A few thoughts on effective email discusison lists

Veteran email marketer Bill McCloskey offers a few good [insights](http://www.mediapost.com/dtls_dsp_EmailInsider.cfm?fnl=040422) on why email discussion lists are *still* one of the most valuable group communication tools out there, and what makes a truly effective email discussion list.

>What makes a good email discussion list? Without a doubt, it is the quality of the people on the list, and the quantity and quality of their posts. _The trick is to create an environment where people feel safe in posting (i.e. That their posts will remain confidential), and create a method by which the list isn’t dominated with a few posters and a majority of lurkers…._

> Here is what we decided the ingredients were for creating an outstanding and active discussion list:

>1. Exclusivity: The key to the success of any list is exclusivity. Not just anyone can get in. This is what made The Oldtimer’s so successful. On the “Oldtimer’s List” you had to have been in the industry for at least 5 years, and you had to be “cool.” In “The One Hundred Club” — or the OHC, as it is now referred to as — we purposefully limited membership to 100 of the top minds, and cut off membership at that point. Everyone on the list was nominated by someone else on the list.

> 2. Privacy: This is a key ingredient. A good discussion list needs to be like a confessional. In order to generate interesting and useful posts, people need to know that what they post won’t be held against them, or pop up somewhere unexpectedly. On the OHC, privacy is a strict rule: like Las Vegas, what’s said there stays there. In fact, it is the only “rule” of the list that can get you permanently banned if you break it.

> 3. Keeping the List Fresh: One of the biggest issues with all lists is that the ratio of active posters to lurkers is very lopsided. A few voices take over the discussion, the rest lurk, and pretty soon, you have a boring list. To counteract this, The OHC instituted a “no-lurker” policy.

> Every 3 months we purge the list of anyone who has not posted during the last quarter. Members who are purged are replaced by people on the waiting list. This lights a fire under folks to post or be purged, and it provides an organic way of growing the list. In any quarter where we have 100% participation, we increase the membership enrollment by a few people, guaranteeing that new voices and new perspectives are added to the conversation regularly, and at the same time guaranteeing a very active discussion with high participation.

This last idea is the most radical and interesting one. The vision here is one of small lists, where you participate actively or get bumped off, rather than large lists with a few active folks and lots of lurkers. It would be cool to see these a feature like this built into [Sympa](http://www.sympa.org).