This post originally started life on Nikki Massaro Kauffman’s blog, in response to her latest posting on listservs and social media. Once I started having to scroll down multiple screens, I decided it would probably be best to transfer my diatribe over here and trackback so that other comments could actually be posted and read. Here is my extended response to her post which posed the question:
Is the listserv dead yet?
Here are some related thoughts/questions…
- In what cases (or for what UP listservs) would Ning be a good substitute?
- What about using Twitter to get immediate answers to questions we used to clutter others inboxes with via listserv?
- What other solutions/technologies do you see helping us kill off the listserv?
- What is our listserv exit plan to get people to move from listservs to adopting new technologies?
Recently, I’ve discovered I’m having a problem keeping up with some of the thoughts and ideas that are exploding around this area (and in my brain), so forgive me if some of them overflow here. In fact, I have a half-written blog post in my mind, so I can almost guarantee some bleed through. But as they say, forewarned is forearmed…
Obviously, I have been thinking about this. A lot. I think your first issue is really about how you want information to flow. Is the information going from one to many? Is it a linear thought process? In my mind, a listserv is for updating a lot of people with minimal discussion; perhaps requesting some information, but the majority of the flow is one way, with some additional feedback when volunteered. It’s, quite simply, how we used to do things (I have control of the listserv; I own the listserv; I can control the information that is put on the listserv, and not looking for extensive feedback from you because it is a one:many context rather than the true many:many context). But if you are looking for discussion, I don’t believe a listserv offers the best recreation of that typically messy human interaction. Go to a blog. Discuss. Watch the thought process, because in my mind, a blog invites dialog and discussion from many; an interaction where information goes both ways, just as a real world discussion group does. Sure, the blog will have an owner that could act like the listserv manager, but that wouldn’t be a productive use of the blog. Use the right tool for the job, as they say. A listserv != blog != social networking site. In fact, when you add in
the interactive wiki, you are encouraging contributions from multiple
Finally, a social networking site. I don’t suppose to say that everything should move to this format; unless you are willing to have alpha users who will nurture your conversation until you hit critical mass, per Mark Greenfield’s discussion (see? I do pay attention), then you run the very real risk of not even getting your social network off the ground. Take our current twitter/tweet meet wiki page. Currently, it’s a very flat interaction that merely acts as a record of our meets and some of the topics discussed. It does not capture the dialog nor the contributions (because, honestly, one person can’t be in all the conversations at that size of a gathering). While I initially gravitated toward adding information (names, contact info, personal sites, etc.) I don’t bother going back to add conversation content I might have participated in because, quite frankly, it is a dead end. I don’t really use that as a resource; the people can be found in my twitter feed, or even my friend feed (although there isn’t enough participation there yet, it is a better aggregator than my mind). Hell, we have already had the discussion that a wiki is for documentation and resources, so it really doesn’t fit the model we are discussing.
IMHO, our local twitter community has grown enough that we might well be able to sustain a social network. Look at what our social network is actually doing: answering questions, fostering discussion, notifying of new resources, scheduling community events, posting photos, podcasts and videos. (Holy crap, Batman! What aren’t we doing????) We are so active in twitter that I see abuse of the system, not because people want to abuse it, but because it seems our community has been hungry for an outlet. So be it. Let us see if we can make use of a Ning network and expand some of the discussions that we are forced to move off topic to our respective blogs, IM screens, or such. But in that context, you must be willing to hand over the control to the community. This is a scary thing for the old style Controlmonger, who wants to be able to control who gets to see information. I for one am totally moving toward the power of the community, and the importance of having these tools that allow for—and actually encourage—the open content, social dialog we seek. By that definition, a social network could not replace a listserv, because the listserv pushes information out; a social network is a much more organic interaction, where both push and the reactive pull is necessary to promote the community. To extend that thought, in my perfect world, listservs and email are dead end tools; keep the information open, ease up on the control of information and use blogs, wikis—and yes, where it makes sense, social networks—to facilitate thought, discussion, and community.
Sometimes it’s not a question of whether you can go home again; it’s more a question of if you really should. I, for one, favor looking forward to the possibilities of where we are headed, rather than back to where we’ve been.