UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

My Significant Drop in Use of JISCMail Lists

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 Jan 2010

Back in October 2005 I gave a talk entitled “Email Must Die!” at the Internet Librarian International 2005 (ILI) Conference. The following summary of the talk was published in Elucidate (Vol. 3 Issue 1, January/February 2006 ISSN: 1742-5921 – PDF format):

One particularly provocative paper was from Brian Kelly, Email Must Die!, in which he suggests 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. He feels 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!

Fast forward four years to the Online Information 2009 conference we find that there was a session entitled “Email is dead! The rise of Twitter, chat and communities” which began with a track keynote entitled “No More E-Mail: Pandora’s Box or Universal Panacea? An IBM Experience” in which Ian McNairn spoke about “how social networking in general and microblogging in particular has caught the imagination of users at all levels in IBM“.

Now it is true to say that despite the titles, neither myself nor Ian actually felt that email will die. This was clearly an attention-grabbing headline (similar to”The VLE IS Dead” title for a very popular session at ALT C 2009 and an accompanying series of blog posts and video clips).  Based on the Elucidate summary a more apt title for my talk may have been “A whole plethora of alternative methods of communicating information can enable collaboration or 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 may provide an alternative to use of email“. However as titles for talks need to be brief I am happy with the one I used.

But how has my email usage changed since I gave the talk? Well I was an early user of the Mailbase service, which was the predecessor of the JISCMail service. And although there are no records of my usage of Mailbase lists it is possible (although slightly cumbersome) to gather personal usage statistics of my use of individual JISCMail lists.

So visiting the JISCMail pages for the web-support list (a list I have been a member of since it was established on Mailbase in, I think, 1993 or 1994) I can search for posts from my email address.

It seems that the JISCMail service was set up in 2000, so there were only two posts in that year.

The following year was my busiest year, with 53 posts in the year.  The following three years saw a similar level of my postings.

Since 2005 (with the exception of 2007 when I joined in a couple of discussions on Will The UK Government Shut Down The Queen’s Web Site? (Friday post) and HTML mails) my usage of the list has dropped drastically – reaching a low of only 2 posts last year.

So whilst an overall picture of my usage of mailing lists cannot necessarily we extrapolated from this example (for example I will have joined new lists over the years and my areas of interest will have changed) I think this example does demonstrate how, for me, mailing lists have diminished in importance  to a significant extent.

It would be useful to be able to gain a more complete personal picture, but as there do not appear to be APIs to the JISCMail service it would be time-consuming to do this.

My new year resolution has been to manage my use of emails more effectively and part of this will be to unsubscribe from the various lists which are no longer of interest to me. I have found that I have been subscribed to a number of lists which have little traffic or are now only being used for job adverts, announcement of events, etc. Even though the traffic may be low, I find that a steady stream of repeated announcements of events can be irritating, so I’ll be unsubscribing from such lists.

I have also been subscribing to many lists via the Digest option, which groups all messages send during the day (typically) as a single message. This was useful a few years ago as it meant I only had to process (often delete) a single message. However as I now read my email on a variety of devices including my iPod Touch and Android phone as well as my desktop PC and a recently acquired Apple Macintosh G3 , the poor support for MIME attachments, failures to render HTML mail or support a cid: protocol (illustrated) means that processing digests is now an irritation.  So I have started to unsubscribe from several such lists.

Anyone else finding themselves doing likewise?

11 Responses to “My Significant Drop in Use of JISCMail Lists”

  1. Mark said

    I’m concerned that right now we have two parallel and siloed means of communication (twitter etc and mail lists). Stuff falls between the gaps right now, I suspect once we push on through to which ever becomes dominant that problem will go away. But right now I get frustrated as to exactly where some conversations are taking place.

    • But there are many more than two mans of communication – there are multiple mailing lists, provided by a wide range of providers and there are blogs, wikis fora, etc. And communications also takes place in the real world in many different places – at conferences, seminars, in the office and even down the pub. So let’s accept such diversity. And remember that for open resources, Google provides a means of breaking down such silos, as well as other tools such as Markmail (e.g. search Markmail for ‘jisc federation’). Sadly JISCMail is a silo, which doesn’t expose its resources to other services :-(

  2. Mike Nolan said

    But you posted 17 times to WEBSITE-INFO-MGT in 2009 compared to 16 in 2008 and 20 in 2007. Perhaps it says more about the “WEB-SUPPORT” community than mailing lists?

  3. I was intending to look at trends over a couple of mailing lists, but JISCMail doesn’t provide the means of doing this easily. But if I look at the web-support JISCMail list is seems that the first post published in 1999 was number 1145 and the last was 2465, giving a total of 1,319 posts in the year if, as I believe, the posts are numbered consecutively. For 2009 the first post was number 12031 and the last 1260, giving 129 posts in the year.

    I think this demonstrates that the significant drop in JISCMail usage is reflected in the wider community (although I should add that I have not checked these figures carefully).

  4. Hi Brian

    I think that it depends on a number of factors:

    1. Type of user. By the nature of your work, you are likely to be an early adopter of new communication technologies, and so are your audience. However, say, a list on Children’s Literature is not likely to see a significant number of people choosing twitter over mailing lists. I don’t know the typical demographic of jiscmail users but i would imagine a large percentage are in the ‘non-early adopter’ category.

    2. Currency of topic. The JISC-Shibboleth list has shown a steady growth in use and it is rare when a day goes by without it being used. At the moment the discussion is mostly around migration to shib2 – obviously a very current topic.

    3. Type of list. as you note, some lists are supporting active communities, whilst others just serve as announcement lists. Some lists start off as one and slide in to others, hence a decrease in traffic.

    I think all of these factors have an impact. JISC Monitoring Unit reports a 9% increase in messages delivered by JISCmail in Q4 2008/09 as compared to Q4 2007/08 – so the service continues to show no sign of plateau or decline.

  5. Hi Nicole

    Thanks for your response.

    You are, of course, correct in saying that I am an early adopter of various communications and collaboration technologies. But just as when I promoted the Web to an initially sceptical audience who were convinced that Gopher was the future back in 1993, sometimes early adopters correctly identify significant trends ahead of the game! These observations were intended to reflect trends in the Web management community. As you say some communities are satisfied users of mailing lists – and I am on JISCMail lists for museums and public libraries which are definitely thriving.

    I would say, though, that use of more open environments (such as blogs and Twitter) enable ideas and topics discussed in mailing lists to be more easily accessed by people who chose not to subscribe to such lists – for example I would not be interested in joining one of your Shibboleth lists but I do find your blog keeps me informed of developments and your tweets allow be to easily find out about new resources and participate in amplified events.

    Your figures showing a 9% increase in Q4 2008/09 as compared to Q4 2007/08 are interesting – but why are only these two quarters cited? It occurs to me that if such statistics were published openly this might provide a useful resources for developers to data mine.

    Of course such statistics should be treated with caution. For example every few weeks I go to my JISCMail-errors email folder and delete hundreds of messages were had failed to be delivered (are such figures included in the statistics); I receive JISCMail messages from a significant numbers of lists delivered to a GMail account so that, potentially I can search across such lists in ways not possible using the JISCMail search facility (in reality I have not accessed this account for a long time, so the delivery statistics are misleading); etc.

  6. “Your figures showing a 9% increase in Q4 2008/09 as compared to Q4 2007/08 are interesting – but why are only these two quarters cited? It occurs to me that if such statistics were published openly this might provide a useful resources for developers to data mine.”

    Mostly because i am just lazy and only looked at the last report :-) All of the data is publicly available here:

  7. oops, sorry. here:

  8. Hi Nicole
    Thanks for the links. Useful information – if somewhat confusing! Looking at this image (taken from the JISCMail Lists Trends Data) it would appear that most lists have 0 messages, followed by lists with 100 messages appears to be tiny. Does that mean that a lot of the overhead in the service is taken up in managing dead lists?

  9. […] My Significant Drop in Use of JISCMail Lists […]

  10. […] 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 […]

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