Thoughts on improving the community email list

Moscow has an un-moderated, city-wide email list called Vision 2020, hosted by First Step Internet (thank you for that.) The mission is: “Moscow Vision 2020 is an informal, multi-partisan group of Moscow residents formed in 1993 to encourage more public information and debate about the future of Moscow and Latah County.”

On the list, I happened to catch Chasuk’s departure note (he was a frequent poster). A victim of flame war burnout. The waters closed over the corpse with hardly a ripple.

And where is the Liberal Moscow blog? A V2020 alternative, announced in early June 2006. I looked in via the RSS and the last post is mid-June. Another corpse un-morned, a better medium (blog + RSS) but no critical mass on the site.

I have a research interest in these types of communities. What would enhance the communication channel that V2020 can at times be? Chasuk spoke about wanting a better signal to noise ratio. It seems to me that much of the noise comes in the feedback to original posts — questioning of the poster’s premise, elaboration, or conflation, of the issues. Simple provocation. For some, that rhetorical exchange is clearly the fun of the list. Baiting and pouncing. Word play.

The problem is, some would prefer that the ‘exchange’ were taken “outside,” but then would it be fun, without a crowd to watch? For those who prefer an information dissemination channel, or a non-personal rebuttal or elaboration on a news or opinion piece in the DNews, the banter on V2020 is distracting at the least and more often off-putting.

For a long time, I have been reading the V2020 digests. This reduces the clutter in my inbox. I scan the table of contents of each digest for a couple features. First, is the post original or a reply. Second, who is the author. Third, what is the topic.

If the post is original, the author of good repute (to me) and the topic plausibly interesting, I typically read it (However, scrolling from TOC to item in the digest is clumsy.). If the reply is from a short list of authors, and the topic formerly interesting, I read. This choosing is hard to automate with a bozo filter alone.
Email seems to be a good vehicle for transmitting the content, but list processor technology is clumsy for separating the good from the bad? How might it look?
I posit that it would look like this:

  • Original posts could be subscribed to, without any replies, and readers could apply (or not) personal ‘bozo filters’ to the original posts.
  • The whole dialog, or the whole digest, could be subscribed to, as it is now.
  • Threads could be subscribed to on an individual basis. Making an original post, or a reply, would automatically subscribe the author to the resulting thread.
  • When reading a post, a reader would have the ability to one-click subscribe to the thread and perhaps see a digest of all the preceding posts in the thread.
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