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July 30, 2008

I don't really miss the ASAE listserves

Has anyone else grown weary of the discussions on ASAE's four bazillion listserves? After about ten consecutive years as a subscriber to one or more of ASAE's listserves, to say the content has gotten tired and predictable would be an epic understatement. You know the drill on these lists:

  • "Can anyone recommend a good restaurant for a board retreat in Omaha?"
  • "Help, I need a new membership card vendor!"
  • "Any strategic planning consultants you'd suggest?"
  • "What's the average retention rate for the association industry?"
  • "I have this sticky staffing situation..."
  • "[profound social media topic du jour]"
  • "[I'm a vendor replying to your message with a painfully obvious attempt to sell you and everyone else listening. And softly of course.]"
  • ...and everyone's favorite: "A Friday question..." :-)
Ugh. It's sad. These listserves are supposed to be like the members-only lounges of ASAE; the conversation cafes where you can talk shop in a highly relevant context. Frankly, I've found more relevance amongst those in the blogocluster (hat tip to JDC for that one) than on the ASAE listserves. The signal to noise ratio on ASAE's listserves has diminished to the point where my investment of time is generating a diminishing return.

Therefore, a few weeks ago I tried to hack my ASAE listserve subscriptions into something less, shall we say, tedious. It was a good effort, but as is often the case, it turns out my hack was a complete and utter fail. Along the way, though, a strange thing happened. I barely noticed they were gone. I hardly miss those lists!

Always endeavoring to be a constructive critic, here are some of my ideas to improve the listserve experience:
  • Upgrade the software. Lyris for DOS, while lightweight, is NOT feature rich. Upgrade the software. All kidding aside, the software must be a good five years old. Upgrade the software.
  • Split the big lists into smaller groups. Not sure what that ideal number should be, but there's a reason that the early internet chat rooms filled up and spilled over into other rooms.
  • Find a way to kill the out of office replies before they reach my digest. Probably achievable with an upgrade.
  • Offer an RSS feed for each list. A secure one, if it must be so to protect the value of membership.
  • Enforce the listserve rules. In particular...
  • Banish from the list anyone who replies to the digest and leaves the full contents of the digest in the body of the reply for a week or maybe a month.
So, as I try to repair my hack, I'll be dark on ASAE's listserves. But please, drop me a tweet to let me know what that great restaurant in Omaha is called.

Tagged: ; ; ;


Maddie Grant said...

OMG. Lindy and I had the EXACT SAME DISCUSSION yesterday. I have been hanging on, thinking I might glean some insight prior to my finally taking the CAE in December - But I really can't take it any more. Your post has encouraged me to log off for a while and see if I miss them.

Lindy Dreyer said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was being a heretic a year ago when I muttered aloud that the listservs needed to be retooled. Why can't it convert my "Rich Txt" messages to plain text for me with out throwing an error? Why isn't it ridiculously easy to search for answers before asking questions that have been answered before? Why oh why do I get 30 out of office replies for every post?

A tool that important, with that large of an audience, deserves a big investment in technology and staff time.

Matt Baehr said...

I litterally thought about this today as I went through my email. I hate Lyris and the way the emails look. It makes me want to stop reading right then.

I am with you.

Tony Rossell said...

Hi Ben -- Have you been taking nasty pills the last week :-)? Listserves are bad, associations are bad. What next baseball and apple pie?

I still like the listserves for a couple of reasons. Yes, they can have elementary questions, but for some people that is the level where they are in their career. I for one like to help people with solutions to their questions even if they are basic.

I also feel like the listserves really provide a first read on new issues that are coming up in associations. For example, earlier this week there was a discussion on corporations paying for memberships for their customers and employees. I found the responders take on this to be very interesting.

Could they be improved? Yes, but they still do provide a valuable service. I will agree that for deeper dialog and insights the blog world does a better job than the listserves. Tony

David M. Patt, CAE said...

Interesting view, Tony. Many newbies could benefit from the tips of experienced folk whose advice could be very helpful.

Additionally, listservs could be restructured to include people of different levels of experience or various types of interests that don't coincide with existing groupings.

Crazy Cat Lady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky Granger said...

Ok, I gotta jump in here. No, the listservs aren't perfect (seriously, what's up with the plain text thing?!?) but, I would miss them, for sure, particularly the technology section list. I've posted many questions over the last year and every time, I've gotten feedback that has helped me make a decision. Maybe I only get 3 or 4 responses, but I'll take that any day. My 2 cents. :-)

Jeff De Cagna said...

Thanks for the plug. For the record though, it's JSD, not JDC.

Overall, I agree that listserver conversations are routinely mundane. But since I get the digests, I just scan them and determine whether there is anything worth reading. To me, it's just another channel that I can tune out when necessary.

Your point on RSS feeds is well taken. With all the travel I do, I am accessing more content on my handheld device and it would be nice to consolidate listserver feeds into my reader. In addition, listserver posts are increasingly filled with junk, i.e, html formatting and people resending whole threads, that make them very difficult to read on a handheld.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

@maddie & lindy We know there is better stuff out there. That's why it's so frustrating.

@matt Later versions of Lyris are better. With a little customization, Lyris can be really nice.

@Tony I don't think associations are bad, but I have been a little snarky recently. I'll try to say something nice soon. ;-)

@david I think you're on to something by grouping the lists into smaller chunks

@Becky, yeah the Q&A aspect is quite cool. But the same questions seem to get asked over and over. And unless you're asking the questions, the answers are frequently irrelevant.

@JSD_C :-D If there's something you want to read in the digest, then you have to go searching for it... Wading through all the digest replies, etc. RSS would be cool, but just enforcing the rules would be nice.

Scott Oser said...

As someone who posts to a number of the ASAE listservs regularly and reads more than I post I have to chime in. I think that the ASAE listservs definitely have their faults. I can't tell you how many times in the last week I have been tempting to send a screaming email out to a number of the listservs telling people to stop including the entire digest and to stop sending "me, toos." It has been killing me lately and I wish that someone would come out and scream at the people who do it.

That said I do find the listservs to be useful. It is a great place to ask questions and get questions answered. I have used it multiple times when working for associations and while at my own consulting company to get access to knowledge I didn't have.

Do I wish that the listserv looked nicer and was a little more functional and user friendly? Without a doubt. Would I miss them if they were gone? No doubt about that either.

DCKiKi said...

So here's the deal...I totally understand how frustrating the listservs are, but there are those rare times when a really great question comes through and the resulting discussion is notable. Does it happen often? No. Should the technology be updated? Definitely. But I still have a soft spot for the listservs (especially Component Relations) because of those rare gems ...I hope ASAE will update the technology soon.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

@kiki I'm with ya. If the gems were more frequent, I'd feel differently.

Dennis D. McDonald said...

It's not the technology it's the lack of management and moderation that make listservs so frustrating. They may be old tech but they could perform better if someone were watching over - but that takes time. I find that Twitter can be just as frustrating.