Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Synoptic-L's Yahoo!Group woes

Several have blogged on the temporary hiatus for the ANE list (e.g. Stephen Carlson on Hypotyposeis, cf. links there). It seems that the list was suspended when its then listowner took up a position in Athens (traffic suspended May 16 2005). Jim West reports that David Meadows may be about to pick up the baton, which would be good news.

The issue of ANE's future prompts me to blog on my woes with relocating Synoptic-L, the e-list for the discussion of the Synoptic Gospels. The list has been hosted here in Birmingham since its inception in 1998. Throughout that period it has also been archived by Yahoo!Groups and its earlier incarnations FindMail and egroups. This kind of arrangement used to be quite common -- a list hosted by majordomo software in a university (or similar) would often not have an archiver, and FindMail used to offer an archiving service for such groups. Such a group would be called (by FindMail and then egroups) a "remote list". Everything except the archiving was run from the host in its remote location. Yahoo!Groups took over the same arrangement when it bought up egroups, continuing to archive for any group that was remotely hosted, but it no longer offered the service to newly established remote groups.

Because of my forthcoming move away from Birmingham, a new host needs to be found for Synoptic-L. I thought that the natural thing was to move the group to Yahoo!Groups. It used to be possible to do this by the simple flick of a switch -- you would go, on egroups, to the Management area, and would change the group from remotely hosted to being hosted by egroups, ensuring continuity of archive but change of host. The same thing is unfortunately not the case with Yahoo!Groups. So I wrote to Yahoo!Groups help to ask if it would be possible to do the simple switch. My goodness, what hard work it was. I would never get a straight answer, or anyone that wasn't doing a good impression of the borg. In other words, it was never clear whether I really was talking to real people, even though it would be signed by people. I would keep explaining the situation over and over again and get responses that did not address it at all, except to say in auto-generated style things like, "We have ascertained that you are the owner of this group; could you explain exactly what the problem is?" I would then explain yet again and would get a message back saying "Unfortunately you are not the owner of this group. Please refer to the group owner." And eventually I had a message asking me not to contact them any further.

So it was not possible to combine the archive and the hosting, alas. There were two options for the future host, one to go with Yahoo!Groups under a new name and another to go with Google Groups under the same name. There is a poll at the moment to see what the list members think.

I suppose that this experience and that of the ANE List does show that the commercial group hosts, Yahoo!Groups, Google Groups and the like, are the long term future for the e-lists. In time list-owners leave the universities where their lists are based, and the disruption is avoided by the use of Yahoo!Groups and the like. But given the real struggle of talking to Yahoo!Groups when something does come up, I'm not sure I am happy with the way the future looks on this.


Geoff Hudson said...

So you sense when you are not talking to real people. I get that feeling whenever I respond to certain folks and their blogs I come across on certain biblical discussion groups - a very strange world indeed - one which I have never experienced in any other sphere. There are few in it I would trust. I am glad I have a completely different world where one can maintain some degree of sanity.

Rob Bradshaw said...

Mark, have you tried a Google Group? It is still at testing stage, but seems OK to me: