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RE: Problems with 'List Server'

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Bill Polhemus wrote:
"OTOH, most "discussion board systems" such as UltraBoard are kludgy and
clumsy to use and administer-I know, I participate on some of them
myself. It is significant to note that Dennis Wish's "Structuralist.Net"
has switched to an email server format, because few people were using
the UltraBoard as it is just too darned inconvenient.

In short, "push" technology seems to work better than "pull" for
discussion lists.

Really, this just seems to me to be laziness on the part of a few."
To all:
I have to correct Bill on this issue - I have not switched from
UltraBoard to a Listservice format - I've added Listservices as an
option. I am no longer using UltraBoard and have, about six months ago,
switched over to a free BBS style forum that is great called YaBB (Yet
Another Bulletin Board).

Let me summarize what I have found:
1. Listservices satisfy a need for those who want as close to real-time
discussion as they can get. With Listservices, you can seek and obtain
answers within minutes or a few short hours. On the downside - you are
inundated with messages on a high volume board and retrieving messages
for referencing is a pain in the butt. Digest format simplified the
number of posts, but generally reduces participation since you don't
simply press a reply button and respond to a specific post. Most members
have difficulty cutting and pasting a message from digest format into a
new post with a RE: subject line and responding to a thread.

2. Bulletin Board Style (BBS) discussion forums will never be unpopular
and certainly are not second choice to listservices. In fact, the
majority of discussions are held in newsgroups are BBS style boards. The
advantage is that threads of discussions can be virtually unending and
visitors can review and respond at their leisure. Another advantage is
that the user can embed graphics, attach files, and add formatting to
their messages to draw attention to the topic or subject. How would we
have satisfied all the Listservice professionals who wanted to show
damage that occurred during the WTC disaster in order to discuss the
causes without the ability to embed graphics? Furthermore, the Software
productivity forums on The Structuralist.Net where users can download
templates for Mathcad, Spreadsheets, TEDDS and other important
productivity tools are the most popular for visitors. On the downside -
you simply can not obtain an answer to an important question that will
serve productivity using a BBS alone unless the traffic is very heavy.
AutoDesk, Microsoft all have the traffic on their Newsgroups to serve
users needs by volunteer MVP users. The majority of discussions may have
bursts of use, but for the most part, a user may wait days or weeks to
obtain important answers that they need. As a reference tool, the
Listservice can not compare with the ease of retrieving information from
a BBS.

3. There is no one answer any more than those who argue that you can not
do committee work using Internet tools - you need the face to face
personal involvement. As a professional community, we can not be so
closed minded as this. It is never a one or the other proposition - I
never suggested that the Internet replace committees any more than
Listservices replace BBS style discussions. We need to consider each
method of communication as a tool and learn to use one for immediate
response and for social real-time discussions and the other for long
term consideration and referencing. There is a tremendous amount of
committee "grunt-work" that can be done between meetings and for the
most part, the majority of professional associations are not using these
tools. BSSC still has not set up a general Listservice or discussion
forum for their members to question issues in the code development. I
tried to set one up but did it without the approval of BSSC and was
reprimanded for it. They were correct - I should have offered it first
and asked permission to set it up - even if it was private and not
accessible to those outside the committee. Still, it's been nearly a
year later and the only real communication comes from replies to drafts
and information sent out by mail from the committee chairs.
We are not using the tools available to us in the most productive way.
Thank about how your dues are being used. Are your dues going up? Are
you considered a market for the sale of publications that at one time
were given freely to insure proper design understanding? Are their ways
to reduce spending and to accomplish this "grunt-work" more productively
by Listservice or private discussion forums? There most definitely are
but there are many who are threatened by this and in the last several
years, the infrastructure has been in place, but left unused.


The solution, I believe, is to offer both a BBS Style Discussion forum
AND a Dedicated (Topic Exclusive) Listservices. Topic Exclusive lists
reduce e-mail and improve response time for solutions to problems or the
need of immediate replies. Discussion forums satisfy those who use
forums for reference and long term discussions where issues change -
also for the download of documents, templates and other files. Even with
this, there is the need for refinement and The Structuralist.Net has
chosen the following steps:

1. Topic Exclusive Listservices with individual user administration
2. Access to list topics and administration from one web page -
including automating the start of new messages for the list.
3. Integration of BBS style discussion forums into The Structuralist.Net
4. Reduce navigation by providing an automated bookmark on each major
page to allow the user easier return
5. Create a Portal: This is essentially a two browser window set up. One
window contains an index or menu tree access to discussion forums - the
second browser window launches the discussion page. When the user wants
to seek another discussion page they only need to go back to the first
browser screen and find the discussion board on the menu tree. The same
second window updates with the new forum to avoid more than two browser
windows on screen at any one time.
6. Advanced users still have total control over navigating from one
screen. These users are comfortable with creating links to specific
pages or forums they wish to jump to.
7. Email notification of Discussion forum replies to a users thread OR
to anyone who wants to track a discussion.
8. Online polling that the users can use to poll those who are involved
in their discussions.
9. Integration of all services into one website theme means shorter
addresses to favorite pages, more reliable links and much easier
navigation for beginners.

Don't all jump to the site at one time. I am still overcoming some
growing pains. The discussion software was just updated for a third
time. If you have any experience in BBS style forums, they are moving to
software written PHP language operating within a database format called
MySQL. While it sounds too new to rely on, the fact is that many of the
newer more affordable web-hosting services will no longer support
standard Perl BBS discussions because they use a great many more
resources and bandwidth. Upgrading also means "tweaking" the system and
transferring links. So, for those who wish to visit - please be patient
- there is still a great deal to finish including the new Software
reviews and technical webpages as well as our growing document and
proprietary materials catalog portal.

I'm sorry to be so wordy on the subject, but the bottom line is that
there is no one perfect method. I am neither tied to a Listservice or a
BBS - I need both as each serves a different purpose.

Dennis S. Wish, PE
California Professional Engineer
The Structuralist.Net Information Infrastructure


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