Earlier today on the LM_NET discussion group, Matthew Penn posed the following comment for debate:
“Text-based listservs, bulletin boards, and discussion groups will disappear in the near future. They will turn into web sites that can deliver text, pictures, sound, and video. I am NOT saying LM_NET will disappear – only that its web site will receive more and more use until no one uses this text only design. An argument might be that not many schools have access to the Internet – but this will soon change.”
Well, I’d have to disagree quite strongly with this possibility. Listservs are popular for a number of reasons, just to name a few:
1. They allow people to talk asynchronously (ie, it’s not real time, so you can check the latest message at your convenience);
2. Text-based messages are extremely easy to read quickly, sort, re-post, edit, and respond to;
3. They require bare minimum Internet bandwidth (no high-speed connections needed to receive text);
4. They don’t require expensive multimedia computers to use…
This list could go on. The notion of listservs vanishing is linked somewhat to a similar notion of email vanishing as well, and this is extremely doubtful in the near future. Multi-directional, real-time video and audio may be the eventual next step on the Internet, but it will require better computers, faster connectivity, and more equipment – technology that much of the general public, as well as the educational community, will not all be able to afford overnight. It will take time for economic factors to bring down the prices of this technology, so there’s only a miniscule chance that listservs or email will go away in the short term. They’ll be the common denominator for many years to come, I’d suspect.
And even if low-cost technology and high bandwidth were available overnight, I’d still be shocked if we’d witness the instant obsolescence of listservs. Asynchronous text-based discussions carry a lot of weight over even the fanciest of multimedia because they allow users to chat at their convenience, read at their own pace, and cut and paste thoughts with little effort. Look at how many times people respond to an email by including a few sentences of the original post: would video conferencing require you to re-edit the original video and paste it into your new video response? I suppose you could, but it’d be a waste of everyone’s time, even if you’re using high-quality, nonlinear video editing tools.
Listservs are popular not just because they’re the only option available at the moment. They’re popular because they’re powerful means of communication, packed with utility. Media don’t disappear overnight just because they’re not as high tech as the latest craze. They might evolve somewhat (such as listserv video attachments, or listserv-associated online workspaces), but the general principal that popularized the media in the first place will continue to drive them. So, in the case of listservs, as long as there’s an audience that finds them (or a derivative of them) useful, they’ll stick around.
It’s kind of like the paperless office, video telephones, etc. Just because it seems like a neat idea doesn’t mean it’s a realistic or desirable short-term expectation…. -ac