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Archive for April 4th, 2011

Are Mailing Lists Now Primarily A Broadcast Medium?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 4 April 2011

In a post entitled DCMI and JISCMail: Profiling Trends of Use of Mailing Lists I provided evidence of the decline in usage of mailing lists across a research community – those involved in development and use of Dublin Core metadata standard.

Nos. of message posted to web-support and websiyte-info-mgt JISCMail lists, 1999-2009This analysis followed a previous survey which was described in a post on The Decline in JISCMail Use Across the Web Management Community and is illustrated in the accompanying histogram.

Since it appears that  the various functions provided by mailing lists are being replaced by use of other channels (such as blogs, Twitter, etc.) over Christmas I decided to unsubscribe from quite a number of JISCMail lists.  Those that I remained on (primarily library-related lists) I receive via daily digests.

On Saturday I received four messages from JISCMail lists.  I noticed they contained following messages:

JISC-INNOVATION Digest – 24 Mar 2011 to 1 Apr 2011 (#2011-7)
CFP: Digital Classicist Seminars 2011: Announcement of a call for papers.

JISC-REPOSITORIES Digest – 31 Mar 2011 to 1 Apr 2011 (#2011-56)
Brief survey about initiatives to encourage deposit: Request to complete survey.
ISKO UK Biennial Conference 4th-5th July 2011 – Early Bird registration during April: Conference announcement.

LIS-WEB2 Digest – 29 Mar 2011 to 1 Apr 2011 (#2011-35)
Event: Registration now open for Usability and User-Centred Design Day: Event announcement.

LIS-LINK Digest – 31 Mar 2011 to 1 Apr 2011 (#2011-75)
Lis-Link: LCF 2011 Conference: Conference announcement.
Brief survey on work of the Coalition for LIS Research: Request to complete survey.
UKeiG Course – Don’t miss out: Mobile access to information resources: Event announcement.
Copyright Query: User query.
UKSG – win the new Kindle 3g Wifi – Credo Reference on Stand 55: Company advertisement.
Customer Services post at St George’s: Job announcement.
Fully funded PhD studentship: Loughborough University/ Amateur Swimming Association: Research vacancy announcement.
ALPSP Seminar: Making Sense of Social Media, 24 June – London UK: Event announcement.

Of these twelve message only one (the Copyright Query message) was looking to instigate a response on the mailing list: the other eleven were all looking for people to visit a Web resource.  It should also be noted that a number of the messages included “Apologies for cross-posting” comments indicating that the message were been published to multiple lists.

I can’t help but feel that although email is convenient to use with the information coming to the user, this isn’t necessarily the most efficient way of working in light of the many other tools which are now available. At a time in which there are accusations that there are efficiency savings to be made across the public  sector in general, with libraries in particular under close scrutiny, it does seem timely to revisit the question of whether continued usage of mailing lists as a default communications and alerting mechanism is the best way for the sector to proceed.  I also feel that the Library sector, with its expertise in information management, should be taking a leading role in exploring new working practices and ensuring that their user communities are made aware of the possibility of new approaches to working.

At the CILIP’s School Libraries Group Skills for the Future event held over the weekend I noticed from the tweets (archived on Twapper Keeper) that speakers at event addressed the need for school librarians to embrace such new technologies, with Phil Bradley arguing thatwe are ‘cybernomadic’ and need to be able to move all the time to where the conversation is“. I’d not heard the term “cybernomad” before; according to the Urban Dictionary it describes “someone who uses internet cafe’s a lot because they think going outside and using someone elses computer is better than using their own“. But I like Phil’s reinterpretation of the word.   I agree with Phil; there will be a need to move from the comfort of an existing online home and move to where others are – and this will be particularly true for a user-oriented service professions such as librarians, whether working on schools, pubic libraries or universities.

Revisiting the title of this post, “are mailing lists now primarily a broadcast medium?” it seems that for the one’s I’ve listed this may be the case.  But although this to be the case for my areas of interest, is it true more widely?  Indeed might Friday’s post have been an aberration,with the norm being discussions, debates and, possibly, arguments taking place on the lists?  To answer such questions – in order to inform personal decisions on use of mailing lists and polices on the establishment of new lists – it seems that there is a need to be able to easily monitor trends, including both personal usage patterns and wider developments. Unfortunately the Listserv software used on the JISCMail service does not seem to provide APIs to carry out such trend analysis. So perhaps the need is for list members to observe one’s personal uses and to be willing to question the effectiveness of continued use.  As for me, I would welcome the continuation of mailing lists as a discussion forum, and leave alerting to other tools.  Is that an unreasonable expectation?

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