Recently Overheard While Re-Arranging The Deck Chairs on the Listserv

Once they were mighty vessels of communication, plowing the Internet waters of the 1980s, 1990s. Yes, the big ships labeled “Listservs” were the place for social networking then, information exchange. I’ve remarked before about listservs being on the Quagga Trail and I keep my subscriptions to the barest minimum.

Today, after posting replying to something on the New Media Consortium members list (which does still provide me good technical and project information, and is not very noisy), I was noticing again the typical pattern on a listserv:

Some one from someplace posts a question about a technology or a project or asks for input…

And the replies come tumbling in like a cascade:


followed shortly by:

Please remove me from the list

and then someone contributed


which was thus echoed with

Take me off this list

Oh, excuse me, the captain just called us to come and look at the floating ice.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
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.


  1. You forgot the related cascade of:

    Dr. [insert name here] will be away from the office until [insert a date].

    Your email is important to me, and I will be sure to get back to you as soon as I can.

    [insert 15 line legal boilerplate]

    (followed by another torrent of unsubscribe and away messages)

  2. C’est vrais!

    And I can remember when listservs were pretty much THE lifeline for networked intelligence augmentation. I used them all the time in my teaching.

  3. Yes! I see this on a Yahoo users group I started for the Quandary program. I was beginning to take it personally.

  4. Now come on, this is just a cheap shot at a badly implemented listserv. Managing listservs with email commands makes absolutely no sense as is like 1980s technology. Any decent mail server has a web interface now for subscribe, unsubscrine and vacation commands. Same thing with all of the autoresponder crap; use vacation settings, and setup the list serv to auto-moderate posts with certain keywords in the title.

    There is a place for listservs. Like it or not email still represents the internet’s killer app. For tons of users (and not just ‘old’ ones, though it may be true they represent the majority of these) it is the only application they use. Mailing lists can generate good, active discussions; poorly run ones, which actually represent far too many of them, are frustrating and fill your emailbox with lots of crap. What’s the alternative – discussion forums? How many moribund ones have you ever seen. Blogs? come on, get your head out of the clouds. Sorry for barking back, but this just rubbed me the wrong way. But seriously, what is your suggestion for the best way to create active asynchronous engagement and communication?

  5. Touché, give some argument points to the gentleman from Victoria.

    Darn Scott, you just tend to be correct. In this case, yes, it is a poor human implementation, not really the listserv technology’s fault. Most of them are able to be configured wiht either an appended series of instructions on how to unsubscribe, or a link to a web site to do this, or worse, the monthly automated reminders.

    This was more of a reaction because this is (I think) a listserv full of people who i think are “in the know” that have experience, or at least are aware that replying to everyone else on the list will really work. That, to me, is lame-o human behavior, and yes, I humbly admin, not email’s fault.

    As far as your last query for one magic bullet answer, well I do stand by my asertion that there is not one solution, and its not just about the technology used. In some cases listservs do work fine, in others discussion baords, in other email in others, heck, below radar IRC channels.

    “The best way to create active asynchronous engagement and communication? ” — how about we meet up over some beers in downtown Vancouver and just talk?

  6. hey, I am looking forward to that beer in February, but to make it a fair comparison, if it is to be an asynchronous conversation one of us is going to have to get up and leave the bar each time the other one comes in. That doesn’t sound like much fun ;-) Anyways, sorry for barking back, was just in a bit of a crummy mood this morning, see you soon, Scott

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