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2shortplanks (968)

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Mark Fowler has never been the same since he was elected leader of the London Perl Mongers. The strain manifests itself mainly in releasing various [] modules [] to CPAN, giving talks [], and use of the Trelane nick on for endless procrastination. Doctors are still seeking a cure.
Wednesday August 08, 2001
12:42 PM

(Mailing Lists)--

[ #639 ]


I've got a problem with's mailing list that I wonder if anyone could help me with. It's turned into an IRC channel (metaphorically, if not physically.) This is mail client isn't very good at doing IRC.

You see, more and more often people are replying quicker and quicker to posts without stopping to think about what they're saying. This isn't to say they're being deliberatly annoying, which they aren't.... It's kinda like the way your best friends can drive you nuts, and you want to punch their lights out, but you can't becuase, you know, they're your mate and all. It's all a problem that everyone has become overly familar with everyone else, (which in itself isn't a bad thing but it comes with a few associated problems of it's own.)

The trouble with treating a mailing list like IRC is that you tend to get a zillion posts a day that don't make sense on thier own, and are hard to follow. This, like when using IRC, is okay as long as you're reading it and paying attention...but my IRC client throws away (or at least scrolls away) stuff I haven't read. It doesn't keep it there so that every couple of hours I have to plough though it to determine if there was actually anything interesting left to read. And it's not like anyone would ever assume that I'd actually read everything on the IRC channel anyhows (unlike mailing lists.) Mailing lists aren't really for casual conversation. They're for reasoned arguments, presentations of information, discussions. It should be more like a debating society where you get ten minute slots to put your point across, everyone else gets to speak, and then you get another ten minutes. Not a shouting match. Not that there's anything wrong with that...but if you really want a shouting match or an interactive debate, you know where IRC is.

The other problem is that IRC tends to have lots of in-jokes and incomplete references. People tend to say something...wait for a reply along the lines of "how so?" or "why was that?"...and then complete the story. Which is fine in an interactive environment (you're obeying the ettiqute of conversation) but sucks on mailing lists. If you're going to say something, just say it! People tend to leave dangling references, silly points. It's great fun, but only works in the there and then. It's not so much fun when I've got forty messages an hour to scroll through. Or I'm a new subscriber, I read the post and make no sense of what someone said three hours ago before the conversation moved on completely.

I had a chat about this (in the best place to do so, on IRC) and suggested a few measures. The main solution I proposed was prevent a reply being accepted until ten minutes after the mail you are replying to had sent (unless you're replying to your own mail - say to correct a mistake - at which point you can reply straight away.) Though there's obvious ways around such a system such a nagging system may work to re-educate people (myself included) on the way to use a mailing list. The same pedantic bot could also enforce a rule about cutting too little or too much of the previous quote.

In the end though I agree with everyone else this kind of thing is a computer solution to the main underlying problem, the humans. And as Schwern says, patch the bugs don't work around them.

Sigh. I've switched to digest mode to see how that suits me.