Should I give up on listserves?

March 7, 2007

I have been having a debate with myself over the last couple of weeks about my participation in various list serves. Now I used to enjoy these, but I must confess that since I entered the blogosphere around six months ago I am finding this blog and my RSS feeds provide much of the intellectual stimulus that I used to get from the various list serves. I am also finding my self increasingly irritated by the content and practice of said list serves and I know I am therefore being irritating in my turn.

If I look around, then the list serves in which I engage seem to have some or all of the following characteristics (none have all, some only have one).

  1. They have a very limited number of active players, who know each other far too well and a body of lurkers who only occasionally take part
  2. There is an excessive desire to achieve consensus rather than debate. In fact this has been actively debated on several list serves with those favoring discourse over debate being in the majority. Some have become very happy clappy and reject criticism
  3. Debates when they get passionate (and what is wrong with passion) tend to end up as exchanges between two parties, when all passion is spent the main protagonists realise it is time to withdraw signifying as such in their final posts. There is a special breed of participant who then enters to deliver a patronising lecture from the moral high ground about how they should have behaved better. The timing of this is clever, they intervene when any response would play into their hands and they thus gain power. Now this may not be their intent, but to be honest knowing some of the people, they are too sophisticated to do this accidentally
  4. My most disliked fallacy, the strawman , is used all to frequently by those with an ideological agenda. They set up a statement which they link to another posting, then attack their own statement which may or may link to the original.
  5. Too many of the KM list serves are now handling too great a range of abstraction, from the newcomers asking for a simple justification of how to create a CoP, to the leaders of the KM movement ten years ago. I wrote about the danger to communities creating too wide a range of abstraction here, and I can see the lessons coming home to roost in the on line communities.
  6. Facilitated list serves, where the moderator reviews before posting have their own dangers. On one at the moment the moderator holds all the postings, then releases them with his own homilies added on to each. Now this is another power game. In looking at the last week the homilies are either fawning, the moderator agrees with the post; or patronising, the moderator does not agree but does not want to be seen to challenge. IN a closed group there is no legitimate excuse not to post as received.

There are many others, but I am beginning to think that the day of the list serve is over. Open wikis and the blogosphere provide greater stimulus and diversity. The discussion pages of the wikipedia form a fascinating community in their own right. I am still thinking about it, but I may well withdraw, which will make several people very happy.

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