[OPE-L:1566] Use of lists

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Tue, 26 Mar 1996 19:03:35 -0800

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Hi everyone;

Regarding the sister lists, which I welcome, a number of options should
perhaps be considered. Two issues seem to me to have emerged (no claim
they are the only issues):

Issue 1

Can we cut the 'tyranny of volume' - henceforth SWOP (Sheer Weight Of Postings)
- eg by separating out long, considered posts which would by agreement be replied
to less frequently, from shorter, rapid-fire exchanges?

Issue 2

Can we resolve the conflicting needs of privacy and public dissemination/
wider participation?

Issue 2 exercises me the most. I should come clean and say that on the whole I
am with Jerry in favouring some means of making our discussion available to a wider
public although this should absolutely not be done against the will of listmembers
who are unhappy with the idea. In support of this can I explain that OPE for me,
like many other members I am sure, complements other discussions outside of OPE.
To the extent that friends and colleagues outside OPE cannot have access to what
I write inside OPE, there is a conflict, which I do find embarrassing and

I also remain unhappy about a list in which it remains unclear who can, and
who cannot, take part. I accept (but do not share) the consensus view that the
list remain closed. This view arises from experiences I did not suffer so I must
accept the strong feelings of those who did. But this does not resolve the nagging
problem of who exactly gets invited.

We are still adding people. What criteria determine who joins? At the EEA I found
several serious marxists who want to take part. These are not net-freaks, cyberlowlifes
or clones of the great Gonzalo. They are just people who came across OPE later than
me. They tend to be surprised to find that a list exists to which they were not
invited and - not unexpectedly - offended to find that if they want to join, they
might not be able to.

This is not a plea to include supporters of my views. On the contrary this reaction
is strongest among people who disagree with me, and for an obvious reason: it is an
added factor of division.

I think more lists allow us to confront this problem but maybe some more work is
needed if they are to solve it. The problem is not whether either list goes open:
it exists even though both are closed. Suppose OPE continues as it is, with its
present membership, and non-OPE members join a sister list. The problem remains: by
what criteria do people go in OPE as opposed to the sister list?

It seems to me that, provided we are satisfied that a proposed new member is
likely to respect a scholarly mode of discussion, there isn't any really valid and
non-offensive reason to exclude them. The only fair procedure would be if we literally
close the list completely and accept no new members at all. Maybe I am prejudiced by
living in a country that practically invented the word 'exclusive' but having spent
most of my life fighting exclusions of one kind or another, I am frankly ill-disposed
to this last solution becoming a permanent fixture.

More structure, less volume?

The real reason for not extending OPE membership is, I think, the volume of
discussion. And I suggest we look at how we might use the sister lists
to address *this* problem; if we can, then no obstacle remains to accepting into
OPE any reasonable or serious proposal for new members.

How could this be done? Well, why not cut the Gordian knot. Let's have a
list - CAP, say - which positively welcomes longer, seminar-type contributions, is open
to new applicants and is *simultaneously* intended for contributions that will be
available in public archives. In that case,

(a) lengthy discussions (eg the Freeman-Skillman Chapter 5 debate) would probably
migrate to this list, removing longer posts and reducing SWOP. Those who like the
hurly-burly of hourly exchanges, and those who like it slower but longer, can separately
but equally indulge their preferences;

(b) those discussions we would like the outside world to see, could be made
available to this outside world without prejudicing the privacy which listmembers
have requested for other parts of the discussion.

(c) new applicants could immediately be added to the new list and contribute usefully
to the discussions.

Then let's see. It may turn out that the new list gets too noisy, in which case,
nothing lost, the discussion on OPE itself remains intact. It may be that there
fall in OPE-SWOP without a countervailing rise in CAP-SWOP, in which case we could
merge the membership of the two lists but use CAP for longer contributions meriting
a slower reply and OPE for quick exchanges. And there may be a use for the third
list, but we can keep it in reserve.

I think my proposal is quite close to Jerry's, though if he feels it differs in one
or other respect he can signal this. It is in summary:

(1) we adopt the self-discipline of engaging in selected, more carefully considered
discussions on one of the new lists, probably CAP (such discussions might usefully
be announced in advance);

(2) we agree that all postings on this new list will be archived in a public place

(3) we agree that all new applicants with reasonable credentials for seriousness can
be added to CAP.

(4) we explain to these new applicants that the only obstacle to immediately joining
OPE is the size of the list and the volume of discussion there.

(5) we *completely* close membership of OPE, that is, we don't accidentally de facto
discriminate between 'acceptable' and 'unacceptable' new members.

(6) after a period we review the membership of both lists on the basis that unless
there is a serious SWOP problem, they should be merged, but with a list structure
and self-discipline designed to create a manageable volume of traffic.

This isn't a hard and fast proposal and I'm sure there are many other possible
solutions. I just wanted to signal, given the consensus for privacy and a closed
debate, that these possibly desirable aims do create problems which we need to
face, and that I hope whatever we do with the sister lists will address these
problems in such a way as to meet conflicting requirements where possible.