Volume data and list ecology/economy

Jj Plant jplant at cix.compulink.co.uk
Tue Oct 1 23:53:00 MDT 1996

In-Reply-To: <199610010706.IAA11528 at gn.apc.org>
Thanks for the data Chris. A Zipffian distribution, as I suggested
when we looked at list ecology/economy previously. Louis P has
determined Malecki's input in June at 173 items. He must have upped
his 'production' considerably in the second half. But the pattern as
you report it is pretty convincing, and not untypical of discussion
lists as I have seen them. With newsgroups the unevenness of
participation is even more extreme. I have seen reports of over 5K
readers of a.p.s.t., with probably 30 - 40 regular posters.

How you interpret this pattern depends on what you think a list is
for (if indeed you have a worked out view on it at all). On the only
occasion you and I met face-to-face I think you described this list
as being like a newspaper. That was nearly 2 years ago ; if it is
still like a newspaper, it is one where the 'correspondence column'
occupies the bulk of the newsprint, and information has been squeezed
off the front page.

Clearly list users who want a 'newspaper' have different requirements
>from those of the big volume posters. The 'newspaper' users probably
use their lists for information gathering and environmental scanning.
I think there is a sub-category, which might overlap with this, the
'fight-spectators', who actually enjoy watching the brawls. A good
'field-mark' for these is to be found in their vocabulary (that is
when they post at all) - look for signs like 'demolished',
'humiliated' etc. There are also certain types of 'niches' on lists,
special fields of knowledge or debate where low volume but active (ie
non-lurking) users pursue their own interests, temporarily desisting
when one of the 'top-predators' blunders in, rapidly re-emerging when
things quieten down a bit. On our list the better informed threads on
marxist economics seem to fit into this category. With a bit more
work a 'Belbin' typology could be developed. One could then profile
participants and list populations in order to make informed decisions
about launching new lists, designing a moderation regime, thread
demographics etc.

We also need to consider the 'life-cycle' of the typical subscriber,
or of different types of subscribers. What brings a new subscriber on
to the list, what are the triggering factors that encourage or
discourage participation among new subscribers, etc ? With that kind
of knowledge, list operators can make decisions or suggestions that
encourage or reduce levels of participation (if they wish to).
Ecological concepts such as symbiosis and vampirism can be applied

jplant at cix.compulink.co.uk

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