Discussion lists are a type of mailing list, in which the subscribers are able to communicate with each other, using their own e-mail address and software.

This simple idea has been the basis of major online social groups, so-called communities or virtual communities, during the growth of the Internet, supporting sharing of ideas, discussion and debate across continents. Important movements in the digital arts have all relied heavily on such mailing lists, sometimes connecting with mail-art practices and early computer user groups, to create a shared and distributed system allowing threads of considered discussion and experimentation to unfold over days and weeks. Furthermore, community-run local meetings have also relied upon mailing lists to organise events, host discussion between events, and connect with similar groups in other countries. Our own involvement in this has been as list managers across many projects, a role that was more janitorial than curatorial, but still essential in maintaining the flow of ideas, and shared spaces of trust. Some of these mailing lists are still maintained, but in many cases are slowly entering a period of unplanned obsolescence at at time where a commercially driven pseudo-democratic Internet really means the clustering around too few communication platforms, sometimes reducing the network at our disposal to a single web application.

Indeed, even though mailing lists are still used in many technological circles as a main communication channel, their use in a broader cultural context is being challenged by the rise of easier to use web services in which free access is traded for complete control over any data submitted and created by these platforms. As a consequence, discussions are moving from the commonly shared space of email to proprietary spaces such as Facebook, Google Plus, Disqus and others. The consequence of that is two-fold: first, there is an obvious privacy and free speech risk in migrating from a system that promotes and defends pseudonymity, towards ones in which digital fingerprinting and full information body search upon entrance is seen as a social norm; second, there are now many interesting discussions happening on such platforms which are deeply anchored within these walled gardens, making, unlike email discussions, their archiving and future retrieval highly problematic, specially considering that all these overgrown services operates on flimsy advertisement business models that will eventually collapse. For those aware of these issues, yet dragged into such novel platforms, a sense of loss, fatalism, cynicism sometimes, has been growing stronger.

We believe this feeling is collectively felt, and a small intervention is all that is needed to bring discussions back into the public realm. We propose to revive discussion lists, by providing so-called online communities a place where both web based and e-mail based discussions can happen outside of data harvesting, proprietary and closed source software platforms.

We will call such a new place LURK and will set this process in motion with three stages:

  1. Moving some of our own discussion groups to LURK.
  2. Once established and stable, inviting related net culture communities to LURK.
  3. Help other fields to follow the same process, so we do not become an information silo ourselves.

All the work and documentation of LURK will be dedicated to the public domain. LURK is changing frequently, things will break, be added, and removed. If you have questions, contact us!

and Alex