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[liberationtech] Liberationtech List Reminder

Rich Kulawiec rsk at
Fri Feb 3 04:26:32 PST 2017

On Thu, Feb 02, 2017 at 07:30:15PM -0500, Jos? Mar?a Mateos wrote:
> I think what you are describing is better accomplished by software like
> Discourse (, which is the discussion engine
> behind popular sites such as This, however, presents the
> danger of making the mailing list redundant (I prefer the mailing list
> format, but that is just a matter of preference; I understand other people
> prefer web-based systems).

It's not just a matter of preference: mailing lists (and Usenet) are
inherently and markedly superior to web-based systems.  It's not even
close.  It's a serious strategic blunder to downgrade to the latter.

Let me give you just *some* of the reasons why:

1. They're asynchronous: you don't have to interact in real time.
	You can download messages when connected to the 'net, then read
	them and compose responses when offline.  (This has special
	revelance to this group.)

	Also remember: not everyone is as fortunate and wealthy as you
	are.  There are people using the Internet who have connections
	that run at dialup speeds, and/or are only available sporadically,
	and/or are heavily censored at the behest of their governments.
	Novices ignore this reality.  Experienced people architect for it.

2. They work reasonably well even in the presence of multiple outages
	and severe congestion.

3. They're push, not pull, so new content just shows up.  Web forums
	require that you go fishing for it.

4. They scale beautifully.

5. They allow you to use *your* software with the user interface of *your*
	choosing rather than being compelled to learn 687 different
	web forums with 687 different user interfaces, all of which
	range from "merely bad" to "hideously bad".

6. You can archive them locally...

7. ...which means you can search them locally with the software of *your*
	choice.  Including when you're offline.  And provided you make
	backups, you'll always have an archive -- even if the original
	goes away.

	I've seen WAY too many web-based discussions vanish forever
	because a host crashed or a domain expired or a company went
	under or a company was acquired or someone made a mistake or
	there was a security breach or a government confiscated it.

8. They're portable: lists can be rehosted relatively easily.

9. (When properly run) they're relatively free of abuse vectors.

10. They're low-bandwidth, which is especially important at a point in
	time when many people are interacting via metered services that
	charge by the byte and are WAY overpriced, and getting more
	overpriced every day.  This will get worse, not better,
	with telecom industry consolidation and deregulation.

11. They impose minimal security risk.

12. They impose minimal privacy risk.

13. They can be freely interconverted -- that is, you can move a list
	hosted by A using software B on operating system C to
	host X using software Y on operating system Z.

14. They're archivable in a format that is likely to be readable long
	into the future.  (I have archives of lists from the early 1980's.
	Still readable with contemporary software because they're in
	mbox format.  I see no sign that this will cease to be true.)

15. They can be written to media and read from it.  This is a very
	non-trivial task with web forums: just try doing the equivalent
	of #13 above.  Good luck with that.

	Also highly relevant for this list: it's not a hard technical
	problem to sneakernet a mailing list or a newsgroup across a
	border on a USB stick or a memory card or a CD/DVD.

16. They handle threading well.  And provided users take a few seconds
	to edit properly, they handle quoting well.

17. Numerous tools exist for handling mbox format: for example, "grepmail"
	is a highly useful basic search tool.  Most search engines
	include parsers for email, and the task of ingesting mail
	archives into search engines is very well understood.
	Excellent archiving tools exist as well.

18. The computing resources require to support them are minimal --
	CPU, memory, disk, bandwidth, etc.  I set up an instance
	of Mailman for someone that's working perfectly fine on a
	10-year-old laptop.

19. Mailing lists interoperate.  I can easily forward a message
	from this list to another one.  Or to a person.  I can
	send a message to multiple lists.  I can forward a message
	from a person to this list.  And so on.  Try doing this
	with web forum software A on host B with destinations
	web forum software X and Y on hosts X1 and Y1.  Good
	luck with that.

20. Mailing lists can be uni- or bidirectionally gatewayed to
	Usenet.  (The main Python mailing list is an example
	of this.)  This can be highly useful, and is something
	that everyone on *this* list should study/understand --
	because it makes them very difficult to censor.

There's more, but I think this easily suffices to make a slamdunk case.
Like I said, it's not even close.

Frank Zappa once said that you can't be a real country unless you have
a beer and an airline.  I don't think you can take an organization or
a project seriously unless it has a mailing list and/or a newsgroup.

Of course there are always people who rush to the latest greatest
thing (e.g., Slack appears to be popular right now) because it's new
and shiny, but those come and go, and they depend on the vagaries of
the companies behind them.  Many painful object lessons in the
impermanence of such things may be found at
-- whose contributors have invested heavily in attempts to mitigate
the consequences of very poor decision-making by others. [1]

Not to mention that many of those latest greatest shiny new things come
equipped with hideous privacy and security issues that can't be fixed
because they're fundamental parts of the design.  Some of these
are so obvious that I can only conclude they're intentional.


[1] One metric -- of many -- for assessing such operations is to ask
this question: can you export ALL of your data and ALL of your metadata
from them, at will, and in a portable, open, usable format?  The answer
is almost always no.  Even allegedly open operations like Google Groups
fail this test.  And if you can't do that, then you should instantly
and permanently rule out using it.

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