11.0695 small is beautiful if by self-control

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 16 Apr 1998 20:54:37 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 695.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: "H.C. Earwicker" <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (61)
Subject: control

[2] From: Tim Reuter <T.Reuter@soton.ac.uk> (20)
Subject: Re: 11.0688 small is beautiful, but why?

[3] From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris@acm.org> (15)
Subject: Re: 11.0688 small is beautiful, but why?

[4] From: "Charles L. Creegan" <ccreegan@ncwc.edu> (14)
Subject: Re: 11.0688 small is beautiful, but why?

[5] From: Harold Short <Harold.Short@kcl.ac.uk> (18)
Subject: Re: 11.0688 small is beautiful, but why?

Date: Wed, 15 Apr 1998 06:50:40 +0100 (BST)
From: "H.C. Earwicker" <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: control

Dear Colleagues:

Those with long memories will know, and those with intense curiosity and
much patience discover, that complaints of TOO MUCH (a.k.a. infoglut) go
back a long way on Humanist. As I recall, the first such complaint was
voiced within a month of its beginning, when the volume of its e-mail was
a tiny fraction of what it is now. When I asked "what's the problem?" I
wasn't being naive or insensitive, rather curious as to what form the
expression of infoglut would take this time. What do people mean when they
say "too much!"?

In the past the complaint has almost without exception had more to do with
our ability to cope with volume than with the amount itself. Digesting of
messages in its current form was an early response, my sense being that if
we reduced the number of messages, made sure that each digest grouped
together related messages and provided a table of contents, we'd be able
to handle the amount much more easily. I think experience has proven that
to be right. So I am very reluctant indeed to unbundle long messages, and
so return to the bad old days of sending out a flock of 15-20 of them to
roost all over your e-mail accounts, like pigeons. We've been there, done
that, and it didn't work. As a Londoner I am only too well aware of what
roosting pigeons do and would not wish even the virtual equivalent on

So, where does this leave us?

Ideally, long announcements would all come with a few lines of summary
followed by a URL. Unfortunately they don't. Since I do not have the time
to edit these things down to reasonable size, nor even to write back to
the sender asking that this be done, my choice is either to delete them or
pass them on. Even if I did send the messages back, my guess is that the
senders wouldn't take the time, and so we'd not see the contents in any
form. We can all point to messages whose contents we'd not feel much
poorer without, but then I'd suppose that for each of us there are long
messages we would not want to miss. These are hard to remember as such,
however, because we tend not to think of interesting things as being too
long. Again, the problem is often not line-count per se; it's rather
murkier than that.

I see no practical solution to the problem other than the self-control of
our membership. Unfortunately, again, even this would not cure the problem
completely because some if not many of the longest messages come from
those who are not actually members. A simple problem to solve, you'd
think, but it isn't. Because our software is so simple-minded (if you'll
allow the anthropomorphism) it cannot distinguish someone who is not nor
has ever been a member of Humanist from someone who is but who is using an
address different from the one the software knows. Sometimes this happens
because a Humanist cannot be bothered to change his or her address,
sometimes because a person in the local computing centre changes the
domain name, etc. Since Assistant Editor David Gants kindly passes on
bounced messages, many of us are saved the effort of changing the address
Humanist knows each time our address changes.

What then I propose to do -- thinking self-control unlikely in the
short-term -- is to begin to exercise discretionary authority over
messages I regard as too long, especially the ones that advertise the
T-shirts and give full details of parking arrangements in exotic foreign
cities no one whom I know can afford to visit. Let's see if this makes a
difference. Meanwhile, I'd recommend as spiritual exercise that all those
who are deeply annoyed at long conference announcements (as I am) put
themselves in the place of an organiser who is deeply worried about the
success of his or her event (as I have been). One's annoyance then is
likely to be that one's cherished announcement is not the first one in a
series of them.

As this note reaches two screenfulls on my large screen, I invite further
comment, at length.


Date: Mon, 13 Apr 1998 19:42:53 +0100 (GMT Daylight Time)
From: Tim Reuter <T.Reuter@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: 11.0688 small is beautiful, but why?

Willard's own question is answered by 11.0691, which once again
is 37k long/large and contains four messages, all from David
Gants (who could perhaps consider setting up his own conference
announcement list?).

The problem comes when you actually want to read message 5 in a
5-message posting, and have to wade through 20 screens to get
there. Of course Willard doesn't have to edit them himself; he
should impose a 30-line limit (per sender?) and bounce all
messages which exceed this back to the sender for editing down to
the limit. Alternatively, we ban conference announcements
altogether, but that would perhaps be baby with bathwater.

Tim Reuter

# Tim Reuter
# Department of History
# University of Southampton
# Southampton SO17 1BJ
# T +44 1703 594868 (w) 552623 (h)
# F +44 1703 593458
# email tr@soton.ac.uk
# http://www.soton.ac.uk/~tr/tr.html

Date: Mon, 13 Apr 1998 14:36:59 -0500
From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris@acm.org>
Subject: Re: 11.0688 small is beautiful, but why?

One suggestion that would probably annoy others but would
help me is to unbundle the long announcements so that we
don't have to scroll through to look at the next one! I
wouldn't mind a few more messages if it meant I could just
look at the first few lines to know whether I want to read
the rest. But when the index at the beginning of a series
of announcements just says CFP, it's hard to know whether
it's worth looking at.

My $.02. . .

Mary Dee

Mary Dee Harris, Ph.D.                  512-477-7213
Language Technology, Inc.               512-477-7351 (fax)
2415 Griswold Lane                      mdharris@acm.org
Austin, TX 78703

--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Mon, 13 Apr 1998 16:12:41 From: "Charles L. Creegan" <ccreegan@ncwc.edu> Subject: Re: 11.0688 small is beautiful, but why?

Digests in which the first message(s) are very long are particularly pernicious. Humanist 11.0691 has 4 parts each of which is 9 or 10 screens long (133, 183, 212, 184 lines). Who can be bothered seeking the start of each new part?

If these must be sent, at least send them one to a message. Then I'll easily see the first screen of each. Though having more messages implies other headaches.

But if I ran the zoo I'd have automatic rejection of messages longer than 50 lines or so. Only the very occasional tirade has *content* of that length. (I don't consider ascii art, or lists of the program committee for a conference in Rotorua, to be content.) Let the posters edit!

Curmudgeonly yrs.,

Charles L. Creegan    N.C. Wesleyan College    ccreegan@ncwc.edu

--[5]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Tue, 14 Apr 1998 12:28:39 +0000 From: Harold Short <Harold.Short@kcl.ac.uk> Subject: Re: 11.0688 small is beautiful, but why?

I took Peter Evans to be appealing to contributors rather than to the Editor, and wholeheartedly endorse his appeal. Clear, concise expression is much to be desired in any medium. In making an announcement, a brief description with guidance on where to obtain further information is an estimable and practical model.

As to the question 'Where's the problem?', it is crucially one of time, and information overload. So easy is it to replicate information held in electronic form, it is done with too little thought. Many postings begin with an apology for cross-posting, including one today on Humanist; these cross-postings would be fine if they consisted of a 5-line description and an URL.

The grouping and naming of messages by our Editor is invaluable. If the contributors would in addition offer economy of expression, Humanist would be an even more valuable publication.

Best wishes


Harold Short, Director, Centre for Computing in the Humanities King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK Harold.Short@kcl.ac.uk Tel:+44 (0)171 873 2739 Fax:+44 (0)171 873 5081

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