If the web is at 2.0, then listserv technology must be at a fractional decimal too small to bother writing.

I first experienced them around 1988 as a graduate student at Arizona State University- heck it was even before full internet, as my email address was on BITNET. I helped a prof administer a listerv for volcanologists (no Spock jokes, this was geologist who study volcanoes). A lot of the duties had to do with patching together email addresses on various networks, US universities on BITNET, scientists on various government networks, and people outside the US on all kinds of different networks.


flickr creative commons licensed photo by rodliz

But the software, and the way it worked has really not changed at all. Listservs are like the rusty old pickup you see parked next to the shiny sports cars and hybrid vehicles – old, but reliable, and often just full of junk.

In the day, and I am talking about the day in the early 1990s, listservs were the place where online communities flourished (besides usenet); all of the drama seen payed out on twitter seems to have been done in email lists long ago.

And over the years, I have set up numerous web discussion boards, online forums, all kinds of alt-spaces, and for the most part they rarely show a pulse will people readily pound away at email to lists.

So rather than trying to fight the lists, I have been trying to use some tactics to make them more efficient. At NMC we have a very robust listserv, the TAB (acronym escapes me, something like Technology Advisory Board) that in our member surveys, is regarded as one of our most valuable services. Anyone from any NMC member organization can subscribe, and people are constantly asking for software recommendations, organizational policy, support strategies, etc.

One thing that happens, and the downside of email is that its not readily organized. Yes there is an archive,and its even searchable, yet I am sure a large majority of our users don’t use it or know its there. One strategy we started a few weeks ago was to monitor threads that were most active, and then collect responses as a summary we publish online as NMCTAB Summaries. Its not too complex to do, though a bit tedious as it is a cut and paste job.

Earlier this week a question came in from someone wanting to know what ePortfolio tools members are using, and if they were being used for the accreditation process. It is a legitimate request, though we had published a related summary just a week earlier.

The problem with these requests via a list is they generate a whole raft of responses. So to create a summary, one has to do a whole lot of copy pasting from email. And it floods the list.

Today I had a small light bulb go off that said it would make more sense to use the Google Docs feature of creating a web form that can be shared, and the data all goes to a Google Spreadsheet. I was aware of these, but had never gotten around to trying them out.

It is drop dead easy. You create a new spreadsheet, then go to share as web form, and use the tools to create as many questions as you need. Mine was short, the items- a field to enter an organization name, a text area to list eportfolio software names, and another one to collect info whether eports were use with accreditation.

So it creates a form that can be sent by email, or you can just share a link, or it gives code to embed the form on a web page. So all the back and forth of response on a listserv can be boiled down to one email with the link to the form. The beauty is you can allow people access to the results, but even more so the results are all there in a spreadsheet, not spewed across a pile of email messages.

I had about 8 responses within an hour, and almost 20 by the end of the day.

I’m eager to use the Google Forms even more for information we typically collect by email or shoving files around.

And the darned pickup truck just keeps going on and on and on..

The post "Slimming the Listservs" was originally assembled from spare parts of a 1957 Chevy at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2008/07/slimming-the-listservs/) on July 2, 2008.

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