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Archive for June 4th, 2010

The Decline in JISCMail Use Across the Web Management Community

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 4 June 2010

Decline in Usage of JISCMail Lists for the Web Management Community

Earlier this year I published a blog post entitled “My Significant Drop in Use of JISCMail Lists” which described how the numbers of messages I have published to the web-support JISCMail list has dropped from a peak on 53 in 2001 to only two messages in 2009.

I speculated that such a steep decline was true more generally in many of the JISCMail lists I subscribe to – but was unable to easily provide evidence due to the resource effort in having to manually count the numbers of posts to the lists.

Following the recent upgrade to the JISCMail Web site searches across JISCMail archives now include the total numbers of matching search queries. So carrying out a search of JISCMail archives for author’s addresses which contain ‘@’ for each year should enable trends to be observed.

Nos. of messages posted to the web-support and website-info-mgt lists from 1999-2009The results for the numbers of posts to the web-support and website-info-mgt JISCMail list between 1999 and 2009 are shown.

The peak for the web-support list was 2002 when 2,540 messages were posted. The website-info-mgt list had a peak of 568 messages posted in 2001.

The decline of both of these lists now appears to have stabilised at just over 200 messages posted per year (less than 5 messages per week).  Many of these messages will related to announcements of events, job vacancies, etc. rather than the discussions which took place in the early days of these lists.

Clear evidence, it would appear, of the decline in importance of mailing lists over the past 5 years, replaced, we would imagine, by use of a variety of Social Web tools. The Web Management community is now, perhaps, a blogging, twittering and social bookmarking community.

Comparisons with Usage of a Popular JISCMail List for the Library Community

Nos. of posts to the lis-link JISCMail listBut how have other popular JISCMail lists used by other communities changed over the past 10 years?

In the case of the lis-link JISCMail list it seems that the Library community still makes intensive use of mailing lists.

Over the same time span this list was mostly widely used at the start of the period, with 3,651 posts in 1999. The decline since then has, however, been relatively slight with 2,226 posts in 2008 (and a rise t0 2,401 posts in 2009).

Whilst the institutional Web management community has moved away from JISCMail, those working in the library sector are still making intensive use of the service, receiving, on average, 46 messages per week on this list. And since there are a number of more specialist JISCMail lists aimed at the Library community (including LIS-CIGS, LIS-E-BOOKS, LIS-E-RESOURCES, LIS-ILL and LIS-Web2) it is quite clear that mailing lists still provide an important service for this community.

Accessing This Data

Unfortunately the JISCMail search facility does not provide a RESTful interface so I can’t provide a link to the data used to produce the graphs shown above.  However Google Spreadsheets was used to produce the graphs and this has been made publicly available.

Discussion

Email Must Die!” was the deliberately provocative  title of a talk I gave at the ILI conference back in 2005 (and having noticed that the iPres 2010 call for proposals requests that “Panels should be lively, controversial and provoke discussion” I am unapologetic in being prepared to occasionally use somewhat controversial titles for my talks).  A report on the talk (available in PDF format) described how I introduced a “whole plethora of alternative methods of communicating information that enable collaboration or that provide information to the gadgets or programs that people use in real life, such as RSS feeds from blogs, instant messaging, wikis, podcasts, and so on” and argued that “it won’t be too long before our users will expect libraries to be able to communicate using these channels, so we’d be well advised to explore them now!“.

This prediction seems to have come true amongst Web managers, with the main mailing lists used by the community seemingly being used for  one-way announcements rather than discussions and debates.  But in other communities this hasn’t happened. Why is this, I wonder?

My initial suspicion was simply the lag in the adoption of new technologies, with the early adopters having embraced various Web 2.0 communications technologies a number of years ago to be followed by mainstream users. In this spectrum we might expect those primarily involved in Web support and development work to be part of the early adopter community, with those who have a prime focus on other areas (teaching and learning and research, for example) to be somewhat behind in making use of new technologies.

But does such a technological deterministic really reflect reality?  There will be additional factors such as ease of access to networked computers and access to Web 2.0 services themselves – and many of the librarians on the LIS- lists who work in FE colleges, public libraries and, indeed, the commercial sector,  may not have the ready access to the services which many of us working in HE have now come to expect.

There is also the question of whether users need to migrate to new technologies if well-established approaches, such as email lists, fulfill their purposes.

On the other hand, revisiting my post on “Decommissioning / Mothballing Mailing Lists” the trends showing the numbers of messages posted to lists seem to clearly indicate the majority of lists no longer have any traffic and those with over 100 messages posted per year (such as the LIS-LINK) are very much in a minority.

Does this evidence (taken from the JISC Monitoring Unit Web site) suggest that the library sector are out of synch with the rest of the community??

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