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[liberationtech] Liberationtech List Reminder

Yosem Companys companys at
Fri Feb 3 04:33:11 PST 2017

On Fri, Feb 3, 2017 at 4:26 AM, Rich Kulawiec <rsk at> wrote:

> 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.
> ---rsk
> [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.

Thank you. A very well argued case for keeping what we have.
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