UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Posts Tagged ‘JISCMail’

The Decline in JISCMail Use Across the Web Management Community

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Jun 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.


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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JISCMail’s Facelist and Enhanced Support for RSS

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 Apr 2010

The JISCMail Facelift

As announced yesterday on the JISCMail Owners list the JISCMail home page has been updated – and I’m pleased to see that it now provides a personalised interface, with the list of subscribed groups displayed once you have logged on.  It is also interesting to observe the high profile the service gives to Facebook, Twitter and RSS as can be seen from the rotating advertisement illustrated in the screen image below.

JISCMail Home page

JISCMail's social sharing servicesIt seems that when you view an individual message you can share the post on a large range of social bookmarking and sharing services such as Facebook, Twitter, Slashdot, Diigo, Bebo, etc. as illustrated.

Whether such a large number of services is useful to the end user may be uncertain. It will also be interesting to see how this works for closed groups. But perhaps this facility demonstrates a move towards allowing great sharing and public reuse of the contents of the JISCMail mail archives – an approach which I would warmly endorse. A few months ago I attended a meeting which discussed future developments for the JISCMail service and there was broad agreement on the benefits which could be gained by allowing the archives of messages to be more easily reused outside of the JISCMail environment.  Allowing messages to be bookmarked  and reused in other Social Web sites is a useful first step.

This development follows on from an announcement in the March 2010 issue of the JISCMail newsletter of a facelift to the individual mailing list archive pages. Again I am pleased to see the developments.

The home page for individual lists is much cleaner than it was previously.  It provides separate areas for recent messages and message archives,with the right hand sidebar being used for tools related to the list and the left hand sidebar providing links to a number of other JISC services (although I have to say that I suspect that such links won’t be of interest to most users – since the home page for lists may be where users typically arrive rather than the JISCMail home page I feel the list of subscribed lists would have provided a more relevant use for this area of the page).

Enhanced Support for RSS

The development which is of most interest to me, however, is the RSS Feeds and Sharing links which provide access to RSS 1.0 and 2.0 and Atom feeds for posts to the list. This is illustrated for the JISC-Repositories list below (see menu of right hand side of screen).

The JISCMail Web interface for the JISC-Repositories list

I have subscribed to the RSS feeds for a couple of the JISCMail lists I subscribe to. However I found that only that the RSS Reader on my iPod Touch contains only  the first few lines of each item. Reading the JISCMail newsletter article about the upgrade to the LSoft software which is used by the JISCMail service I find that:

LISTSERV automatically creates RSS abstract from the text part of the message. By default, LISTSERV uses a maximum of 500 and a minimum of 250 words for an implicit RSS abstract.

You may wonder why I would wish to have JISCMail messages delivered to my RSS Reader. The answer is that I normally subscribe to JISCMail daily digests and although the format of the digests is fine for viewing on my PC, I can’t access the content on my iPod Touch (or on my Macintosh where I receive the error message “Mail was unable to open the URL “cid:1925@JISCMAIL.AC.UK“).

But perhaps I should accept such limitations which make reading JISCMail message slightly irritating, but not an insurmountable barrier. Of greater concern is the limitation the limit places on reuse of RSS by other applications besides RSS readers. It could be useful, for example to be able to use a list archive’s RSS feed as a generic structured output format to allow the contents of a list to be visualised by a service such as Wordle.

An example of a Wordle cloud for the JISC-Repositories list is shown, which uses the JISC-Repositories RSS 1.0 feed as the data input: possibly an interesting visualisation of the topics being discussed on the list, but its usefulness is undermined by the arbitrary truncation of the content of the individual messages. (Note that you can view the latest Wordle cloud for this list).

Wordle file for JISC-Repositories JISCMail listThis example provides a visual illustration of how RSS feeds for mailing lists could be used to provide functionality which is not provided by the mailing list service itself.  Other examples could be provided by RSS processing tools such as Yahoo! Pipes.  It might be possible, for example, to take an RSS feed from a list (or a number of lists), filter them using Yahoo Pipes filtering capabilities and feed the output into other applications which process RSS. Tony Hirst’s OUseful blog, for example, is full of examples showing various ways in which RSS can be used to provide new insights into content.

It would also be useful if the JISCMail service allowed RSS feeds to be provided for multiple views of the mailing list archives.  I recently described how WordPress provides RSS feeds for the various views  of the page the user may be looking at (the standard reverse chronological order, normal chronological order, monthly views, category views, etc.)

To be fair, though, the JISCMail service isn’t alone in providing a limited use of RSS.  I had hoped that the University of Bath’s Opus repository service, which is based on the ePrints software, would support a variety of full RSS feeds but the RSS feeds for my papers and UKOLN papers are both limited to 10 entries.

So I feel that JISCMail is on par with the version of EPrints which I have used – it’s good to see both providing RSS feeds but I hope that future releases of the software with provide greater support.

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