Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The End of the Internet Mailing List? Part II

In my previous post, I outlined the (in my opinion) glory days and slow change (some might even say decline) of email-based lists such as the Dinosaur Mailing List. That post ended with a question - what happened?

What Happened to Mailing Lists?
In short, the Internet matured. 10 or 15 years ago, mailing lists were really the only game in town (aside from a handful of themed chat rooms). If you were a dinosaur fan, you joined the Dinosaur Mailing List. Today, you can choose between the DML, various internet forums, social networks, and blogs. Simultaneously, the user community has exploded. Literally hundreds--and perhaps even thousands--of folks follow, comment, and create paleo content on the web every day. The conversation has not only moved, it has expanded into a variety of niches.

In the rest of this post, and the next post, I'll focus on two technologies in particular: social networking and blogs.

Social Networking and the Paleontologist
Over the past year or two, I have found that I get much of my informal news and gossip from Facebook. In fact, Facebook is the primary method of communication that I have with some colleagues, even above email. Facebook is quick, easy, and allows for real-time chat. Over the past few weeks, I learned nearly immediately who had SVP abstracts accepted and rejected, and often get up-to-the-minute reports of manuscript acceptances, fieldwork successes (and failures), and other details from status postings. At its best, Facebook provides a level of casual (sometimes too casual) interaction with many of my far-flung colleagues on a daily basis - a finger on the pulse of the community. The informal nature of Facebook and similar sites mean that, for now, it probably won't replace mailing lists for announcement of new papers or serious discussion. But, social networking sites certainly offer a fun and informative way to keep in touch with other paleo types.

Thoughts? Alternative Perspectives?

Coming up. . .Blogging and the Paleontological Community


Anonymous said...

Hey Andy,

Facebook is cool, but its weird because its the intersection of my science friends, family, and people i hardly remember from high school, and others. And I've now noticed (along with several others) that one should be very careful what one should write on it because the fast, largely public way news travels regardless of "friendship". Or at least others should police their own comments better. I've quickly deleted some of my more snippy comments, but someone likely read them. Same goes with blogs I suppose, the moderator can always press "delete". Also you gotta give Witmerlab credit for its ubiquity but also making a nice FB page with graphics/movies that previously wouldn't get out of the lab much past a talk or two. Now with more movie/graphic friendly publication vehicles, that may change. So that is a good use of FB or Youtube as a vehicle for dissemination. But in general I like that, now, aside from rare personal emails, I can actually keep in touch with collegues I'd only see once or twice a year. previously.

I do lurk on the DML, and have for years, and almost posted the other day when cheeks came up, maybe I should have. But it seems to me, that because it can't be policed by the delete button, most topics get jacked or trolled. I make use of the VP list when advertising positions and its a great tool for that and other announcements such as museum closings, land use. conferences, journal TOCs etc..

So i think the social networking is useful and generally beneficial for creating stronger ties with collegues. Everyone recognizes the drudgery and excitement that frequent everyone else's lives/professions, which makes science/paleo that much more transparent.


Andy said...

Thanks for the comment, Casey. I agree about the need to be careful on Facebook - I am somewhat glad I (and my friends) never had such things during our high school or college days. And, I absolutely love what Witmerlab has been doing with Facebook/Youtube. Now if only more folks (myself included) would do so! I think it presents a tremendous opportunity for public outreach.

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Matt BK said...

I've been thinking about this type of thing for the last few days, and while searching for any sort of paleo society mailing list (is there one?) in hopes of finding a job someday I stumbled back here.

I don't feel comfortable using Facebook for science because, as Casey already pointed out, it gets mixed up with everyone else you know. I'm excited about the possibilities of Academia.edu and ResearchGate for "academic social networking" just because it lets me keep my friends in one place and potential colleagues in another.

The fall of the internet mailing list (not that they are all gone, nor will they probably ever be) is something of a loss for those of us seeking answers from people we might not already know. If I have a question on morphometrics, I can post on morphmet, for example, but what about particular subdisciplines that have no such list? I then have to track down someone who I think knows something and bug them, rather than asking "the list" and probably having better odds that someone will answer (although I think the bystander effect may occur there sometimes).

Not only that, but there is a certain amount of knowledge you can gain just by lurking on these lists. With the more defined relationships inherent in the Facebook model, you only automatically see posts from people who are your friends. I think the tagging ability of Twitter, Academia.edu, Diaspora, and (to some extent) ResearchGate--with the ability to easily follow or search for certain tags--could make these systems very similar to the mailing lists of old, with the addition of all the social networking goodness that has been developed.