On a listserv, mailing list or similar, have you ever been accused of hijacking somebody else’s thread and wondered what on earth they are talking about?
One possibility is a side effect of systems which bridge between email and web based forums. Yahoogroups and googlegroups are popular examples but not the only ones. People who use email to read groups will sometimes start a new thread in the same way that they might initiate a new conversation with an old contact – by finding the last message that person sent to them, hitting reply, deleting the old message and composing a new one complete with new subject header. That’s generally a good idea because it vastly reduces the chances of getting their email address wrong.
But if you do this with a threaded discussion list there’s a chance that somebody reading the group via the web interface will wonder why on earth you have suddenly started talking about a completely different subject in “their” thread.
( As an aside, I remember in the past such complainants being mocked for some time afterwards by being referred to as “Oh Threadmaster”, but that’s probably a different set of circumstances )
There’s a pertinent problem here of how best to deal with this potential conflict between two slightly different sets of users of the same discussion group – the email list users and the web forum readers.
This is how I decided to tackle it when a mild complaint was raised on one of the groups I facilitate:
I noted your comment about threads earlier, and it might be worth trying to clear up some possible misunderstandings about the way the
discussions are presented to people when we read this group.
I believe a lot of people, probably most and including myself are
reading the messages as they arrive in our email inboxes. In this
case, it all depends what kind of email reading software or webmail
sevice you are using, and how it is set up , as to how the topics and
messages are displayed. Many will simply sort by message subject or by
date. There is also the option of reading the group directly from the
archives at eg http://groups.google.com where it appears a bit like a
web forum. I’ve just looked and it is true that the new subjects can appear as
continuations of older topics where people have simply hit the reply
button in their email and then changed the subject.
I’m not saying that we need to have any specific rules or even
guidelines necessarily about how to post or start new subjects, just
to try and be aware that other people may have a different experience
or view of the concept of what is a thread and where it starts.
If you wanted to be sure of starting a new thread by email, compose a
new mail rather than a reply. Set the To: or recipient to
firstname.lastname@example.org ( you should be able to get that pasted in
from your address book ) and type in a new subject and message.
If in doubt, it’s nearly always better to send in any information,
questions, ideas or opinions in any old way you can rather than not