industry has an identity crisis?


Thursday, September 15, 2011 17:56:43


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Because when the Internet industry started, we were young idealists full of creativity and we were going to change the world, which we did. We were different from the brick-and-mortar companies and more exciting and so on. This was and remains the Internet industry's fundamental personality. Only today large fractions of the industry have become or are becoming commodities. Our challenge is to "ride the wave" and stay ahead of "commoditization," at least for as long as we can.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:03:43


Q.

Peter Graham (Stockholm, Sweden)

Eric, what is your view on how your job at KTHNOC during the nineties influenced the development of LISTSERV?


Friday, September 09, 2011 22:22:33


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

KTHNOC was one of the two major Internet hubs for Europe in the early 90s and I met a lot of exciting and brilliant people there. It was embedded in a university and I also met a lot of people who were just trying to get their job done and wondered why computers were so complicated and problematic. This taught me about the importance of making technology more accessible.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:05:38


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



We need to think of the new generation. They do like old things though – even opera!


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:06:29


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



The first thing people notice about our US headquarters is the unusual color theme Grin


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:07:55


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Give and take – it's at the heart of what LISTSERV stands for


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:09:49


Q.

Steven (CA)

There is much talk of "the cloud". What do you make of it?


Monday, September 12, 2011 23:46:43


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

I think that most people say "cloud" when they just mean outsourcing. That's not the same thing, though. The video cast is hosted at Amazon Web Services, which is a genuine cloud service and let me tell you, it was easier to set up LISTSERV from the command prompt in 1986 than to create a live streaming service on the cloud.

You can't really use the cloud for e-mail because you get a random IP address every time and cannot really build a reputation as a sender.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:12:02


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



My first suit in 1998 – Connie, Gaby and Lisa grabbed me by the ear and dragged me in a store and forced me to buy it Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:13:09


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Obligatory photo op with the new suit


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:13:50


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Use LISTSERV – because your list is worth it Wink


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:15:01


Q.

Libbye Miller (Elizabethtown, KY)

The 1435 members of Belg-L want to thank you for making our community possible over the last 16 years. LISTSERV rocks. Happy Anniversary!


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:13:03


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Thank you!!!


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:15:11


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

As you can tell, I enjoy making pictures. It was a lot of fun to go over 25 years of photo archives and prepare this compilation Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:16:05


Q.

Axel Skough (Norrtälje, Sweden)

I've no question but I'm glad to see what happened to the LISTSERV over the years.

My best congratulations to your success until now and best wishes regarding continued good efforts for the next 25 years period!


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:52:58


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Glad you enjoyed the chat Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:16:32


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Outside the Landover office a fine summer day


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:18:41


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



This and the next are for Mom and Dad – thank you for the LISTSERV Blue shirt Wink


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:19:50


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



To go with the poulet de Bresse Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:20:10


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



L-Soft's Art Director looking into the distance – what does the future have in store for us?


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:21:15


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)



Any last minute questions or should we wrap up?


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:22:19


Q.

Rebecca Brindle Scala (Blooming Grove, NY)

Excellent Chat, Eric! Congrats on the 25 year anniversary!!! (Great photos, too!)


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:20:10


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Thanks Beki!!! Grin


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:22:50


Q.

John B Harlan (Alexandria, VA)

As an early adopter (circa 1986) whose life, personally and professionally, it changed for the better, I salute the 25th anniversary of LISTSERV(R) making our world smaller – in all the right ways. Congratulations!


Thursday, September 15, 2011 18:47:22


Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas (Stockholm, Sweden)

Thanks John! Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:24:45


M.

Moderator (Seattle, WA)

Thank you all for your questions and well wishes. Eric will be wrapping up with his final thoughts on the video stream at the top of the page. Stay tuned.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:26:01


M.

Moderator (Seattle, WA)

The live chat has now ended. Thank you all! Have a nice day (or evening, depending on where you are)! Smile


Thursday, September 15, 2011 19:33:51


Visit LISTSERV 25th Anniversary Party Room »


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