[plt-dev] on the nature of email, especially on this list

From: Matthias Felleisen (matthias at ccs.neu.edu)
Date: Mon Apr 19 22:13:08 EDT 2010

Gentlemen, after a day (mostly) away from email, I must say I didn't like what I found in the evening. With that I don't mean the content of various discussions but the way email is used. 

When groups communicate, it happens in various ways, with everything between brain storming and formal discussions or decision making. Email is good for some of these purposes, but it fails for others due to its nature as a 'not quite immediate' communication medium.  

Here is what I noticed specifically. I think some of us are using List Email as a form of brainstorming. For an in-person
discussion, brainstorming can be really great, especially if it is announced that the discussion is a brainstorming session. It is then perfectly okay to propose wild and crazy ideas and to shoot those down without any (serious) justification. I don't think that this works on Email lists; it's too slow and too distant and too impersonal. 

People who make proposals on this list deserve serious counter-questions when something seems out of whack and/or plain wrong. Instead of "I don't like this" (even with a short reasoning), it is much better to ask the original poster what he meant. Perhaps it's a misunderstanding, perhaps it is really a silly flaw in reasoning, or whatever. 

Without some basic ground rules we will continue to run into rather frustrating dead-ends, which can easily spill over into assumed personal disagreements. This group has been hyper-successful for 15 years, establishing what may be the largest and densest distributed research group around (with benefits to all participants). This only worked because we respect each others work, because we respect our "customers"', because we communicate across generations/distance/time in a reasonably effective manner. Let's keep it that way. 

Thanks -- Matthias

Posted on the dev mailing list.