List size and form

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Wed Aug 2 09:28:37 MDT 1995

[please note the warning at the end!]

On Wed, 2 Aug 1995 glevy at wrote:

> Have any of the moderators considered how the increase in list size and
> participation (including the volume of posts) will affect our list in the
> not-so-long-term?

I think list size (ie. no. of subscribers) is fairly stable, though I
haven't really been keeping check.  There are at present just under 300
people subscribed, with just under 50 of those are subscribed via
marxism-digest.  (Though it is the Summer, and a number who left earlier
may well return.) Again, though I haven't really been keeping check,
participation does still seem to be increasing.  I thought we had hit some
sort of plateau with c. 700 posts a month, and now I see that in the last
ten days alone of July we had over 300 posts.

> Obviously the current list is a transitional list that will *have* to
> change as we get larger. As a fellow educator, I'm sure you are aware
> that there is a relation between class size and the ability of individual
> students to participate.  I fear that, at some point soon, the sheer size
> of our list and the total (and immense) volume of posts will interfere
> with our ability to communicate effectively.

I find it hard to see how the list can grow any bigger in terms of
participation; and if it does, I think the number of people will go
down.  I admit, however, that I haven't been charting these things in any
particularly scientific manner.  I know Chris Burford also took an
interest in these matters some time ago.

I don't think the list is in "crisis" however: those who can handle the
volume obviously appreciate the list, and I think it's very worthwhile
for a whole number of reasons.  I did the marxism survey several months
ago now, in part to see what people made of the large volume, and there
seemed to be a fair number of satisfied lurkers.

Some people, probably a large number, however, are clearly likely to be
intimidated by the volume of posts, and so we lose their potential
contributions.  There are a couple of more specialized lists (eg.
frankfurt-school) but they never seem to have worked out very well.

I don't want to offer any solutions, though I think it's helpful if those
on the list realize the situation, and so that the more vocal
contributors can think about keeping down the chat or the unhelpful or
unnecessary comments.  On the other hand, I find the chat when it happens
quite entertaining at times, and there's always going to be some "noise":
and this list has relatively little of that compared to many others.

Sometimes I think the list works almost optimally, and is self-regulating
and self-sustaining.  Occasionally there are disruptions, but they get
dealt with and either the disruptive force gets assimilated, often
productively, and the list assimilates itself, or it goes away.  I'm
still quite proud that no one has ever been censored or thrown off.

My current thoughts are to widen the extent of the resources associated
with the list--ie. I think of a time when the email discussion list will
not necessarily be the central part of this whole "project."  This is why
I've been working on the WWW pages, encouraging people to put up papers,
bibliographies etc., and so on.  I have other ideas, such as email
conferences on specific issues and so on, all of which could be spin-offs
from the list, and allow those who can't deal with the constant volume to
be involved for a limited period of time (and we could specifically
invite people to get on line for, say, an email conference on
intersubjectivity or the labor theory of value or whatever...)

> Jerry
> PS: As I was about to press the "send" buttons, Otto's post on
> "information overflow" came through.  I don't think I care much, though,
> for his solution since it assumes that the initiator of a thread can and
> should be the one who summarizes and coordinates a thread.

No, and I don't think it'd work to formalize anything like this.  As it
is, I think that private discussions do occur, and do feed into the
general discussions, but also it's now possible to jump into ("butt in")
a thread late, when you suddenly realize it is of interest to you, or
that you can make a contribution or whatever.

*Finally*, however, this list is for the discussion of marxism, not for
the discussion of the marxism list, so I'd encourage those who have
thoughts about the state of the list, and who have ideas and suggestions
(and I'm *always* looking for these, and for feedback), please to get in
touch with me privately if possible.

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at

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