Is email going the way of the Dodo?

by Bill Swallow on May 17, 2009 · 7 comments

in Content Strategy

A recent exchange on a STC list, which then migrated to Twitter, has me wondering… Do you think email lists (listservs) are no longer a viable medium for information exchange? Have social networking sites and services rendered listservs redundant or archaic? I still believe that they have their place, especially where social networking sites or services might be blocked by employers.

One argument against listservs is that they don’t provide people with control over their involvement, claiming the only options a member has are to accept list mail or unsubscribe. Of course most listservs have multiple subscription options, and email clients have filters that allow people to block mail from certain addresses or domains if they don’t want to hear from certain people. Not ideal, but not as binary as receive everything or nothing.

What are your thoughts? Do listservs still play a big role in your networking and information exchange? Do you prefer social networks like Twitter and Facebook over email for sharing information? Do you see advantages of one medium over another? Please share your thoughts!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

angelos May 17, 2009 at 11:34 am

I don’t like them, but it’s usually the execution, not the idea itself.

Think about how dormant the Delta Phi one is, and we used to banter all the time. I gave up on HATT-OT because I couldn’t follow any of the conversations, it was such a mess.

Also, the more active the are, the less likely I am to have e-mail notifications turned on. I don’t need 150-200 e-mails a day of people arguing over something about which I don’t care.

I prefer blog-style comment threads, preferably nestable. You have to make it a point to go and participate.

I have a business idea about this, but not sure how to execute it right now.

Mike Starr May 17, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I’m with Angelos about email notifications… I get so much email that notifications are just an annoyance.

However, I’m definitely a listserv guy. I wrestled with high-volume lists for quite some time, trying to manage by signing up for the digest version. However, I’ve recently overhauled the way my email client (Thunderbird) deals with them. I now have a filter for each list that places new messages from each list in its own separate folder. I can thread them if I want to but usually don’t bother. It’s a fairly simple matter to [Ctrl] click all of the messages in a thread I’m not interested in then press the [Delete] key.

I really dislike having to visit web pages to follow a conversation… first I have to remember to do so; second, the process of reading and responding to messages takes (me) longer via a web interface than it does with my email client. My email client has all of the messages from a listserv downloaded already so I don’t have to wait for the browser to return the message to view it.

Having said that, I’m developing a fondness for Twitter… I’m limiting the number of folks I follow to a modest group of folks who tend to post more informative messages about things relevant to my interests rather than primarily snippets of their daily life. I try to contribute once in a while but am moderately baffled as to why some folks might figure it’s worth while to follow me.

I’m also fairly pleased with LinkedIn as a social networking medium for career objectives. I’m on Facebook and MySpace as well but neglect them shamelessly as they’re primarily social rather than career-oriented.

Margaret Hassall May 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm

I would also have a problem with the high volume of Twitter messages. Also, when you are on the other side of the world you tend to sleep when the bulk of conversations are going on. With email lists and blogs you can catch up on tech issues – I think Twitter 12 hours later would just seem like noise.

David Farbey May 20, 2009 at 3:06 am

I don’t understand why some people see this as an “either/or” issue. Perhaps those calling for organisations to shut down their mailing lists hope to get mileage out of being provocative and taking extreme positions.
I believe that many email discussion lists (listservs) are valuable. I also believe that services like Twitter are useful and interesting and may well become even more important in the future.
Listservs allow people to share information and to participate in discussions. They facilitate two-way conversation, in the presence of an audience that is interested in the topic (they’ve subscribed to that particular list), and who may decide to join in.
Twitter does not really facilitate discussions. The 140 character message precludes discussions, almost by definition. I don’t see listservs and Twitter as alternatives for each other, and I think they can certainly co-exist happily side-by-side, as email and phone calls do.

Rhonda June 8, 2009 at 5:53 am

What the others said…

Also, listservs have archiving ability and hopefully a decent search of those archives.

Blogs and email allow you to participate in the conversation some time in the future (like now, when I’m reading and responding to this blog post some 3 weeks after you posted it — I couldn’t do that with Twitter).

Twitter assumes an ‘always on’ modus operandi, whereas real life isn’t like that for most people. For example, today I did a very concentrated 10.5 hours day editing some scientific documents. I glanced at my email maybe 2 or 3 times, didn’t go on the internet at all (until now), and definitiely didn’t check my Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn accounts.

I think there’s place for them all, though listservs/forums etc. that are primarily conversational amd ephemeral would perhaps be usurped by Twitter; listservs that serve a purpose (a common interest in a software application, for example) are less likely to be overtaken by the ‘Twitterverse’ as they offer a great place for people to ask and ‘how do I’ questions.

Ben June 19, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I agree with David; I would say that your own contributions to the discussions on the STC presidents list have included more than 140 characters. I don’t think Twitter was intended to be a live chat medium, but sometimes it’s used that way. But I could see a discussion not working well on Twitter with a group of people pounding away at their keyboards and updating a dozen times each nearly all at once. You lose track of threads very quickly that way.

John June 29, 2009 at 9:46 am

You know, a listserv with a 140 character limit might be a good thing. I can definitely think of some folks who could use a limit.

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