Tuesday, June 30, 2009
As most of you know, I also manage the 14-year old TaxProf Email Discussion List, which currently has over 300 subscibers. This week's suggests that its days may be numbered: Change or Die: Scholarly E-Mail Lists, Once Vibrant, Fight for Relevance, by Jeffrey R. Young:
Once they were hosts to lively discussions about academic style and substance, but the time of scholarly e-mail lists has passed, meaningful posts slowing to a trickle as professors migrate to blogs, wikis, Twitter, and social networks like Facebook.
That's the argument made by T. Mills Kelly, an associate professor of history and associate director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Naturally, he first made the argument on his blog, and he has mentioned it on the technology podcast he hosts with two colleagues.
A close look at some of the largest academic listservs, however, shows signs of enduring life and adaptation to the modern world.
Mr. Kelly is not swayed, though. He says he was once an enthusiastic participant in several scholarly e-mail lists, mainly ones run by the H-Net service, which offers e-mail lists on various topics in the humanities. He even moderated one of them. But he says one of those lists shut down for lack of use in 2005, and the activity on the others sputters along with little useful information.
"As more and more people become comfortable with blogs and Twitter, e-mail lists will become increasingly irrelevant," he said. "They're just a much less dynamic form of communication." ...
I pitched the story to my editors, who loved the headline "Death of the E-Mail List."
But then a surprising thing happened. I started to hear passionate defenses of listservs from other people in my digital network, even those who are just as plugged in to the latest trends.
It turns out that the audiences for many academic mailing lists are actually growing — though even some organizers admit that the lists are less likely to contain the spirited debates that once thrived there. Administrators at some of the largest academic listervs say they are beginning to upgrade their services for the Web 2.0 era. ...
Perhaps e-mail lists will occupy a space like radios did in the television age, sticking around but fading to the background. Although people are fond of declaring the death of e-mail in general, it remains a key tool that just about everyone opens every day. As long as that's true, the trusty e-mail list will be valuable to scholars of all stripes.