The story of LISTSERV begins in 1986 when Eric Thomas, an engineering student in Paris, developed a software program to automate the management of email lists. Before this, all lists had to be administered manually, which was so cumbersome and time-consuming that it threatened the viability of email lists altogether. Eric Thomas' email list management program turned out to be a huge success and became known as LISTSERV.
Mail templates are added to LISTSERV, allowing list owners to create automatic responses to specific commands and to customize administrative messages sent to subscribers.
Eric Thomas is hired by SUNET (the Swedish University Network) to help build a computer network with the ambition of making Sweden the leading IT nation in Europe. Because of this, LISTSERV development continues in Stockholm, Sweden.
The international BITNET network reaches its peak, connecting some 1,400 organizations in 49 countries for the electronic, non-commercial exchange of information in support of research and education. Thanks largely to the volunteer efforts of Eric Thomas, BITNET offers thousands of electronic mailing lists based on LISTSERV.
Eric Thomas does not want his software to disappear with the mainframes, so he starts looking for ways to port LISTSERV to other environments, such as VMS and Unix.
Eric Thomas makes changes to the existing LISTSERV code to make it easier to port, should the need arise. LISTSERV is a large application and Eric estimates that it would take 35 to 50 of the mythical "man months" to complete the work, so he starts looking for sponsors and grants to fund the development.
The grant search proves unsuccessful. Going commercial appears to be the only way to save LISTSERV. The first legal incarnation of L-Soft, the temporary L-Soft, is born in a lawyer's drawer. The company closes its first big sale in July. The business plan is to sell maintenance and new versions of the mainframe product, and then use the proceeds to hire programmers to port the code to VMS and Unix.
LISTSERV is the first software to introduce double opt-in, which would become the global gold standard for permission email. Double opt-in protects subscribers by requiring them to confirm their subscriptions before being added to a mailing list.
A LISTSERV list breaks the half-million subscriber mark – a new Internet record for an email list at the time.
CataList, the official catalog of LISTSERV lists, is launched. CataList enables users to browse public LISTSERV lists, search for mailing lists of interest and get information about LISTSERV host sites over the Internet.
LISTSERV adds a web interface, making the software more user-friendly by simplifying email list management and allowing users to administer and control their lists from anywhere on the Internet.
Web templates are added to LISTSERV, allowing list owners to customize the look and feel of their web interface pages.
L-Soft releases LISTSERV Lite and LISTSERV Lite Free Edition, a freeware version for non-profit and hobby use only.
LISTSERV powers Carl Bildt's newsletter. Carl Bildt, the former Prime Minister of Sweden, started the Internet revolution in politics by being the first Prime Minister in Europe who gave out his email address to the public and published an electronic newsletter.
L-Soft acquires tracking technology and the German development unit of a Swedish email marketing communication company. The plan is to integrate the tracking technology into LISTSERV.
L-Soft announces a partnership with security company F-Secure to integrate F-Secure's Anti-Virus software into LISTSERV. Millions of list subscribers are now protected from viruses. LISTSERV becomes the first mailing list manager in the industry to have built-in anti-virus capabilities.
L-Soft complements the LISTSERV product family by launching the LISTSERV Maestro email marketing software solution. The new product enables the management, delivery, tracking and reporting of customized opt-in email marketing campaigns.
L-Soft forms L-Soft Germany GmbH to facilitate the continued development of LISTSERV Maestro.
L-Soft releases LISTSERV Maestro 2.0 with a built-in recipient warehouse that combined data administration and target group creation in one interface.
The LISTSERV Choice Awards competition, the only industry-wide recognition program honoring the most interesting, creative, innovative or exemplary usage of LISTSERV mailing list technology, is launched.