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29 March, 2004

Anyone know of a good e-mail discussion group?

No, I'm not looking to join one, I'm just wondering if such a thing still exists, or whether discussion groups operating exclusively by e-mail have been superceded by web-based discussion boards with threaded topics and additional features.

I was a member of a particular group for several years. Based at Topica.com, it was essentially an e-mail discussion group; merely a hub for the archiving and distribution of messages. Many members received individual postings as e-mails, others received the messages concatenated into daily digests and - the option I chose - others read messages archived at the Topica website, receiving nothing by e-mail.
With declining activity on the part of the band, conversation had understandably drifted into tangential topics such as flute playing tips, US weather and progress reports on members' business ventures, becoming essentially a general meeting place for people who just happened to have occasionally overlapping taste in music. This was mildly annoying to those less interested in off-topic discussion, but not a problem as one could read the subject headers of the archived messages and ignore, well, the vast majority of postings; I made a rough estimate last week that relevant messages accounted for 10-12% of traffic.

Last week Topica changed its policy and began funding discussion groups by including an advert in the footer of every posting distributed by e-mail. The web interface had included a header banner and another 'skyscraper' ad for some time, but they were easily ignored and presumably because the list owner had chosen the 'individual e-mails' option, that hadn't been considered a problem. However, within 2-3 days of the first adverts appearing in e-mail, the group had moved to a different provider; the Topica account has just been closed. Fair enough, and this wasn't even the first time it had happened; Topica was the group's second home.

The problem is that the new system is exclusively an e-mail distribution system, without archiving or a web interface, so it's individual e-mails or nothing. Regretfully, I've chosen 'nothing'. I could delete the majority of messages unread, but I'd still have to receive them first, and dialup isn't free. I somehow resent having to pay to ignore postings about vegetarianism in Houston (nothing personal, Kaz; that's just an example). Individually, it's trivial, but at up to 25 messages per day, of which I might read one or two, it's just not going to happen.

So, to return to the initial question, is it unusual to still be running a discussion group solely by e-mail? Was this an extraordinarily retrograde move?

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