Listservs Down the Quagga Trail

“Email listservs are the place on the internet for lively and active online communities…” well, it was something I might have said in 1989, 1992, or even 1995. Pondering where listservs are now, I quickly reached for a dinosaur metaphor, but felt that is rather cliche, so I dud around WikiPedia and found the story of the Quagga, an extinct variety of the zebra.

But how is the Quagga relevant?

A recent discussion of “blogs vs lists” on the ITForum list reinforced the reason just why 2 years ago I dropped every listserv subscription once I found I get much more information, more quickly, from a wider variety of sources, make more professional (and interesting) connections via the blog-space and RSS. But the discussion on ITForum caught me off guard by some very naive to off-base (IMHO) opinions of blogs. Today I posted:

Wow. I’ve not read ITForum in a while because of this very symptom– I’ve pretty much dropped every listserv subscription because of too much sifting through long banter and full quoted responses to get something new– I’m taken back buy some naive opinions of blogs that make me wonder if I am experiencing the same Internet. Compared to information from listservs, via blogs/RSS I have stayed a magnitude of order more informed, more quickly in my area of interest, and have met a much greater number of colleagues outside of my regular connections. But what works for me should not be anyone else’s recipe.

There is no comparing blogs and listservs because they are different media and modes of communication. The tension I read is missing a significant point- blogs are part of a larger conversation that takes place in multiple, disjoint places. It is not nicely contained under one roof like a list. It is a distributed, disjoint conversation. Blogs are not just one person’s tirade, unless you look at a blog as the only entity of a conversation. If Stephen Downes writes something on his blog, I can discuss it in the comment space on his blog, I can write my rebuttal on my blog. I can talk about it on a listserv. It is still an exchange– but the connections are not tightly controlled and neatly structured by a list, but more interesting, more open…

Blogs are more than diaries (see http://cat-diaries.blogspot.com/) and more than just web links to other sites. In fact, just trying to say in a singular broad statement what blogs are is impossible as they are as varied as the people who create them. And they are a key element in transforming the web into a more participatory medium.

I actually resubscribed to ITForum selfishly, to post a job announcement, and because of a few blog references to interesting conversations here, and am still weighing the benefits.

I loved listservs… last century. In the late 1980s, as a graduate student in Geology, I helped a prof out by helping admin a mailing list for people who researched volcanoes… This was when I had a BITNET address, and we had to do some tricks to get folks from say the NASA network to be able to post messages so folks on say the Italian research network could get the messages.

When I was involved in multimedia in the 1990s, I lived and loved the antics and professional exchange of DIRECT-L, the listserv for users of Macromedia Director.

But like the Quagga found out, those listserv days are perhaps winding down, not really hunted out, but maybe being marginalized to special zoo collections and far flung isolated island environments. Lists are limited in participants to those that join or endure, and end up being a fairly fixed audience, dominated by louder (typed) voices. Those who like lists want conversations carefully controlled inside one room, neatly arranged in message, response, response threads all lined up.

Reading ITForum in digest mode (the only way I can stomach the inbox), I get long ever scrolling gads of stuff like someone fully quoting a message (or even the whole digest) from the day before, and often due to HTML infested email, I have to skim through never end screens of things like:

I can barely find the remarks in this cruft.

I have tried but not not get much info out of listserv discussions, and much prefer the disjointed conversations that are loosely connected in the space of blogs, RSS, chat, sometimes email, wikis, etc. It is a lively place. If you like and get a lot out of listservs, all the better for you… but don’t look for me top be spending alot of time chattering away… I’ll be riding my last Quagga into the sunset:

The quagga is an extinct subspecies of the plains zebra, which was once found in great numbers in South Africa’s Cape Province and the southern part of the Orange Free State. It was distinguished from other zebras by having the usual vivid stripes on the front part of the body only. In the mid-section, the stripes faded and the dark, inter-stripe spaces became wider, and the hindquarters were a plain brown. The name comes from a Khoikhoi (then called Hottentot) word for zebra and is onomatopoeic, being said to resemble the quagga’s call.

Long before this confusion was sorted out, the quagga had been hunted to extinction for meat, hides, and to preserve feed for domesticated stock. The last wild quagga was probably shot in the late 1870s, and the last specimen in captivity died on August 12, 1883 at the Artis Magistra zoo in Amsterdam.

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.