Online Information Sources Paper:
Online with Listservers Archives and Friends and Partners

Clae Styron

for Prof. Howard Besser
296A

March 10,1994

NOTICE

Introduction

My initial expectations on subscribing to listservers were fanned by the underlying fantasy, fired by American media and its typical Gold Rush mentality, that I would be striking treasure or communing with glamorous experts and stars (Hollywood, rock, academic, etc.).

A continent away and in an academic context, it was going to be like rubbing shoulders electronically with Sartre and de Beauvoir in witty and groundbreaking discussion over a cup of coffee on the Boul' Mich. However, I was quickly disabused of my dreams as avalanches of yak-yak, love letters, jawing, and pragmatic formulae about bulbs and batteries almost buried me and my daily plans. The odd treasure that I picked up didn't seem to justify the experience. These impressions most accurately describe my initial experiences with the ARCHIVES listserver. By the time I subscribed to FRIENDS AND PARTNERS they were different.

Questions

In this paper I will discuss the listservers ARCHIVES and FRIENDS AND PARTNERS.

I belong to ten different listervers, among them, SLAVS, BIBLIO-FR, HUMANITIES, MUSEUM-L, ARLIS, ARCHIVES and the new FRIENDS AND PARTNERS available via the World Wide Web server.

Participation in these listservers has generated a variety of questions, a few of which follow:

In the following discussion some of these questions will be applied in the examination of the two listservers ARCHIVES and FRIENDS AND PARTNERS.

Archives

The ARCHIVES listserver was unmoderated when I subscribed. It generated over 30 messages per day. A groundswell of protest began before Christmas when some participants began to swap receipes. Others complained that the system was being exploited as a conduit for encoded love letters. To add to the chaos, the process of scanning the headings was only partially effective as they were composed obscurely. Nevertheless, interspersed in this hurly-burly of postings were serious discussions about the Presidential archives, the NARA chiefs, the preservation of electronic records, the aftermath of the Los Angeles earthquake, among others. Uninitiated in listserver manipulation, I laboriously scanned the list sequentially. However, the calls for a moderated list gathered momentum generating a debate with strong arguments on all sides about freedom of speech, civil liberties, democracy versus totalitarian approaches, etc. Apparently the moderated list proponents won the day. (I had grown weary of the volume and had started excising messages indiscriminately except for job announcements when I could find them.) The posters of receipes and encoded love letters were left to lurk, change their messages or to splinter into other listservers. At the present time, the list appears to have been reorganised; it is 1/3 to 1/4 the size of the original while the format has not changed. A coherent focus is maintained on issues of professional archival interest. It is not without a sense of humor. A series called HairNet was kicked off from a job announcement for the Andy Warhol Archives, when someone asked whether a requirement for the job would be to wear a hairpiece. Especially valuable to me at the present time, is an on-going discussion about the Mosaic interface and issues on the presentation of images on the Internet.

Friends and Partners

FRIENDS AND PARTNERS , originally a "mailing list", was started about two months ago out of Knoxville, Tennessee and Pushkino, Russia. It presents a vivid contrast in form and in the mangement of content to ARCHIVES. It may signal what an archivist's listserver could become in five years. (Some archives are already planning to put their Registers on Mosaic-like interfaces on the Internet). PARTNERS is available on World Wide Web server which transmits graphics and audio as well as text, supports graphic and non-graphic browsers and integrates Internet tools and utilities: Listservers, Gophers, WAIS databases, FTP, etc. Recently, the WAIS gateway was replaced with a new PARTNERS gateway where information from the contents of the listserver could be retrieved by word, phrase, name, email address, etc. The contents are packaged on a daily basis in a hypertextual newsletter format. It is called The Daily Digest.

The original purpose of the listserver in its Daily Digest format was to stimulate new friendships and partnerships between the American and former Soviet peoples thus building on the new political, social, and economic developments of the past seven years and also on the work of listservers already dealing with US-RUSSIAN issues on the Internet. Based in Tennessee, a mirror is being set up in Pushkino to serve Russians and citizens of surrounding republics. The list will soon become bi-lingual. PARTNERS reflects the needs of Russia and other former Soviet states to modernize and the US interest in playing a key role in that development.

The scope, range and variety of interests and people represented is very wide. The format of the list is designed to maximize the potential of networking between all age groups and professions. The listserver is moderated, the contents "digested" and formatted into a for easy access. Beginning with a title, the Digest then features a catchy header called "What's new" which could include new developments with its interface, or an announcement of a conference on new telecommunications in Moscow, for example. A table of contents for new email postings follows in short format: Date, Subject, Sender's Name, Sender's email address.

For example:

#01   03-24 Feb 94  Subject: Searching for Ukrainian maps

Sender: Russell Parrish <parrish@Forestry.Auburn.edu>

This chronological table of contents enables the "friend" ( Listserver terminology does not include user, but instead citizen, friend, pal, folks--this sets a tone--it's the language of a community, a small town) to anticipate and pre-select what he/she wants to read later in the in the e-mail postings. Participants range from military officers, high school teachers, students of all ages, scientists, businesspeople, religious groups, doctors, etc. A cursory look at a sampling of one day's subject matter includes questions about the Peace Corps in Russia, propaganda poster research, women and student entrepreneurs, GIS systems, biological science information, requests for keypals, Russian music, addresses of Russian parliament members, etc.

It is informative to contrast the postings here with current events newsgroups postings which really do emulate the free and brawling conversations that students have in Parisian cafes. Here too participants are an international set and their thoughts and ideas have an immediacy and freshness. Like those cafe conversations the newsgroups are time-consuming, even with the opportunity to thread. One group had 2305 postings on current events in Russia. There was much two-way conversation sequentially formatted and sharing of knowledge and opinion, some of which won't become general public knowledge for a long time. This new group had some of the attitude and focus of an underground journal, like the Barb.

Another section of the Digest features important news as the schedule of conferences in distance education or plans to develop the Pushkino mirror as a center to devlopment of a network of biological sciences. The table of contents and abstracts of Russian scholarly journals, for example from PHYSICS-USPEKIH, and the database ABSEES (American Bibliography of Slavic and European Studies), are being linked up to the listserver. There is a gateway to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty which can be searched with the new PARTNERS gateway.

A striking feature of the PARTNERS listserver is the cultivation of a sense of community. One method used is the solicition of subscriber input in improving the visual interface such as the design of the home page, the buttons on the PARTNERS WWW server. Viewers are urged to comment and critique all aspects of the listserver and are made to feel they are designers, developers of the project themselves. Herein may lie some useful approaches to the identification of users' needs and the future design of successful, dynamic interfaces. The evolution of the two listservers provides material for my explorations of criteria for museum interfaces with images on the Internet, the subject of my term paper.


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