Thursday, September 13, 2007

The End of H-Net?

Mills Kelly at edwired sees a decline in traffic at some prominent history listservs and asks whether it is a sign that H-Net is on the way out. Hat tip. He writes:

Back in the late 1990s H-Net was the coolest way for academics, teachers, and others with an interest in the humanities and social sciences to connect, discuss, and even engage in some serious scholarship online. Of course, in the late 1990s, email was still the killer app of the Internet and we still hadn’t experienced non-stop spamming, nor could we imagine the rapid growth of blogs as a means of communication and community building. And we certainly didn’t know how social networking would take off.

Looking at the volume of messages in March-May 2005, 2006 and 2007, he finds a decline in traffic at H-World, H-High-S, and H-Africa, and no change at H-South.

His conclusion:
But the objective measure of traffic–at least in this small snapshot–seems to indicate that H-Net has ridden the email horse a little too long. Given the rapid growth in history blogs as a way for those in our discipline to communicate with one another, I suspect that more an more scholars and teachers are turning away from email and to the newer forms of scholarly communication.

If H-Net is going to survive into a second decade, I would urge its leadership to give up on email and move on. Digital communities in the Web 2.0 world just aren’t created in email any more.
But see the comments, suggesting that H-Net provides a service distinct from blogs and other on-line sites, like this one from JH:
Yes, there is way too much mail. But I can always ignore and delete messages once I’ve decided the topic isn’t worth my time.
Meanwhile, I probably read the comments of a couple of score of historians every week, and on topics that I know (from the subject lines) are likely to interest me, and from a single source: my email in-box.
What’s not to love?...

The most active H-Net listserv I subscribe to is H-Diplo, which hosts roundtables on new books and commentary on articles in the most recent issue of Diplomatic History. As long as listservs provide this sort of content, they are likely to maintain a loyal readership. And e-mail programs make it a bit easier to manage the flood of messages. My e-mail from high volume listservs goes directly into a dedicated folder in Outlook, so that I can read them when I have time.

But Kelly does raise important questions, and at least in the law blogophere, there seems to be a migration in some areas from listservs to blogs. I suspect that more organizations will follow the lead of the American Historical Association, creating their own blogs. In legal history, hopefully we will see the growth of a broad legal history blogosphere, with new blogs focusing on different areas of the field.

Update: A follow-up post on edwired is here, and links to other blogs discussing this issue are here.

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