Re: WWW Conferencing

David R. Woolley (drwool@skypoint.com)
Thu, 8 Jun 1995 08:18:36 -0700


Ralph Wilson says:

>It seems to me that listserver conferencing "comes to you,"
>while Web conferencing you have to deliberately go out and find.
>Have you had enough experience to weigh the pros and cons of
>listserver vs. Web conferencing?

Ralph, you've mentioned one of the biggest advantages of e-mail: it just 
shows up in your mailbox. Its other advantage is that it's the lowest 
common denominator of Internet services. It reaches more people than any 
other avenue.

The main problem with mailing lists is that they don't provide any 
structure. E-mail messages are not organized by topic. 

If you only subscribe to one or two mailing lists, and the traffic on your 
lists is fairly light, the lack of structure might not strike you as a 
problem. But when a mailing list gets a lot of traffic, and especially 
when it develops several different threads of conversation simultaneously, 
it gets very difficult to keep track of it all. For this reason it's rare 
to see more than two or three active threads in a mailing list. On the 
other hand, on a good conferencing system, a single conference can easily 
support dozens of active topics.

E-mail also puts more of a burden on individual users, who have to sort, 
file, or delete all the messages. I find this to be a pain even with a 
good e-mail program like Eudora, which can automate some of the sorting 
and filing.

Mailing lists show another drawback when it comes to supporting fast-paced 
discussions. There is an inherent time lag in broadcasting e-mail 
messages, sometimes measured in hours. If someone asks a question, several 
people might answer it, not realizing that they are duplicating efforts. 
But in a conferencing system that resides at a central location, everyone 
reading a topic can be sure they are seeing everything that has been 
written up to this very moment. In a very active topic, it's still 
possible for another response to slip in while you're composing your own, 
but it's much less of a problem because the only delay is the amount of 
time it takes you to type your response.

There, have I slammed e-mail enough? I should note that we seem to be 
using e-mail fairly effectively for this discussion, so it does have its 
uses.

All my comments apply to mailing lists vs. conferencing in general. 
Whether the conferencing system is Web-based or not doesn't really matter.