In my experience, most campaigning/activist groups don’t pay a lot of attention to the quality of their online communication tools. Virtually all the groups I’ve been involved with used mailing lists as the main way of communicating online: either Yahoo Groups or something similar, or an activist email provider such as Riseup. Riseup is very good on security, but there isn’t much focus on useability.
Email discussions, involving a group of people talking about subjects they feel passionate about, can be incredibly frustrating. There can be misunderstandings, people sometimes respond too quickly and thoughtlessly, sometimes angry words fly back and forth. I’ve found this often leads people to say ‘online communication doesn’t work, we just have to meet face to face’. However the reality is that there is a limit to how often groups can meet in person, and some communication will take place on the mailing list.
All of this has been a long and rambling build-up to the point that it makes a difference what kind of mailing list you use, and it’s worth spending some time looking at what’s available and choosing the best one. Except you don’t have to because I’ve done it for you 🙂
The best kind of mailing list is Nabble.
– You get very fine-grained control over who can read, post, add or remove users, etc.
– When you create a mailing list you also automatically get a forum, where emails to the list automatically go to the forum and vice versa. The forum is brilliant for more involved discussions – rather than clicking from one email to another you can see the whole conversation at once.
– People can choose to receive all the emails, or a daily or weekly digest. This is great for busy times when there might be ten or twenty emails per day, and some group members might be feeling annoyed or put-off at having such a full in-box.
– The forum website has a clear, uncluttered layout.
– Nabble doesn’t do anything sleazy, like adding your information to a gravatar profile without telling you, or trying to get you to sign in with your Facebook account. There aren’t a billion social networking icons on the website, and unlike Google or Yahoo they don’t automatically sign you up for “a range of products and services”. They show ads, which you can pay to get rid of, and that’s it.
Do you disagree, or have something to add? Have you also searched for a discussion-friendly mailing list? The comment form beckons.
A post-script on the (lack of) security of activist mailing lists:
Riseup does everything they can for security: only allow HTTPS connections, store the minimum possible amount of data, encrypt their data, and, unlike pretty much any commercial ISP, won’t give up a user’s data just because the police and/or a corporate lawyer asked them to nicely. Despite all this, for many reasons, these lists can’t really be considered secure – an easy example is that you send an email to a Riseup list, your friend replies to it from her Gmail account, quoting the original message and your email address – all of which is now stored on Google’s servers.