Email list and forum

Gordon H via pbs
Sun, 19 Feb 2023 08:29:47 PST
Some thoughts on choosing a medium for discussion.

Yes, the email list is antiquated and a slow, unsatisfying experience. The
problem of replying to everyone when you meant to reply to one person has
been an unsolved problem forever, at least since I subscribed about 10
years ago, so at this point, I hope no one is going to waste time
apologizing when it's clear that it's the technology that is flawed, not
user behavior. When users repeatedly make mistake, it's not their fault,
it's that the technology does not appropriately account for user behavior.
Users and email readers have been complaining about Reply-All for decades.
Finally, modern mail systems have built-in warnings and other things such
as "do you really mean to reply to everyone?" etc. Defaults should be clear
to users, and embarassment must be easily avoided by default. This is one
of the fundamental lessons of User Interface design in the software
industry over the last decades. Email lists will apparently never solve

Add to that the slowness and friction of email (opening each individual
message, reading one line of text in someone's reply, closing it, opening
the next one, etc.) and how it's intermixed with all your other email,
doesn't have photos, and has a very poor signal to noise ratio in terms of
screen real estate (lots of repetitions of previous posts quoted or
included in current emails, header text, signatures, etc.)

Facebook solved all the problems with email and created a wonderful
interface where all the replies to a beautiful multimedia post are right
there next to it, you can easily see the whole conversation at once. No
opening or closing individual emails, no wasted screen real estate with
endless headers and previous emails embedded, etc.

And yet, Facebook became a corporate machine that in many ways turned
against many of its users, attempting to control their speech, censoring
them, shutting down posts that AI algorithms incorrectly identify as spam
or otherwise problematic, shadowbanning people and groups, etc., so a
sizeable portion of the population is mistreated, violated and upset about
it. While it is less of a problem for non-controversial content focused on
plants and gardening, there's no getting around the fact that any
organization that relies on Facebook for its communication system is
beholden to a corporate agenda, and there is no guarantee that
platform-wide AI algorithms won't cause problems with no recourse. Facebook
works well for mainstream thinkers, who don't see any problem with shutting
down alternative thought, so many people will not see what I've just
described as a genuine problem, but it really is. A Facebook group would
only consist of the subset of people who agree with the ideology of the
platform owners, or at least willing to tolerate a social environment
controlled by that ideology (and not by actual people, but by programmed
bots without any accountability).

So that leaves independently managed forums that are wholly under the
control of the owners. The question is how well-designed is the technology
for the users, and the second question is how to keep PBS in people's
awareness.  So I think what I've seen other forums do is provide some
reminders with links to the forum in email.  Not every post, but if someone
replies to your post, you see a notification in email. Or maybe an
occasional email with some links to posts that have been recently popular.
I admit I've been slow to migrate to the forum, but having reminders of the
exciting posts there would help with that.

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