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Discussion List Technology

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:

  • aifia-announce -IA Institute announcements.
  • AIfIA-da -Om informationsarkitektur på dansk
  • Aifia-education -Discussion of IA education
  • AIfIA-es -Instituto para la Arquitectura de Información
  • Aifia-fr – IA discussion in French
  • Aifia-it – IA discussion in Italian
  • Aifia-ja – IA discussion in Japanese
  • Aifia-mentoring – AIfIA Mentoring Initiative
  • Aifia-metrics – Towards standard methods and metrics for evaluating IA
  • AIfIA-nl – IA discussion in Dutch
  • AIfIA-pt – IA discussion in Portuguese
  • Aifia-tools – Discussion list for the AIfIA Tools initiative
  • Advisors – IAI Advisors
  • Arqinf -Lista de Discusión sobre Arquitectura de la Información
  • Board – Board of Directors
  • Directors – IAI Board of Directors
  • Eastcoastretreat – New Challenges Retreat list
  • eiaproject – Higher Education in IA Working Group
  • EnterpriseIA – Enterprise IA Discussion List
  • iai-aunz – Australia New Zealand Region IA Discussion List
  • iai-jobs -IA Institute Job Newsletter
  • Iai-Members – IA Institute Members Discussion List
  • Iai-Mentoring – IAI Mentoring Discussion List
  • Iai-Newsletter – IA Institute Newsletter
  • IAI-pt – Lista de Discussão AI-pt
  • iai-translations – IAI Translations Discussion List
  • Localgroups – local IA groups
  • Management – IAI Management
  • Meta IAI – Meta List
  • Secondlife – IA Institute Second Life Discussion List
  • Test – yes, it’s what you are guessing
  • Ux-Management – UX Management Discussion List
  • 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, 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:

  • Get rid of lists we don’t need to maintain.
  • Evaluate if an alternate software to Mailman is a better fit for our organization
  • Create some basic guidelines for starting discussion lists
  • Migrate ibiblio discussion lists to
  • Merge archives of lists that should be consolidated
  • Notify subscribers about any plans
  • 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?


    Daniel Souza said,

    November 24, 2008 @ 6:05 am

    Hi Liv,

    I totally not recommend drupal for that ( i had a horrible experience ).

    Have you ever thinked about building something like the IXDA site?
    Do you know BBpress? Look at this fórum:
    I´m a former Ai-pt subscriber, and one of the reasons i left is a lack of comment threading and poor web presentation ( inherent aspects of mailing lists, i guess)



    Dave Malouf said,

    November 24, 2008 @ 11:46 am

    You forgot to ask one VERY important question, “Is email correct, primary focal user interface for what you want to achieve?” I used to think so, but now with RSS + web interfaces (see I only use my email for rapid communication, and not for forum conversations.

    Something to consider. Yes, we did this using mailman and it does SUCK. its a hack and we are blowing it all up in a big initiative, but at least people have options they didn’t have previously. I.e. if you want, you never have to see a mailman interface ever using

    – dave

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