What Strange Email Lists Are You On?

It's Thanksgiving break here in Champaign-Urbana, time to catch up on/with grading, writing, friends, and esoteric email.

I'm on three or four bird related email lists: two about local sightings, one about bird books, and one about bird identification more generally. What I think is great about being on email lists from a range of disciplines/walks-of-life is that you can see how this now quite old technology of communicative exchange (pre-message board, pre-synchronous chat, pre-wiki, pre-social software) still does it for us when it comes to sharing information about a specialized topic.

On the bird identification list this week, there's discussion about a "putative Ring-necked Duck" possibly vacationing in Italy. Terms like "putative" show up a lot on that list, since it's all about identification. When the discussion veers too far from identification, say getting into "cultural issues," the moderator will circulate a let's-keep-to-ID-related-topics canned message

If I were to list the things I like about email lists, that (now) taken-for-granted tool of textual exchange, they would be that email lists:
  • reveal people invested in helping each other
  • reinvent the public letter
  • are topically do-it-yourself
  • allow you to swim in or ignore the discourse
  • seem to invite spontaneous participation
  • are usually archived and, thus, function as searchable resources
  • engender dialogue
  • seem to be particularly useful for newbies (you see this a lot on the WPA list)
  • and lastly, somehow tend to be less "on the radar" (in terms of what's pulled up in GrandpaGoogle searches) in comparison to, say, blog posts


  1. I like how lists reflect their communities' strengths but also inevitably their neuroses.

    For example, a cataloging list I am on has "typo of the week" to remind everyone to be ever-alert for the damage one does to information-seeking through a simple finger fumble.

    I also recall the grad student list on which people became involved in ugly, cruel, and even abusive tirades against each other all just to prove who was the smartest, most worthy of intellectual honor, the eventual good job, etc.

    Analyzing lists would be an incredibly interesting project for some lucky writing studies student.

  2. That grad-list was out of sight! BG's loooong Marxist emails were so funny! And then CN's witty replies were always making fun of BG's! And historicizing them!

    So yeah, personalities really come out in the ethos of a list.