Sure, and I apologise for the length of this post - this is an issue (or, as I see it, issues) which I've been grappling with for quite a while. I've tried to split the post up into sections to make it a bit more readable:
There are a number of problems and solutions raised in this thread, but as I see it the primary problem (at least from the original post) is that, for communities coming from a Mailman background (like Mozilla, and @rhyolight's) "mailing list mode" doesn't make sense as a name for the feature which exists in Discourse, and is very confusing.
For those users, I could see them thinking that you need to enable that option to enable all the mailing-list-parity goodness which is in Discourse by default. We know that you don't, but how should a user?
It would make sense as a name if a Mailman list were analogous to an entire Discourse instance, but I see Mailman lists being analogous to Discourse categories. And there's no feature in Mailman (or any other mailing list software that I know of) which allows you to subscribe to an entire Mailman instance worth of lists, you can only subscribe to individual lists.
As @erlend_sh says, the comparible flow in Discourse is watching categories:
So, as I see it, the true mailing list mode is this:
Because it turns delivery of emails from a mere notification method (which doesn't need to be used when you're active on the site, because you'll receive notifications through you browser) into a 'true' mailing list where the web interface becomes more of an interactive archive.
The second main problem I see in this thread is a disconnect between posts you open in your email client, and the read status of posts (and their notificaitons) in the web interface.
However, I'm not sure this is a problem which can really be solved. I'm not sure if there's any other software out there which has solved it. As @sam has said, email tracking is a pretty messy area to get into.
Might just adding a "clear unread notifications" button go some way to solve the problem of users being overwhelmed by a huge number of notifications if they watch categories to receive emails for them?
The rest of the problems and solutions, including users being overwhelmed by notifications, seem to me to stem from an inherent problem in Discourse: it doesn't actually support categories being akin to Mailman lists, at least not everywhere.
On Mozilla's Discourse instance, which is where this analogy definitely is true, a number of Discourse's features are entirely useless to me:
- The new tab: useless
- because I don't care about most of the categories on it.
- The unread tab: pretty useless
- because watched/tracked topics will only appear in it if clicked on
- Muting categories: useless
- because as an admin and developer of the instance I'm scared of preventing users from pinging me wherever
- because we're constantly adding new categories, and muting would require user intervention every time we did this
- Tracking categories: useless
- because topics within still appear nowhere other than the new tab, despite me having specified that I'm especially interested in them compared to everything else
On Mozilla's instance I shouldn't be assumed to be interested in every topic by default, but Discourse is designed in a way that assumes I am.
The only feature useful to me, on a category level, is watching and my notifications. Everything else is filled with things I have no interest in.
Now I realise that a lot of this section is irrelevant to mailing list mode itself, but I think the problems discussed in this thread stem from the same root. I would however be very happy for the @team to rip out this section of my post, put it in a new topic and continue the conversation there, because I think it's a very important one to have.
Bringing things back to the direct problem at hand, I think a solution might be to add a user preference to send emails for tracked categories, also fixing the bug (as I see it) of topics within tracked categories not being added to unread unless clicked on. This way the user can receive emails either for their notifications, or for their notifications and unread tab, depending on what flow suits them best.
To summarise slightly:
- "Mailing list mode" is a bad name and causes confusion, on Discourse instances like Mozilla's
- The true mailing list mode on those is "mail me even if I am active on the site"
- Might a "clear unread notifications" button solve the problem of overwhelmed users?
- And allowing users to receive emails for tracked categories (while fixing category tracking) also solve that problem?