Saturday, April 09, 2005

Discussion List Theory

I only own one list and it's all I can manage. I'm alternately charmed and frustrated. Starting one is simple - keeping it going is another thing.

On my list, it seems that unless I'm involved on a practically daily basis, conversation stops. There are some others who valiantly try to get discussion going, but it just doesn't happen regularly. I can't figure out the dynamics of that, frankly, but it has been noticed by others - not just me. I'm hoping now that it has been brought to light in list discussion, it will change.

I have come close to just deleting the list but over the past two years it has been a wonderful, thought provoking, special thing at times. But I do also wonder if lists simply have a lifespan.

I'm also on a list that has over 1000 people and less than 5% of them have ever posted. I wonder what they other 95% are doing there. Obviously, you can't have 1000 people posting, but it would be nice for a larger percentage of them to talk. The owner of that group shares some of my same frustrations about lists in general.

I have made my list a no lurking zone and have whittled it down to a small group. Periodically I go through and delete people who are not participating. It seems most list owners disagree with me, but I contend that discussion lists are for DISCUSSION, not reading.

People always tell me that people are participating in their own ways if they're not posting. I don't see it that way. If you're not giving of yourself to the list, you're only taking from it. If you're reading along, you're not doing anything that helps make the net an interesting place to be. A discussion list is not a magazine - it's for discussion and people who don't want to participate by posting are using it inappropriately. If I wanted to just publish something people could read, I'd start a newsletter. I wanted conversation and input and to share with others of like mind, so I started a discussion list.

It has been curious to see how my own views have had to be defined while doing this. I have zero tolerance for "chit chat" on discussion lists and quickly get away from any that do that. So, how do you discourage that? Some don't - some like it. That's one of the tricky things about being a list owner. You have to figure out how to categorize the things you like/don't like - and communicate that, which is even harder.

It's also interesting that there are certain people who are integral to a list and its health. I'm not sure if it's a certain mix of personality types or what, but I know there are some people that when they stop posting - on my own list or others - the list dynamics change dramatically. How do you attract and keep those people? I don't know. But that seems to be something important for list owners to do. I don't do it because I don't know how, but I think it's a critical thing. If you have a list of 1000 people, it seems you'd always have the right mix, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Lists are always dominated by a few people and who those people are, and what their views are, is the "feel" of the list.

What is the difference in a list of 1000 people where 20 people are posting and a list of 40 people where 20 people are posting? It's really all the same - it's all about those 20 people.

One of the reasons I want everyone on my list to participate is that I think that makes the list more interesting for everybody. Another reason is that I wanted to limit the "borderline personality types" that seem to crop up on every list at some point. They're the always have to be right, have the last word, can't let anything drop, types. The larger the list, the more likelihood you'll get one or more of these folks. They're far more prevelant online than they are in real life. So, when one crops up on a list, I start sending all the email from that list automatically to my trash until they move on.

I think lists are fabulous for connecting with people who have similar interests, that you perhaps can't find wherever you are. But, I think they also lead people to believe they have "friends" and "relationships" that don't really exist. I call them psuedo-friends. If you don't know where someone lives, if you can't call them in the middle of the night, if they can just stop talking on a list and they're gone from your life then they're not a friend. That is not what friendship is made of. Friendship is a living, breathing entity that needs more contact than screen time.

This ties in with another of my theories about the "real world" and the artificial world, which is where most of us live.

People are forgetting very basic things like how to cook so we can feed ourselves - incredibly basic. And we're forgetting how to make friends and have connection. I LOVE my computer - but I keep my online "relationships" in proper perspective. A friendship has to involve more than words on a screen.

One of the disheartening things I've learned being a list owner is that people will just lie through their teeth (fingers) to you. I'm very clear that participation is required before people are approved for membership. And yet people will say they will participate and then we don't hear from them again until I bump them off and then they'll email me wanting back on. Some people are legit - they joined and something changed in their lives - but some are just devoted to being lurkers. I know many don't agree with me and they can run their list anyway they want, but I find lurking bizarre, and more than a little rude.

My theory is that discussion lists can be wonderful connection or dangerous confusion for people. Lately, many are becoming nothing more than ads for people's blogs.

I do wonder how far from reality we are going to get - we went from having face to face conversation to having screen conversation and now some don't even want to do that - we want to have monologues and let others read them on our blogs.

So... here's an update on my blog... thanks for reading...

The MCC Sale - A Piece of Americana

Greg and I went to the MCC sale tonight. They're held in various places, but this is the only place I've ever lived where there is one. The money is used to relieve hunger all over the world. The Mennonites here are a wonderful group - conservative but not radical.

We always do the German buffet. There's always a line about three blocks long to get into the building. It's better now that we have a new food building at the fair. They serve a variety of things that you'd never get any where else.

At our sale there are lots and lots of quilts to auction off, as well as other goodies. People make quilts to donate all year long. They have them on these racks, and cover them with plastic so people don't get them dirty.

Hundreds of volunteers here help make this happen tonight, and I can't imagine how many thousands of hours occur beforehand to cook all the food. Years ago I did a story about making food for the MCC sale. I went to a church and talked to the ladies. They were making verenike, which is a cottage cheese filled pastry covered with ham gravy. I know, it doesn't sound good, but it really is.

Hundreds of people agree as you can see in this photo. We sat on the balcony and could see down into the main area. You can see people snaking into the door from the outside line. At the far end are the lines you go through to get your food. It's quite an amazing operation - very, very, very organized. They've thought of everything. There are even people with flags to indicate where there are empty seats when it's really busy.

The sale here has tons of handwork, including this 50 inch round doily. Yes, that's not a typo - 50 inches. It will be auctioned tomorrow, along with the quilts.

I'm always amazed at the effort that people go to and the time involved in making some of these things. I have made one small quilted wallhanging. I can't imagine the effort involved in one of these wonderful, intricate pieces. I'd love to own one of these but they go for prices far out of my range.

They also sell crafts and plants and other cool goodies. I bought some Christmas ornaments and some old cookbooks I'm going to enjoy looking through. From 1954 is "250 Delectable Desserts." There's also a chocolate one from 1950 that has some photos from Gourmet. Anyway, they'll be fun to look through. Maybe I'll have some new recipes to share here soon.