Why do mailing lists thrive when message boards fail? Almost every active mailing list, once it reaches a certain size, flirts with the notion of converting itself to a message board. There’s something seductive about the allure of a message board, fueled by an application fancier and more elaborate than mailing list packages. Crossing that threshold can be a dangerous step for a successful mailing list.
Mailing lists push, and message boards pull. What does that mean? The mailing list delivers each message to every subscriber’s inbox, pushing itself at even the laziest subscriber; participants to a message board must make the effort to go to the web-based board. Busy subscribers need the push of a mailing list, because the trip to a message board can easily fall into the category of optional activities, postponement leading to forgetting about it entirely. The personal nature of push, right down to each message delivered to the subscriber with his very own name at the top, keeps subscribers invested and develops a sense of community that just isn’t present in pull systems.
Message boards can be configured to deliver many features that mailing lists offer, notifying subscribers of new posts, enabling subscribers to receive notification of new posts made under a certain thread. Archived posts reside right on the message board, while mailing list subscribers must access archives separately from the list itself. Web-based systems seem better suited for narrowly defined and technical subject areas than general discussion about broader issues. Consequently, users may visit a message board with less frequency, on an as-needed basis, losing contact with the online community. The seeming anonymity and lack of personalization creates less involvement in the pull system of a message board.
Except in moderated lists, a post made is a bell that can’t be unrung. It’s out there and delivered to all subscribers, even when that post may veer from the list’s subject matter and standards. Message boards offer the luxury of removing errant posts. Mailing list subscribers shoulder a greater burden of responsibility for posts.