When Mailing Lists Turn Into Online Forums

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Mattias Geniar, April 08, 2015

Follow me on Twitter as @mattiasgeniar

Mailman 3.0 would introduce a powerful feature to turn mailing lists into online bulletin boards.

If you’re into Open Source, chances are you’ve googled a problem and found a solution on an obscure website, filled with pre-formatted text that looks like it came from the ‘80s. Congratulations, you were helped by a mailing list archive.

The software responsible for running most of these mailing lists, Mailman, has a big update ready.

HyperKitty is a Django-based archiver application that replaces Pipermail. It provides a modern web interface to browse and search archived messages and threads.

Interestingly, it also allows users to post to discussions, so that by default users can interact with any Mailman mailing list as though it were a web forum, if they prefer.

The online demo looks impressive.

mailman_3_demo

But I’m not convinced this is a move for the better.

I’ve often found a mailing list post after some Google searches, wanting to reply and spending several minutes searching for the mailing-list subscription, finding the right thread, … Honestly, mailing lists are a bit of a mess.

But at the same time, they’re not a forum. Not in the sense that we know them today. There are no (well: very little) trolls on mailing lists. Those who take the effort of signing up to a mailing list aren’t doing it to curse at others or to be violent. They do so to stay informed, to interact and to help people.

I fear that turning our beloved mailing lists into online forums would mean the death of “mailing list quality posts” as we know it.

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