Unexpectedly, an old mailing list (young people: read this) I have been a member of for years has cranked back into life, and is currently producing some excellent, reflective, high quality discussion. It's a bit of a surprise, but rather a nice one. The discussions via this list over the last week set me thinking about the differences between mailing lists and social networks and the educational affordances of each. (Yes, I know this is old ground, but this is my personal reflection in the light of heavy Facebook immersion).
Whereas contemporary social networks smack of inclusivity (real or imagined), mailing lists radiate an aura of exclusivity, selection, privacy (secrecy?). They are by default closed communities guarded by subscription rituals. Consenting adults (and they mostly are adults) go there to whisper to each other.
What are the good points to mailing lists? I've been through my fair share of flame wars over the years, but it could be argued that the kinetics of this long-form communication lend themselves to more reflective contributions than does the tendency to status microblogging on social networks.
So am I going to be introducing mailing lists for all our students next year? No, because I have no confidence (or evidence from past experience) that this technology would be effective with undergraduates. Although I might joke about this being the sort of dead technology that JISC would fund (mailing lists in Second Life - there's a grant in there for someone), Friendfeed does us just fine.