When I started evaluating the IA Institute overall tech infrastructure I was not expecting the messiest part to be related to the various discussion lists we provide to the community. I was first surprised, now I’m annoyed.
The list software we use is Mailman, which is extremely popular and very good at one thing: delivering mail. I guess they chose a pretty appropriate name for it. Other than that, it’s pretty sucky.
My intention when I started to take a look at our discussion lists was to understand how extensible our technology was to support any future plans (indexing archives, subscribing to threads, integration list subscription with membership profile, RSS subscription, etc). What I’ve found is a messy legacy that needs to be at least normalized before we can think of expanding its capabilities.
Here’s a list of all the discussion lists we have:
From this list it should be easy to tell that we (the IA Institute) have not been big on naming conventions. I created some of these lists at one point or another as I volunteered in different initiatives, but I didn’t even know all of them were out there. I would love to be able to go to the IAI website and just know what’s available (right now the site shows a partial list).
Some of these lists, I am sure, are dead. But somebody forgot to pull the plug. Also, between managing subscribers and moderating discussions, there is this horrible thing called the discussion list interface. Mailman as I said before is good at one thing and that’s not its user interface. It’s impressively adequate in terms of multi-lingual support and is flexible enough that you can customize presentation to fit your website (We have tried before), but if you don’t have a standard way to to do in an organization with such high volume, this mess is inevitable.
If it’s not clear from the rant above, many lists still have our old organization name (Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture) and are hosted at ibiblio.org, which provides free discussion lists. Another issue: We host our site and systems on Dreamhost. Their Mailman implementation doesn’t allow me to go directly and finagle with the lists directly (like merge archives or modify the code) so I have to ask them to do it, which means any changes may take a while.
Now that I’ve bitched about the current situation, here’s what I believe needs to happen:
Do you have experience with discussion lists? Drop me a note if you have any advice or suggestions. I’m particularly interested in systems that have discussion lists associated with member/profile management associated with other services. Anyone has experience with Drupal; any Drupal modules for discussion lists?