Facebook and Twitter have transformed the way people communicate with family, friends and long-lost classmates. But electronic mailing lists like LISTSERV and Yahoo! Groups remain the tool of choice at the neighborhood level. It's how many people share advice about local services, sell stuff and debate community issues. Tech Tuesday explores the history and enduring power of email groups, and examines the future of neighborhood communications.
Insights into your Social Graph
A growing body of academic research explores how people and online communities are adapting-- or failing to adapt-- to new technology and social platforms:
- Dunbar’s Number: Robin Dunbar, a professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, argues that there is a finite number of stable social relationships that the human brain can maintain. It is generally thought that the number is between 100 and 230 relationships.
- Context Collapse: When a person is interacting face to face, they can adjust their tone and presentation to fit into their social environment. When someone posts to their Facebook or Twitter accounts, the social environment is more complex: Is it appropriate to post pictures of your kids that can be seen by casual work acquaintances? In the context of expanding social networks, the value and context of our different networks may be diminishing.
- Lurker: People online who read discussions (on email lists, message boards, social networking) but rarely or never actively participate. Lurkers make up the vast majority of online groups.
Interesting Local-Focused Companies and Communities
- NextDoor: A neighborhood social network that allows neighbors to talk online. It can be used to exchange advice about things such as babysitters and home repair companies. NextDoor can also be used to quickly communicate with your neighbors if, for example, there is a break in or a lost dog.
- Common Place: A community social network that makes it easier to communicate among neighbors. It can be used to organize community events, exchange advice, and spread news. Common Place does not exist in all neighborhoods, but you can nominate your community to join the social network.
- Path: A social network that is similar to facebook because it allows you to share updates about your life, including photos and videos. However, Path limits each member to 150 friends so that your communication is more personal and less public. Path’s 150 friend limit is based on Dunbar’s Number.
- Family Leaf: A social network site that allows you to privately share updates and photos with your family.
- Patients Like Me: A social networking site that allows patients to share their health experiences with other people who share their condition.
- OhSoWe: A website that allows neighbors to share resources (items and skills) in order to save money and be green.
- NeighborGoods and Favor Tree: NeighborGoods is a website that allows people to share items such as ladders and books. In August, Neighborgoods will be closing and turning into FavorTree, which will also act as a resource sharing site.
Facts About Listservs
Engineering student Eric Thomas invented LISTSERV, a software program to manage and automate email discussion groups, in 1986 in Paris.
LISTSERV is a registered trademark, owned by Thomas' software company. Find guidelines for proper usage of the term here.
As of July 31, 2012, there were 541,232 total LISTSERV lists.
One of the most popular early email lists was LINKFAIL, where users could report Internet outages. LINKFAIL grew so big that its own traffic began to generate network failures.