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[pct-l] email list dynamics

Hello All -

I received a request the other day for info on the "airwashing" technique
that I had mentioned during the thread on foot problems way back when.  I
had described airwashing in a later message ("Re: Shoe Size", 25 Oct), but
I had buried the description so deeply into a long message (behind a couple
of unrelated topics) that it was missed completely by the person who was

As luck would have it, this episode occurred just as I was composing the
"Welcome to ..." message for a new list I am helping to get started.  It
isn't all that often that we can write up the "how to's" and "how not to's"
of an email mailing list based on (fresh!) hard-won personal experience

It occurred to me that PCT-L'ers just might be able to offer some help with
the "Welcome to..." message.  I have a strong hunch that "lists are
lists"...the similarity of list-dynamics will outweigh the differences in

I will dig out the airwashing description and post it to the list in a
later message (I would like to know how other distance hikers have fared
with similar techniques).

I will append a chunk of the intro message I am working on to this
message...in the hopes that folks with a general interest in list dynamics
will help me make it better.  Things should be a little slow over the
holiday weekend, so maybe this won't get in the way of the interesting
threads that have been popping up lately on PCT-L!

******<Part I of intro message follows>******

Welcome to LNT-L!

The following introductory message is divided into three main sections
(Section IV will be deleted when the list is no longer in "startup mode"):

I - List "policy"
II - Admin odds and ends
III - Technical stuff
IV - Startup considerations (temporary)

Take a look at this intro and stick it back somewhere for future reference.
Section III lists the various commands that we might choose to use from
time to time to make list-life a little easier.

I - List "policy"

This list is provided for open and frank discussion of any and all issues
related to the Leave No Trace (LNT) "world-use" philosophy (backcountry
use, frontcountry use, urban outdoor use, world use...sounds like a good
discussion topic!).

This statement of purpose is intended to be more of a focus than a
limitation as we use this list.  As with most things, LNT-L comes to us
with both good news and bad news:

The good news is that it isn't too hard to realize the full power of this
highly interactive (and highly iterative) discussion medium.  All we need
is for a bunch of folks with diverse backgrounds, various personal
strengths, and a strong mutual interest (LNT!) to start bouncing ideas off
of one another.  One idea leads to another and that to yet another...often
ping-ponging for weeks before discussion settles down.  Sometimes the
discussion thread just meanders around, giving everybody a chance to
exchange information and to share viewpoints...a fine opportunity for a
little learning and a lot of networking.  Once in a great while the
idea-exchange stretches everybody's thinking a little and we all surprise
ourselves into some interesting food for thought that is completely

The bad news is that nobody has unlimited time.  We need to keep a little
focus to the discussions or we will loose valuable participation from those
who don't want to wade through "10 yards" of discussion to get to the "2
inches" that most interests them.

Too tight a focus and we might as well be reading a snail-mail
newsletter...too loose a focus and the only subscribers left will be those
who like to stay up late at night!   Fortunately, there are a few "tricks"
to using email lists that we can fairly easily put to work:

        We can always take a discussion "private" by sending directly to an
individual's email address instead of to the list as a whole. This works
well when we know FOR SURE that nobody else would be interested in the
conversation.  The downside, of course, is that we loose the chance for
other viewpoints (and possible synergy) in the discussion.

        We can stay willing to allow (and encourage!) parallel discussion
threads.  Sometimes we get trapped into feeling that the discussion thread
that interests us most should be the only thread going.  Multiple threads
may be a little hard to follow sometimes, but they certainly help to make
the list interesting to more contributors at any given time.

        When we post, we can use the "Subject:" field on our email message
as a true indicator of the content.  Unfortunately, it's way too easy to
forget to edit the "Subject:" field as the real subject evolves as we
"Reply to" back and forth.  Keeping the "Subject:" field accurate helps us
all pick and choose which discussion threads to spend our scarce time on.

        We can use the "pyramid" rule that we learned in journalism class.
If the message we are writing is going to be a tad lengthy, we can let the
first paragraph of the message be an overview of all that follows.  The
reader then has the option of delving deeper into the message for more
detail (and our good arguments <g>) or of budgeting their time by jumping
to another discussion thread.

        We can use multiple messages for discussing multiple subjects,
instead of trying to cram everything into a single message.  Individual
messages for each subject (with accurate "Subject:" fields!) allows readers
to zero in on the subjects of most interest.

        We can be careful with our quoting.  Most email reader software
(SW) allows us to put up entire messages in quotes as we "Reply to".  Doing
just enough quoting allows interested readers to keep on top of a busy
discussion thread that is happening in the middle of a bunch of other busy
discussion threads.  Doing too much quoting buries everyone in needless
reading and sometimes even makes it impossible to understand a "Reply to"
viewpoint.  Almost always, all but the briefest quoted messages should be
severely edited down to only that one small part that is needed to make our
own "Reply to" fully understandable to someone just joining into the
discussion.  If we are new to our email reader SW and don't yet know how to
control the quoting, there is always someone on the list who can help
out...we just gotta ask <g>.

        We can stay willing to let a subject "go around" again.  New
subscribers don't have any way of knowing that a given topic (of special
interest to the group) might have been debated over and over in the past.
If the list has been interested enough to debate the topic at length, it
stands to reason that a new subscriber would likely share that same
interest!  We can stay ready to give it another shot (who knows, maybe the
"last word" hasn't been discovered yet <g>).  A clever set of subscribers
should be able to figure out a way to "capture" the essence of past
discussions, so that a new round of discussion has a chance to build on
(instead of just repeating) past efforts!  ("pro, con, and other viewpoint"
FAQ files, perhaps)

        We can stay willing to give the other folks some slack.  If they
make a flat statement that raises the hackles on the back of our neck, we
can always give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that maybe, just
maybe, they were NOT an arrogant S.O.B.!

        Maybe they were trying to be funny ...or were just expressing an
opinion ...or were attempting to look at both sides ...or were simply a
little tangled up in the "facts" as they remember them.  Maybe they were
"trolling" (trying to start an argument just because they enjoy seeing
folks get bent out of shape)...or maybe they were just having a really
(Really, REALLY) bad day!

We don't have to get trapped into being a debating society...nobody has got
to "win" -

We CAN decide to let our goal be the fun process of having a really good
discussion ...about the pro's and con's of a subject that we all enjoy!

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