Usability of email lists vs web forums?

26 Jun 2006 - 7:25am
8 years ago
9 replies
807 reads
spyboy
2006

As we all probably know, this email list generates a ton of emails. If it
were not for filtering and subject sorting in MS Outlook (for me at least) I
wouldn't be able to keep up with this list. I find that Outlook doesn't
always sort properly, particularly because of the RE: infront of email
titles.

I don't see much of a structure to posts here (no subject formatting, such
as "Job: xyz" or "Conference: xyz". Everything is clumped together.

So, my question is: "are email lists more/less usable than web based
forums?" or better yet "Email Lists vs Web Forums, Which is Better?"

There are benefits and problems with each type though..

email list:
1) can take all those messages with you on your pda or laptop to read
offline. (which can also be bad, when you have 1100 emails)
2) will get to a message when you get to it (my IxDA folder has about 1100
email in it right now, I slowly go through it when I have a moment)
3) there can be so many replies to so many topics that if you don't use a
date sort, you won't always see the most relevant topics (I tend to leave it
in subject sort mode, and then read a very good topic that was posted back
in February, and a reply would be a bit silly since the thought-thread is
pretty much gone at that point).
4) great for smaller volume posts/responses.

web based forum:
1) broken out by category (meetings, general questions, job postings, etc)
2) if you don't read the posts everyday, you can lose something fast if the
forums are set to expire.
3) can't take it offline.
4) great for high volume posting/responses.

I guess there are 2 more categories that could be considered:
1) newsgroups (nntp) which means you can take the content offline
2) blog style (ala Slashdot) where a topic is posted and there are responses
underneath (which can lead to extremely lengthy pages)

Kirk

Comments

26 Jun 2006 - 8:18am
Thomas Vander Wal
2004

On 6/26/06, spyboy <spyboy at gmail.com> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> As we all probably know, this email list generates a ton of emails. If it
> were not for filtering and subject sorting in MS Outlook (for me at least) I
> wouldn't be able to keep up with this list. I find that Outlook doesn't
> always sort properly, particularly because of the RE: infront of email
> titles.

Outlook does message threading rather poorly, but much of the broken
threads in e-mail is from digests. Each e-mail has a distinct
identifier and reply e-mails state the e-mail that they are in
response to. But when there are responses to a digest e-mail that
unique identifier is not available. That is the cause of the broken
threads most likely, unless you are using Outlook Express or Outlook
97, which did use titles/subjects to thread discussions.

Personally I have found Gmail works wonders for listserve reading as
the e-mail threads based on the unique identifier are all grouped
together for easier reading. I am not fond of Gmail for much else as
it filtering breaks at times and the tags/label interaction needs to
have its interaction designed for somebody with more than 15
tags/lables.

> I don't see much of a structure to posts here (no subject formatting, such
> as "Job: xyz" or "Conference: xyz". Everything is clumped together.

It is rare that I have seen a listserve actually work for this type of
use-based subject formatting. In most groups it works for six months
or a couple years, but then breaks down. Many groups move to separate
lists.

> So, my question is: "are email lists more/less usable than web based
> forums?" or better yet "Email Lists vs Web Forums, Which is Better?"
>
> There are benefits and problems with each type though..

I belong to about 20 listserves, many also have web-based forums (some
of these are run in Google Groups or Yahoo Groups). Nearly all of the
listserves I belong to are have far more e-mail interaction than
web-based forums. It is all about the preference of the people in the
groups. Offering both is a fairly good option if the group has the
capability to set it up easily (depends on the service or system that
is being used for the listserve).

I am seeing many web forums moving to offering listserve options,
particularly for more digitally adept groups (design, developing,
systems, tech, etc.). Groups where a feeling of belonging is
important web forums can tend to be more popular, but that is
changing.

The change is around a person delivery of information. As more people
get hooked on RSS and having information they desire come to them the
more they realize e-mail could be a similar tool. The "come to me"
options take less effort and seem to be growing in popularity.

All the best,
Thomas

26 Jun 2006 - 8:56am
jonesabi
2006

While I agree with Thomas's kudos for Gmail's handling of lists and replies,
I have to disagree with this statement:

> I don't see much of a structure to posts here (no subject formatting, such
> > as "Job: xyz" or "Conference: xyz". Everything is clumped together.
>
> It is rare that I have seen a listserve actually work for this type of
> use-based subject formatting. In most groups it works for six months
> or a couple years, but then breaks down. Many groups move to separate
> lists.
>

I belong to DC Web Women ( www.dcwebwomen.org), which has successfully
appended tags to Listserv messages for years. We use the following tags, in
all caps, to allow members to easily filter through messages they do and
don't want to read:

QUESTION or Q
DISCUSSION
JOB
SUMMARY
SITESEEING
EVENT
INFO
ISO

DC Web Women's list guidelines are here:
http://dcwebwomen.org/mlist/listguide.html . I'd love to see them adopted by
other ListServs I use, including this one.

-Abi Jones
Editor, www.HeatEatReview.com
The Trusted Guide to Microwaved Meals

26 Jun 2006 - 8:59am
Dave Malouf
2005

I'm going to jump in here on this one.
I have tried with just Job: and have little to no success.
It is a real pain in the butt to moderate messages to make sure that
people are using the right prefixes for messages. So unless you are
REALLY prepared to do some heavy moderation, this really doesn't work.

BTW, there are 2400 (looked yesterday) on this list right now. Just
thought I'd take this moment to let people know the size of this
"little" community.

-- dave

Abi Jones wrote:
> I belong to DC Web Women ( www.dcwebwomen.org), which has successfully
> appended tags to Listserv messages for years. We use the following tags, in
> all caps, to allow members to easily filter through messages they do and
> don't want to read:
>
> QUESTION or Q
> DISCUSSION
> JOB
> SUMMARY
> SITESEEING
> EVENT
> INFO
> ISO
>
> DC Web Women's list guidelines are here:
> http://dcwebwomen.org/mlist/listguide.html . I'd love to see them adopted by
> other ListServs I use, including this one.
>
--

David (Heller) Malouf
Vice President
dave(at)ixda(dot)org
http://ixda.org/
http://synapticburn.com/

AIM: bolinhanyc // Y!: dave_ux //
MSN: hippiefunk(at)hotmail.com // Gtalk: dave.ixd(at)gmail.com

26 Jun 2006 - 9:09am
jonesabi
2006

Dave,

You're right, it takes the efforts of multiple list moderators and community
buy-in. It takes informing members about the rules and penalizing members
who don't use the tags. Yes, it takes enforcement. Without balanced and
measured enforcement, a list starts looking a lot like the
Portugal/Netherlands game of last night. Nobody wants that.

If people can post without swearing, they probably also have the ability to
put a tag on each email discussion they start. How many new discussions are
started each day?

The point regarding the size of this list isn't valid, as IxDA-discuss has
about the same number of members as the DCWW list.

I'm not saying that I'd like to see a clone of other lists I use. What I'm
saying is that I'd like this list to be a lot more usable.

-Abi Jones
Editor, www.HeatEatReview.com
The Trusted Guide to Microwave Meals

26 Jun 2006 - 9:38am
John Vaughan - ...
2004

DavidH said
> BTW, there are 2400 (looked yesterday) on this list right now. Just
> thought I'd take this moment to let people know the size of this
> "little" community.

Thanks for the observation and especially the update, David. If it's not too
much trouble, a "little" reminder like this every so often gives us all a
sense of "where we are" in our virtual community. A step back to observe The
Frame.

UXP: It's all about context.

John Vaughan
The Communication Studio LLC
website: http://www.jcvtcs.com

26 Jun 2006 - 9:43am
Dave Malouf
2005

Oh! I wasn't making a point w/ the #, just putting out info.

I agree we need a better experience and a group of volunteers, (wanna
join them?), have begun working on just that effort in what we are
calling our "Community of Practice" project. I'm very excited about it.

-- dave

> The point regarding the size of this list isn't valid, as IxDA-discuss has
> about the same number of members as the DCWW list.
>
>
\\--

David (Heller) Malouf
Vice President
dave(at)ixda(dot)org
http://ixda.org/
http://synapticburn.com/

AIM: bolinhanyc // Y!: dave_ux //
MSN: hippiefunk(at)hotmail.com // Gtalk: dave.ixd(at)gmail.com

26 Jun 2006 - 10:24am
John Vaughan - ...
2004

DH> Oh! I wasn't making a point w/ the #, just putting out info.

Not offended. No expectations. A prime attribute (design element?) of IxD
is providing relevant, non-distractive, useful info. context.

DH>> The point regarding the size of this list isn't valid, as IxDA-discuss
has
>> about the same number of members as the DCWW list.

What point? The numeric amount provides some Scope for those of us who
didn't know how many of us there are (i.e. More than 50, Fewer than A
Million) and provides some useful reference info.

Whereas your point about the size of the IxDA-discuss list - as compared to
the size of the DCWW list - could use some context. For example: What
exactly is the "DCWW"? And why is this relevant?

26 Jun 2006 - 10:42am
jonesabi
2006

JV said:
>Whereas your point about the size of the IxDA-discuss list - as compared to
>the size of the DCWW list - could use some context. For example: What
>exactly is the "DCWW"? And why is this relevant?

I was talking about the users of a list being able to follow guidelines
(tagging each message). Some would argue that it is easier to get a list of
just 50 users to follow guidelines. I was using the DC Web Women (DCWW)
list, one of a size comparable to the IxDA discussion list, as an example of
a relatively large (over 2,000 members) list being able to tag discussions
for ease-of-use.

FYI: DC Web Women (DCWW) is a non-profit, volunteer-run professional
organization in Washington, DC. The membership is made up of women who work
in various aspects of internet-related industry. It is relevant information
in looking at the size of the list, technological know-how of members, and
just plain old also being a ListServ.

Apologies if that was not clear from my original response.

Whenever you create something, you benchmark, right? You look around the
industry to figure out what people are doing right in that arena and where
you could make improvements in your own product.

In that spirit, if anyone else is on a successful list, I'd like to hear
about it. What about the list makes it successful? What about the list
drives you crazy?

Abi Jones
Editor, www.HeatEatReview.com

26 Jun 2006 - 11:12am
John Vaughan - ...
2004

Perhaps this glitch report is somewhat to the point of discussion:

Abi's subject line is
"IxDA Discuss] (space, space) Usability..."

Other messages in this thread have a subject line of:
"IxDA Discuss] (space) Usability..."

When I sorted by subject line in Outlook Express, Abi's postings got
"orphaned" from the rest of the thread because of a single "extra" (space)
character. Because I hadn't read her initial postings, I wasn't aware of
useful contextual info that wasn't there when I entered the discussion.
Context - Compromised.

Thanks for the clarification, Abi. I get it now.

Note to Microsoft usability Professionals: Outlook didn't catch this
"minor" difference that most of us humans wouldn't have noticed......

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