I've belonged to the Training and Development (TRDEV) listserv since the mid 1990's when it was owned by David Passmore at Penn State. It's always been a great source of information and (sometimes) amusement for me. You haven't lived until you see the flame wars that ensue over things like "what is training?" and "behaviorism vs. experiential learning."
This morning a new thread has been started on blogging vs. listservs and one of the points made by a long-time member is that listservs "are for all members' interests" because they automatically push community interest in a conversation to the top. If someone posts to the list and people are interested in the topic, lively discussion will follow. If they aren't, then the topic will disappear into oblivion.
Compare this to blogs, says the writer, where the blog owner decides on the topics and while commenters can join in the conversation, it will generally be on the blog owner's terms based on what interests him/her.
To some extent I think this is true. If a blogger is blithely blind to questions and ideas of people who comment and writes with no regard for the conversation going on on the blog, then clearly the blog is a forum for something other than community conversation. And of course if people don't ever comment, it's difficult to get a "conversation" going--you're generally talking to yourself.
At the same time, listservs can create an environment that isn't always open to "conversation." Over the years we've had many times when lurkers and newbies came out of the woodwork to report that they weren't participating in the conversation because the list was dominated by a few very opinionated writers who had no qualms about starting flame wars. Even when moderators step in, there's still a bad taste left in people's mouths and many leave the list.
I personally think that there's room for and a NEED for both to keep conversations going. Blogs offer a place for individuals to process information and put ideas out into the world. I can't imagine posting some of my blog posts to a listserv--they'd be considered "off-topic" or inappropriate because I'm not asking a question or furthering a discussion. Yet my blog posts contribute tremendously to my ability to participate more effectively in listserv conversations because I've been able to process ideas and to play around with different things.
I also believe that many well-run blogs operate as listservs in the sense of the two-way conversations that occur. Any reader of Kathy Sierra's blog knows that she regularly uses reader comments as part of the ongoing discussion and readers not only react to Kathy, but also interact with each other. The comments become threaded discussion as much as comments.
That said, I also agree that listservs are important. They obviously are based on a premise of having a conversation--you're posting with the expectation that someone will respond and generally they do. And listservs can be more "democratic" in terms of the topics and conversation. The stuff people are interested in gets talked about and the stuff they aren't interested in doesn't.
Like a democracy, though, listserv conversations can sometimes descend to the lowest common denominator. On many lists I find that some of the most (to me anyway) inane topics will take up HUGE amounts of time, while other far more interesting and meaty conversations will quickly sink to the bottom or have to go off-list to continue. On a blog at least the blogger could keep things going on the topics that interested him or her.
But back to the original question--are listservs better at serving the interests of all members? Do they do a better job of furthering community conversation? Or can blogs serve the same purpose or do it even better? What do you think?