Re: What is this list FOR?

Danny Yee (danny@MORIA.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Mon, 2 May 1994 12:21:31 +1000

Michael Bauser writes:
> First off, I do think that the Anthro-L populace's need to know
> who they're talking to (to the extent of trading biographies) is
> unusual among networked groups. Most such groups are content to work
> from cues given _in posts_, i.e. "the identity constructed as you go"
> that I discuss in my earlier post. Anybody wanting details of that
> theory should go read that post.

It seems to me that the importance assigned to .signatures is an
indication that people *aren't* happy with "constructed as you go"
identities. As you pointed out earlier, even when people post using
clearly invented identities, that is somehow easier to cope with than
posts with no context at all (ie many posts). I think
information about people is used more for mnemonic purposes (to help
distinguish them from everyone else) than for status labelling.

> Now what I'm wondering about here is *why* is Anthro-L different
> from UseNet, FidoNet, and the more recreational listservs. The only
> place (so far) where I've seen "tell me about yourself" said to such
> effect has been in local BBS systems (you know, PCs hooked up to
> modems and hidden in the back of someone's house), specifically in the
> local message bases. The only parallel I can see between our beloved
> Anthro-L and those local BBS systems in a slightly stronger shared
> identity among participants of each listserv/message base. That is,
> more overlap in each individual's self-concept.

My guess is that this simply a result of size (both actual and
potential). Although there are 600+ people on this list, I doubt as many
as 100 have posted during my time here, and probably only about 30 post
regularly. Also we know that our messages are going to a restricted set
of people (one can even get a complete listing by querying the
listserver, I think), whereas USEnet newsgroups typically have
readerships in the 10000-100000 range, and there is no guarantee that 3
million+ people won't decide to read alt.obscure.newsgroup on any
particular date :-).

> Having such a significant part of our
> biography overlap _instantly_ creates a stronger feeling of community
> than over on the recreational areas of UseNet (say,
> dedicated to the game Advanced Dungeons & Dragons), where a
> hobby/interest might not be significant portion of the individual's
> self-concept.

I don't know about this. I have some friends who seem to spend a lot
more time playing games than I spend on anthropology! I think mailing
lists tend to attract people with more commitment newsgroups do, for the
simple reason that having mail arrive in ones mailbox is a much higher
level interrupt than having news arrive at your NNTP server (for the
non-cs people, that basically means that mail demands attention more
than news does). It would be interesting to compare anthro-l to other
listservs of a similar size.

> That sounds nice, but it leads me to believe you've never seen
> the proverbial "please help me with my homework" posts or the Survey
> Out Of The Blue posts that drive people on UseNet nuts. A lot of
> undergrads seem to try using UseNet (although I've seen it in
> FidoNet's College echo a lot, too) as an easy way out for research.
> (It gets rather annoying after a while.) Almost as if the lower
> transactional cost was inspiring the slackers to try to depend on
> other's expertise _more_. From the academic perspective, not good.
> Not good at all.

I tend to reply to poorly thought out and imbecilicly cross-posted
surveys with random answers, especially if they are trying to do market
research. At one point I was tempted to post a meta-survey, asking all
people who had ever carried out surveys on USEnet to answer some
questions about how successful they were :-).

> >Commoditization creeping in (did you hear
> >about the guy who posted a zillion advertisements over the net last
> >week? A lawyer soliciting business!).
> Yeah, I saw that. SEVENTEEN TIMES (I'm subscribed to 18 UseNet
> groups. Oddly enough, the only one he missed was alt.grad.skool.sux)
> I have some pet theories as to why UseNet at large is so upset by
> Canter & Siegal, but this post it getting long enough.) Maybe we can
> take it to a different thread.

Heh, they are still going on about that one in news.admin.policy.

My guess is that all interesting, large discussion groups are eventually
going to be moderated. Between the 'Serdar Argic's, the 'Cantor and
Siegal's, the 'MAKE MONEY FAST's, 'Jesus is Coming Soon's and the
ordinary mass of ignorant, lazy and banal posts from school students and
AOL users, the S/N ratio for serious groups is just going to drop too
low. The only thing I'm thankfull for is that none of the loonies above
have started targeting mailing lists. I know Gil Hardwick was /kicked
[IRC jargon] off this list, but imagine what things would be like if
that sort of thing were happening every few days. I can just see it: one
month waiting periods before one is allowed to post, countered by
programs that subscribe to lists and just ignore all mail from them for
a month before using them to post reams of propaganda; companies that
'sell' Internet advertising services and produce cleverer and cleverer
methods of penetrating screening systems; and so on.

> Personally, I rather appreciate the nondirection of Anthro-L.
> Otherwise I'd have to go to the Tavern with some other grad students
> for this kind of freeflow discussion, and even that's difficult to
> keep going after the fourth beer.

I guess I've been here long enough that I've got to know lots of the
people, so I now have a 'social investment' in the list. I also have an
'intellectual investment' in that I don't have to explain where I'm
coming from again every time I post.

Danny Yee.
(Who is trying to write a paper on this stuff, and will hopefully have it
ready for your perusal sometime soon.)