In the Wikimedia Space vision, the mailing lists still active today have evolved into forum categories fully operational via email. In that future, everyone benefits from the integration of these mailing lists to Space, and users still preferring email-based interaction lose nothing. Today, this vision is just an idea for discussion. A technically solid idea that emerged from the discussions about the future of Mailman in Wikimedia and more than two years piloting Discourse.
The path to fully discuss, agree upon, and eventually implement this vision is expected to be long, and perhaps alternative visions arise as we go. However, the distance is nothing; it is only the first step that costs (thanks Wikiquote!). Here is a proposal for a first step.
Mirroring mailing lists
We can mirror mailing lists in Space. This means that each post sent to the mailing list is automatically replicated in a category specific for that mailing list in the Space forum. The mailing list itself isn’t affected by this mirroring. If we want to cease mirroring, we can delete the category without a trace.
Why mirroring? The first condition for a meaningful conversation is to have a common understanding about the benefits of this proposal. These benefits are explained below, but reading about them cannot compare to experiencing them directly. By mirroring mailing lists in Space we can let users of these mailing lists experience the benefits by themselves.
Benefits of mirroring a mailing list:
- See how it works without altering the mailing list and without committing to anything.
- Search posts of one mailing list within its category, or find posts of any mailing list in the search results of general search queries.
- Tag topics.
- 💙 posts to show support and appreciation.
- Watch a mailing list category and receive web or email notifications for each post.
- Watch or mute specific topics.
- Silence specific senders.
- See basic stats for each topic (reads, hearts, replies).
- Mailing list senders with an account in Space get their mirrored posts automatically authored by them, and they receive the corresponding trust level points.
- Mailing list admins can be recognized as moderators of the corresponding forum category.
Are there any mailing lists willing to test this mirroring? The Space admins are ready to start.
Emulating mailing lists
Mailing list mirrors are read-only. In order to support use cases like creating new topics or replying via email, we need to fully emulate a mailing list in Space, without relying on an external mailing list. As a first step, we could create a category whose purpose would be testing mailing list emulation. This category would be muted by default, so only users who have changed their settings to watch it would notice it.
Benefits of emulating a mailing list:
- All the benefits from mirroring a mailing list.
- Off-topic posts can be moved to the appropriate category.
- Topics can be split or merged.
- Topics can be closed.
- Posts can be edited or removed.
- Common guidelines, code of conduct and moderation standards with the rest of Space.
- One Discourse instance can deal more efficiently with spam and vandalism than dozens of separate mailing lists, both automatically and manually.
As said, email-based users shouldn’t miss any feature compared to our existing mailing lists. This is a hypothesis that needs testing, though.
Any volunteers willing to test mailing list emulation? One possibility would be to start with a category devoted to… testing and discussing mailing list emulation, muted by default not to bother the rest of Space users.