I use GTD as my time management system of choice. When I’m diligent about it, I’m amazingly productive. When I loosely keep the principles in mind, I still get a ton of stuff done.
One GTD-inspired change in my communication habits has been to designate one hour a week to email discussion lists. I filter them all to a specific tag in gmail, then when I have an hour I mass delete things I’m not interested in and read whatever I can get through in an hour. Tonight I had the time to do it, so I went through the 175-or-so conversations that came through in the last week.
When I first started this practice, I’d use the whole hour reading the emails, and wish I had more time for it. Now, I maybe read one or two email from the bunch, focusing on the subjects of the emails more than anything else. A large reason for my lack of reading the email is that my RSS reader keeps me up on the latest breaking news. But another reason is that I am less involved in these communities since I just drop in once a week. One of the emails I took the time to read tonight came from ITFORUM, a list devoted to instructional technology. People were discussing the usefulness of a list vs. a blog vs. a wiki vs. whatever is new and shiny. Many of the posters thought that this list in particular was really useful because it has several interesting aspects such as a weekly discussion theme. As I read through the responses, it felt more and more like the list was important because it was a community.
Listservs are communities in ways that few blogs are. Everyone has a stake, and if no one is commenting on the topics, the discussion list is over. In a blog, even if no one comments, the author(s) can decide to keep posting. If the author decides they’re through and closes up shop, the people invested in the community won’t have a place to post comments. So, in this sense, the email list community seems stronger.
However, there’s another interesting difference, too. In an email list, the group is closed. Sure the archives might be available, and the list might be open to anyone who wants to join it, but if there’s one post on a topic that someone is passionate about, but that person doesn’t see a reason to join the list, that person is excluded from the conversation. In the blogosphere, you can find all the posts on a topic of interest thanks to search engines and tagging. You can comment on anyone’s blog you wish (as long as they allow it), and they can comment on yours. And most importantly (for me, right now) is the loosely joined nature of blogging communities. I read a few posts from a LOT of blogs, and I read most of the posts from some blogs. Some of these bloggers read this blog (thanks!). This forms a loose network of folks who kindof know what’s going on with each other. Twitter’s good for this, too. So is Facebook. And LinkedIn.
I’m beginning to think more about this loose joining and how it presents a new way of looking at the organization of relationships (in this context, information in other contexts). Thank goodness for David Weinberger‘s Small Pieces Loosely Joined to provide a framework for all of this. Would “the website is to web 2.0 as the email discussion list is to the blogosphere” be an appropriate analogy?