Debate Over Listservs: Web 1.0 or 2.0?

My friends over at Middle School Matters casually remarked in podcast #80 that they felt listservs, specifically MiddleTalk were a very Web 1.0 tool.  I subsequently sent them an epistle via email detailing my thoughts that listservs actually were more of a 2.0 tool than folks would think.  This led to a response in podcast #83 where they detailed their reasoning for describing listservs as a 1.0 tool.  Here are the basics of their argument:

  • Listservs are text based. Web 2.0 tools like Facebook and Ning allow for a richer content exchange.
  • Listservs have been around since AOL and before. Since Web 2.0 is a new phenomenon something as old as a listserv couldn’t possibly fit in.
  • The MiddleTalk listserv is constrained to a small group of educators. Web 2.0 is about access and inclusion, whereas the MiddleTalk listserv is for individual members of the National Middle School Association.

Troy and Shawn gave me the opportunity to respond again, so I have recorded a short segment to go in an upcoming Middle School Matters podcast.  I wanted to take a few minutes in this space and put out some of my thoughts on this issue for discussion from all of you.

So in no real order, here we go:

  1. I fall very much in line with Ben Grey’s thinking in his post Web 2.0 – A Synthetically Organic Nomenclature. I feel that the distinction between Web 1.0 and 2.0 is tenuous at best, and confusing at worst.  However, I think there are some hallmarks to consider when evaluating whether a tool fits more closely with the 1.0 or 2.0 mold.
  2. The key, differentiating factor for me between Web 1.0 and 2.0 is the conversation.  Web 2.0 tools such as YouTube, Facebook, Podcasts, Blogs, etc allow for deep, (sometimes) meaningful conversation between parties.  The Static Web did not allow those conversations.  Web 1.0 was about using the Internet as a means for broadcasting information.  Companies and individuals created websites for one-to-many communication.  Web 2.0 is geared toward many-to-many communication.
  3. The content of Web 2.0 is irrelevant.  There are Web 2.0 sites that allow all varieties of content. There is Flickr for images, YouTube for video, podcasts, and yes, even text that is Web 2.0.  Twitter is a text based service, only being extended by third parties to incorporate images, videos, and audio.  EtherPad allows real-time collaborative writing.
  4. Web 2.0 is about access to information and conversation about that information.  The new model of web content allows all varieties of conversation to occur and spreads a wealth of information to almost all with an Internet connection.  However, there is no guideline that says a tool has to be open to everyone to be considered Web 2.0.  Ning allows site admins to keep their site closed to all but approved members.  I don’t think a closed Ning site is any “less Web 2.0” than a fully open Ning site.

Now, how do all these things tie back together in my view of listservs?  Listservs were one of the earliest ways in which there was many-to-many communication via email.  Listservs allow user created content in the form of text emails.  The fact that the content is text does not preclude us from considering listservs a Web 2.0 tool, since I count Twitter and EtherPad in that same category.  Listservs allow for conversation and community building.  A listserv is not a static entity, but evolves through conversations among readers.

Out of full disclosure, I will say that I do believe that the need for listservs is going away.  The modern means of communication via Facebook, Ning, and Twitter do far outstrip what is available through listservs.  However, I feel that when compared to the basic premise of Web 2.0 tools, the listserv was ahead of its time in developing communities of online collaborators.

Now to wait for those who will come and throw my ideas to the wolves… 🙂

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5 Responses

  1. It would be great if we could change the debate from what it is labeled to how effective is it as an educational tool.

    • I totally agree that we should be moving toward that discussion. However, with the number of teachers out there who are just now jumping on board with modern, social web tools, we have to make sure there is a decent understanding of what it means when someone mentions “Web 2.0”. I personally would like to see that term disappear altogether, but as folks are already trying to determine what Web 3.0 will be, I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon. I think we can agree that a listserv is not the best tool available for classroom/educational purposes. The most collaborative ones out there have been built over many years, with the dedication of lots of people. The time needed to truly develop a listserv far outstrips that which is available during the school year.

  2. Todd,
    I have to agree. While Listservs have served their purpose, there are much better forms of communication and networking available. I feel that the conversations I have on Twitter, and the various Ning groups to which I belong evolve much differently because the conversation can happen in almost real-time. I also feel more of a connection to the conversations I have there. I have to admit, I still subscribe to some listservs. Some keep me in contact with my fraternity brothers. Others, like the EDTECH listserv I subscribe to for the resources. The big difference between these and other Web 2.0 tools is the conversation. Yes, there are posts that attempt to carry out conversation, but their is no “richness” or quality to the talk. In this age of real-time communication it is time to retire the Listserv. It had a good run, but there are much better options out there.

  3. On meaningful conversations:

    Quick poll: Do you participate in a listserv that has enabled deep, engaging substantive conversations?

    I happen to belong to a listserv (PHYSLRNR) with a long history of interesting conversations about the use of interactive engagement methods by a community of physicists and physics education researchers. The quality of conversation sustains my involvement. To date, I don’t have experienced nearly the same quality in any of my Web 2.0 networks.

    I find that all the bells and whistles of a Facebook or a Ning social network do not necessarily add value to the conversation. In fact, these multi-media multi-conversation interfaces often lead me to a disjointed experience as they tools serve as a distractors that take me away from the focus of a conversation.

    For example, I probably will not sustain this conversation beyond this comment, as I don’t know the community around this blog article (Very Web 2.0). In contrast, since I have a deeper and longer relationship with many of the posters on the PHYSLRNR listserv, I tend to trust the quality of the conversation and have return again and again to listen, to respond and to post anew.

    Isn’t the whole purpose of Web 2.0 to sustain conversation? I hope we won’t dismiss listservs by labeling them as Web 1.0, without honoring their true value and role as a powerful communication media – different perhaps and less multi-media that “Web 2.0” tools, but still powerful nevertheless.

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