[From the dance-tech moderator] Personal mail on the list

Scott A. Sutherland (scott.sutherland@accessone.com)
Sun, 12 Oct 1997 23:31:12 -0800

Hi Everyone, I'm the Scott who doesn't post very often, although I send out
a lot of mail to individual members of the list. I think it's time for me
to put on my "Moderator's hat"...

>I constantly receive mail of a personal nature on this list.
>Dennis Diamond

Dennis asks a very good question, and it gives me a chance to explain my
philosophy concerning mailing lists. There are basically two types of
lists: "moderated lists" where the list owner or moderator controls the
list completely or partially, and "unmoderated" lists where the list owner
is mostly a facilitator and troubleshooter. Both kinds of lists have
significant strengths and weaknesses.

I originally created the dance-tech list as an unmoderated list for several

First of all, as an Internet "old-timer", I sincerely appreciate the
unregulated exchange of ideas that can happen on a mailing list. I believe
whole-heartedly that those of us who help provide the means of
communication should stay the heck out-of-the-way whenever possible. In
many (perhaps most) cases a list moderates itself very well, and in doing
so it builds a sense of community, because individuals step forward and
take leadership responsibility within our shared space. A good example of
this was the recent (rather spirited) discussion of the review of Sarah
Morrison's "Leaping Into the NET!". Both the review and the ensuing
discussion were exactly the sort of thing I want to foster.

Secondly, I didn't want to put myself in the position of having to decide
which postings should go to the list, or (worse yet) who should be allowed
to subscribe.

Lastly, a moderated list suffers from a time lag. Messages don't go out to
the list until the moderator OKs them, so there can be quite a delay if
there is any uncertainty about whether to pass on a message or if the
moderator is simply very busy that week (of course that never happens :-).

As moderator, part of my job is troubleshooting the machinery (with help
from David Ralley at OSU) by subscribing and unsubscribing people manually,
answering questions like "why can't I send mail to the list", and dealing
with the error messages which often outnumber the posts. The rest of the
job -- the most important part, and the part you *don't* see -- is sending
out reminders and inquiries to individuals on the list. The most common
situation is when I wonder whether an individual *truly* meant to send a
particular message to the list. After all, we get very used to hitting
that reply button, and it's easy to forget that the response will go out to
a hundred or so friends and strangers on the list. It's somewhat
embarrassing, so a simple reminder usually does the trick.

Whether or not to send a note is always a judgement call on my part.
Particularly after a list has been around a while, people get to know each
other and so they feel comfortable writing in a style that sounds more
personal. The hard part is determining the mistakes from the intentional
postings. Fortunately, people rarely post *really* personal material, and
so in most cases it simply doesn't matter. Short,
you-did-a-great-job-on-your-website sorts of messages add a lot to the
informal flavor of the list, and they are very easy to skip over, so I
usually just leave them.

Having said all that, we're now seeing enough traffic that it's worth
reevaluating these sorts of decisions. I think it is definitely time to
start sending out a regular list FAQ, but is it time to moderate more fully?

It's your list, let me know what *you* think. If enough people want a more
tightly run list, then I'll throw the switch and start actively moderating
the postings, although I will not moderate subscriptions. Either let me
know privately or hit the reply button and share your opinion with
everybody. I'll wait until the end of the month to decide.

- Scott Sutherland

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