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.