Unofficial IxDA ReaderFor the past few weeks, I've been working on an unofficial web reader for the interaction design mailing list (ixda.org). I've been reading the list since grad school and even though the ixda list has amazing content, the fundamental nature of e-mail lists makes it difficult to follow everything that's going on without quite a bit of effort. The web reader is an attempt to bring some clarity to the overall conversation and make it easier to cherry pick what's interesting to me.
Now that I've released it into the wild, I've been thinking about why e-mail lists still exist, and what makes them better or worse than blogs.
Yahoo runs a service called Yahoo Groups, which is essentially a mailing list with a web front-end. Not too different from what I've done. I subscribe to a few CMU lists though Yahoo, but they're all low volume. I never check the site; I think of those lists as existing within the world of e-mail, not the world of the web.
Until I built this reader, that's how I thought of the IxDA list. Somehow, a community exists within the pathways of the e-mail universe... reified by the list. But in order to see inside, you have to subscribe. It's free, but it's an explicit decision to join a community. Most blogs aren't like that. You can come and go as you please. Show up, read the posts and leave without a trace. There's no sense of membership.
I considered putting a response form on my IxDA reader so people could post comments directly from the web. It isn't technically difficult to make this thing run exactly like a blog. But for some reason I'm wary of severing the connection between e-mail and the list. Do you lose something without the constant trickle of e-mail into your inbox? Without a digital tether to the community? I don't know.
I haven't read my e-mail for the mailing list in about a month; I've been interacting with it almost exclusively through the web interface. It's become a place for me. As other people jump on board, I'm interested to see how the community evolves.
From my experience adding a RSS feed would help, instead of looking towards your inbox you look at your feed reader. Between the different lists I'm sign up with and different blogs I can keep up to date on all of them with feeds. Since I use my Gmail address for most email lists I can take advantage of Gmails tags and RSS feeds for the inbox and individual tags.
There is some buzz growing around the IxDA group. Now that I am leaving the AIGA as a board member in Kansas City, I really hope to take everything we have done succesfully (tripled membership and revenue) into this new organization. I have been engaged in debates on the national level because Kansas City has had/has several people on the national board of the AIGA. They are making some great strides with the AIGA, however, the IxD community is underserved, as was the IA community when they branched off.
As far as the email list, it seems bizarre to me. It is really antiquated. I would never sign up for a Yahoo Group with the option to send all posts as email. But with the IxDA group... wow, I am learning so much because of the self moderation and intelligence of the posters. I am a huge believer in randomly discovering things, and I like the list the way it is. I am sure this will change as the popularity grows. I love how personal it is right now. I have sent at least 3 large coporation towards this list, it is going to get popular. But that is a good thing.
Which brings me to the last point... if anything, that site and list needs a major visual overhaul.