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Posts Tagged ‘blogs Usenet groups anonyimity RSS’

In Praise of Lurking

In Mailing Lists on February 23, 2009 at 12:00 am

Most of us are lurkers (reminds Nilsen), in the sense that we don’t contribute content. However, all of us are lurkers at some point. This article is about the process by which a lurker becomes a contributor.

Once upon a time, we used to have mailing list servers (and/or Usenet groups) which you could “subscribe” to or “unsubscribe” from.

We used to have “lurkers”. You could “lurk” until you were ready to step out and introduce yourself, much like you would do in real life (“Hi, my name is John Doe and I’m an alcoholic”). Posting would get your ID into the archives and to some extent you became. Sure, it wasn’t secure, but most people don’t need total security.

Now, mailing lists are so passe! In 1995, my private email list had about 1000 members. Suppose that now (2009) I would turn the list into a “group” (as in Google group).

Oops, there goes “lurking”! The mailing list subscribers, previously enjoying anonymity, will now always be able to see each other’s email address, even if they never contribute a single comment; or none of them will be able to post. All or none, selected by the group owner. A Google group doesn’t offer a user-selectable “lurker” status; it’s admin-selectable and it’s a group feature. Either no “lurkers” or just “lurkers”.

Let’s take a different path. What if we can turn the newsletter into a blog. You can read RSS anonymously, right, just like you once did with “news:”-readers? And you can use Feedburner to get NEW subscribers, right? But all those existing email subscribers, previously happy to receive emails, will now have to learn RSS. Not too difficult, says Engineering. Conversion will be crappy, says Mar-Com. And my UX consultant notes that overall, along the years, we are increasing simplicity for the author while increasing complexity for the readers. Hmmm.

Am I missing something? I hope so (please comment). It seems to me that the anonymity provided by mailing lists was more flexible and user-customizable than modern blogs, groups and feeds.

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