They’re as plain as the Big Chief tablets generations of school kids learned to write on. They require no terribly sophisticated tools to set up and keep running. Gaining entry usually only means having a working e-mail address, an Internet connection, and the ability to send e-mail. Stashing away an important message is as easy as archiving any other piece of e-mail. Mailing lists, the Model T of electronic discussion, offer up no fancy bells, whistles and alluring features. They’ve duked it out with fancy web forums, and they won.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to be among an august group of private beta testers for a brand spanking new social networking project for the legal profession. Oddly enough, while I was asked to keep the details of the project “under wraps” without being asked to execute any kind of non-disclosure agreement, at the same time I was invited to promote the site as something new for the profession. Just how quiet, secret testing was supposed to take place in a parallel space with promotion is beyond me. (Contact me directly if you’re legally minded.)
Promising cutting-edge social networking for the legal community, this project offered up a carnival of blogs, discussion groups, profiles, wikis, the ability to search out other members on a people map, and a host of articles on practice management, careers, education, work, life and community. The only things missing were the sounds of an organ-grinder and a ringmaster promising a “really big show.”
The exciting new product, which purportedly is intended to ultimately replace plain ol’ mailing lists, was definitely not as thrilling as watching 1950’s episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show on HD TV. What went wrong? Was the new product a day late and a dime short? Or was it trying to offer each of its potential users everything under the sun, even if it in a watered-down version? As far as the concept of electronic discussion groups, it just plain missed the mark. There are times when the plain and simple, tried-and-true, formats remain the superior product. Mailing lists are going to be around for a long, long time.