Blogs vs. email

I’ve touched on this before, talking about people liking email more than things on the web because they see email as work and the web as messing around, having fun. It’s interesting because while on the one hand people are always saying that email is ‘broken’, or that there is too much of it; they are also saying that it is still the internet’s killer app, and the best way to build and develop online communities. Which is it?

One rather surprising development in this area happened over the weekend, when Jason Calacanis, the chap who has done as much as anyone else to promote the blog as a communications medium, with his foundation of Weblogs Inc (now owned by AOL), announced he was quitting his blog. What’s more, he was launching an email list that he would use to publish the stuff he would normally blog. He says:

Starting today all of my thoughts will be reserved for a new medium. Something smaller, something more intimate, and something very personal: an email list. Today the email list has about 600 members, I’m going to cut it off when it reaches 750. Frankly, that’s enough more than enough people to have a conversation with. I’m going to try and build a deeper relationship with fewer people–try to get back to my roots.

Now, we should probably not read too much into what a blatent self-publicist like Calacanis gets up to, but this really is an unusual step – not least because it would appear from my short membership of his mailing list that it is a really one-way affair – I can reply to Jason, but not to the whole list. So this really is a Web 1.0 style push medium. It isn’t open or transparent, for you have to be a member to see the archives – i.e. you can’t dip your toe in to see if you would be interested, and there doesn’t seem to be a way for conversations to flow between readers, just between the author and readers.

In a sense, the subscribers to Jason’s list are his audience – and I really thought we had moved on beyond that.

This debate brings to mind a comment Tom Steinberg posted to the UK & Ireland eDemocracy list a little while back when we were discussing the Stratford Council Twitter feed. Tom asked:

As for Straford’s site – it lets people visiting the homepage find out about twitter, but doesn’t have a top-central-located box for gathering email addresses to turn into email updates more akin to the 50,000 leaflets mentioned above. As far as me and my cynical troupe are concerned, that’s an inexcusable prioritsation of buzz word compliance over tried and tested approaches that have far more user recognition. Barack Obama doesn’t do this – why should Stratford?

In other words, everyone – well, except for John McCain – uses email, so that should be the first port of call for online communications. He’s probably right – hence why in my wiki guidance and elsewhere I stress that it’s important to allow people to contribute using whatever method they are comfortable with, even if it is something as uncool as email.

But I would argue that Jason Calacanis is wrong, and that he will soon find his personal mailing list an echo chamber that doesn’t provide the richness of interaction that he had before with his blog.

3 thoughts on “Blogs vs. email”

  1. I don’t mind being notified by email that someone is following me on Twitter, or someone wanted to meet me at 2gether08, in fact I quite like it. Email is quite good at that, getting my attention when I’m at my desk trying to do something else. But it is just that – electronic mail – one way of getting some information from one person to another person (or a group of people, that’s when it starts getting messy). It’s not very searchable even when I am logged into it, I can’t link to it or reference it without forwarding it on and it only goes to the people I send it to – as you say it can’t be tapped into from people outside my email list.

    It’s just one way of carrying a message (and there are others like RSS which suit some people better or worse) and can help people to collaborate by letting them know what is going on, but just because it carries the message does not mean that it is the message or indeed the platform.

    By blogging (the example in this case), all that good stuff can be read, searched, remixed, commented upon, referenced, archived, tagged (and even sent out by email if you so wish) but Jason I’m afraid you’re you’re wrong, but I won’t be emailing you to tell you.

    PS. I’m turning into a serial commenter here, but as someone who can’t be bothered to blog, commenting on someone elses crafted words is much easier.

  2. I always go back to Paul Caplan’s party analogy (this really does fit so many places!) and then I extend …

    You use mail to invite people to the party, but when your guests arrive in the room and are passing round the cheese and pineapple on a stick you have conversations … you don’t pass round written notes to people one at a time for them to add a bit and pass on to the next person (well not at the parties I attend!).

    Email has its place, most definately. But so does a wiki, a blog, twittering etc etc

  3. Paul H – feel free to use my comments to get your thoughts online! That in itself is a good example of why blogs are better at developing public conversations than email.

    Paul W – you are right, it has its place. But I do wonder sometimes (not often!) that we get carried away with the new media stuff, forgetting that not many people are up to speed with these developments. I do think that email needs to be built into any interactive online project, to ensure that as many people as possible can be involved.

    Of course, Digita Mentors could soon have everyone blogging and wiki-ing away like mad!

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