A Case Study in Dysfunction
Mailing lists, as a discussion medium, particularily for online organizing, are
dysfunctional and broken. Embedded in their nature is a discouragement of
conversation, particularily the rapid back and forth which allows people to find
common ground. As each email arrives, it raises the likelihood of earlier
emails not being read. This culture has a tendency to produce, through social
pressues, discussion that feels more like a duel, where each side is using
mega-ton bombs, massive position statements, rather then negoiation and
listening. These end when one side falls silent, leaving those left on the field unable to
guess if agreement has been reached, or merely exhaustion.
There are many possible solutions ranging in scope and feasibility,
technological, and social fixes. I think the ad-hoc mailing lists of
are one possible solution. But what follows below are some ideas about a making
the tool that most activists use for email reading, some form of webmail, better
at facilitating mailing lists. (there ideas came out of talking with Riseup and
Threading is an obvious feature.
has had it for forever,
since before forever, its defacto for Web discussion boards, and even stately
recently added threading. So why not webmail? Threading is a great
feature, not only doesn’t it make conversations more coherent to follow, giving
each message an explicit context, and reduce the associated cost of each
arriving message, threads, if done right, can mean that conversations can last
much longer then the few days a thought normally sticks around a busy mailing
list, before it is pushed inexorably out of the field of whats current. We have
not only context, but memory, and history.
A wishlist for threading contains very little revolutionary. Messages should be
able to be displayed in a threaded manner, threads some be collapsible, and one
should be able to delete, or ignore (ie. delete any future message in the
thread) an entire thread. Not sure what algorithm Mutt and Pine use for their
threading, it might be worth checking out, because, unfortunately simply
In-Reply-To header won’t be reliable out of the box,
and threading on subjects, as some mail archivers do, is guarenteed to give you
Simple filtering could go a long way towards dealing with the email overwhelm
associated with mailing list. Either automatically or with a click of a button,
my mail client should be able to detect a message as having come from a mailing
list and send it to a mail folder, perhaps created on the fly, specific to that
mailing list. It will be important to include visual and interface clues to the
existance of these mailing list inboxes, perhaps borrowing the familiar visual
language of bolding the name of inboxes containing unread messages, followed by
the number of unread messages.
a plugin to Mail::Audit
recipes for detecting mailing lists, as does
, so that
shouldn’t be so hard.
Mutt contains some
interesting mailing list
features including a super-charged
Reply feature when replying to a mailing list, allowing you to guide response to
yourself, the list, or both.
A subtle visual cue that you are replying to a list rather then an individual
(how about setting the web pages background to bright red?) would cut down on
the number of private messages that find their way to lists cutting down on
uneccessary traffic, and reducing the neccessity of list admins to go mucking in
their archives deleting old messages containing sensitive info.
Interface widgets for handling the standard interactions with a list like
unsubscribe, and switch to digest mode wouldn’t be too hard, especially with
lists like Mailman (potentially others?) which include a slew of List-* headers
for that express purpose.
And speaking of digests, how about an intelligent interface for interacting with
mailing list digests? Something that links internally, maybe even allows to
reply to chunks of the digest, but at the vary least refuses to send out emails
containing subjects like “Re: digest”