list life-cycle

Greg Finnegan (finnegan@HUSC.HARVARD.EDU)
Fri, 9 Feb 1996 09:39:07 -0500

Given the current level of discourse on ANTHRO-L, the following
(semi-)facetious posting seems appropriate. I picked it off an ornithology
list, where it was reposted from an education listserv.


>Every list seems to go through the same cycle:

>1. Initial enthusiasm (people introduce themselves, and gush alot about
how wonderful it is to find kindred souls).

>2. Evangelism (people moan about how few folks are posting to the list,
and brainstorm recruitment strategies).

>3. Growth (more and more people join, more and more lengthy threads
develop, occasional off-topic threads pop up).

>4. Community (lots of threads, some more relevant than others; lots of
information and advice is exchanged; experts help other experts as well as
less experienced colleagues; friendships develop; people tease each other;
newcomers are welcomed with generosity and patience; everyone -- newbie and
expert alike -- feels comfortable asking questions, suggesting answers, and
sharing opinions).

>5. Discomfort with diversity (the number of messages increases
dramatically; not every thread is fascinating to every reader; people start
complaining about the signal-to-noise ratio; person 1 threatens to quit if
*other* people don't limit discussion to person 1's pet topic; person 2
agrees with person 1; person 3 tells 1 & 2 to lighten up; more bandwidth is
wasted complaining about off-topic threads than is used for the threads
themselves; everyone gets annoyed).

>6a. Smug complacency and stagnation (the purists flame everyone who asks
an 'old' question or responds with humor to a serious post; newbies are
rebuffed; traffic drops to a doze-producing level of a few minor issues;
all interesting discussions happen by private email and are limited to a
few participants; the purists spend lots of time self-righteously
congratulating each other on keeping off-topic threads off the list).

>6b. Maturity (a few people quit in a huff; the rest of the participants
stay near stage 4, with stage 5 popping up briefly every few weeks; many
people wear out their second or third 'delete' key, but the list lives
contentedly ever after).


Gregory A. Finnegan, PhD
Associate Librarian for Public Services
and Head of Reference
Tozzer Library
Harvard University
21 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge MA 02138-2089
617-495-2253 fax 617-496-2741

"For whatever is truly wondrous and fearful in man, never yet was put into
words or books." MOBY-DICK, chapter 110.