16 More Brainstorm Ideas For Mailman's Web Interface

I went to the Shut Up and Draw session at SXSW yesterday. On the plane ride home last night, I decided to shut up and draw some mailman ideas. Well, I have 16 more… the first sixteen were about as many I thought reasonable for one post. So here’s the rest.
These are just thumbnail sketches meant to express some ideas visually than serve as a guide for visual layout or any kind of formal mock up. I would love to know what you think about any of them. For each:

  • Does it seem like a useful feature? Would you use it?
  • Does it remind you of anything you’ve used before?
  • Can you think of a better way to visualize the idea?
  • Does it not belong in a mailman webui?
  • How do you think it would shape conversation on a list?

#17 List Monthly Health

It might be cool for moderators to be able to have a monthly ‘bill of health’ for their list. What’s the population like, and how has it changed? Were there more or less posts than usual? How much spam did we get? What’s the male-to-female ratio? Out of all the members, how many are actually posting? How bad was the flaming? How many people from @example.com are participating vs. other domains? Etc.

#18 Special Commit List Layout

Mailing lists sometimes get used for special purposes outside of human discussion. Commit lists are an example of one of these. On a call I had with the Mailman developers at their coding sprint at PyCon today, I think it was Barry who said they are looking at plug-in based displays; a plug-in type system could be a good way to do displays special content like these. Anyway, this is a super-lame sketch to just show that you could have some kind of gitweb or svnweb or cvsweb integration with your commit list archives.
In a similar vein, you could have a special display for meeting minutes lists, or ticket/bug-based lists.

#19 Thread Starter Moderates It?

So here is an idea: it seems sometimes folks who are intimidated by mailing list head to blog planets where they can moderate comments/responses to their posts in their own way. So how about having it so that not only do moderators get the ability to moderate all posts on a list, but so the person who started the thread gets special — limited only to the threads she started — permissions to moderate replies to a thread? I’d imagine the interface being somewhat like WordPress’s comment moderation system.

#20 Podcast Script Generator

This idea is inspired by Fedora Weekly News which, in large part, is a curated and edited-down form of the most important topics brought up across Fedora’s mailing lists. Here, you can select the lists of interest, select a time period, and it’ll develop a ‘podcast script’ for you to read off information from. You might get, for the time period, the top 5 highest-rated or most-replied-to threads for a list in your script.

#21 Post Vote Bucket

So I went to a panel at SXSW that featured Jeffrey Zeldman of A List Apart. What is kind of funny is that I never knew and kind of wondering why the website was called “A List Apart.” Well, he actually explained why during his talk. Speaking as if mailing lists were an obsolete technology nobody used any more (well, hey, different circles I guess), he mentioned how he and some colleagues had a list about web technology, but that certain people tended to dominate the conversation and things would get unbalanced. So he explained how he (and I think Eric Meyer? Could be wrong) would moderate the list on a daily basis, to curate only the good / interesting content that had been sent out. It would be compiled into almost a newsletter format send out both via email and posted to the web. For various reasons that seemed maybe dramatic that he didn’t go into, they lost the list, but were able to keep the website, and the name from the days of it being a list stuck.
Anyway, long story aside, one way I know of curating content is to give discerning folks a limited set of votes to spend how they like on ideas. What if we gave people a bucket of votes (maybe your bucket could be bigger or smaller depending on your experience / skill / level / whatever) to up-vote posts on the list with, to be replenished monthly?

#22 Mentioned in Thread Refs

A lot of times folks reference fantastic resources and media across a thread, but there is no one place to grab them all – they are buried treasures in the wall of text in the archives. This is a quick idea for some kind of per-thread sidebar that could list out all references and media mentioned across the thread.

#23 In-Thread Survey

While you’re reading in a thread, you might be thinking to yourself, “ugh, this thread sucks!” or “wow, this is funny, tee hee.” Instead of complaining or raving in the thread itself and cluttering it, why not get it out with a little in-context survey in the thread? This could help warn others and spare them the pain of reading hours of so-bad-you-can’t-look-away trollrific flames.

#24 List Summary Page

Even in the same community, the climate and culture of a list can vary from list-to-list. It can be really hard to figure out, as a newcomer, the nature of a list without lurking for weeks and reading back in the archives. This sketch is an idea of how, in a list’s details page, we could give newcomers a quick picture of the general climate of a list. Who tends to make discussions that stick here? Who moderates? What are the hot topics? What recent threads are popular now? What time of day / week / month is the list most active? What are the rules?

#25 Take It Offlist Suggestor

We’ve all been there, right? A back-and-forth ping pong exchange, friendly or heated, between two folks who seem to want the world to watch what should probably be a private conversation. Maybe, if we could detect these kind of hi-jinks going on, would it be useful to have an anonymous and polite ‘take it off list’ suggestion posted to the folks involved? (How much do we want to encourage discussion to flow on list vs off list?)

#26 Mailman Day Survey

Yes, the 1st of every month is Mailman day, where you get tons of list subscription reminders in your inbox, like a monthly Christmas of sorts. Why not make those messages a bit more fun, and put little surveys in them? Click this link to vote this list as being flamey this month! Last month it was – meh! Care to summarize the month?
Maybe too much work on the users. Probably.

#27 Embedded Bugzilla Escalation

Yeh, I’ve been “that person” too. You know, the one who complains on a mailing list that my software is broken and it must be a bug, without thinking to search bugzilla to see if it’s a known bug and if there is a workaround before complaining about it. If we can detect a post is regarding a bug, maybe we can do that work for the poster, look up whether or not there are bugs with similar keywords to the message, and even offer up a ‘create new bug’ button that will open up a new bug and prefill the text of their mailing list message for editing?

#28 Action Items for List

Some mailing lists are used to coordinate across a team. Well, most are. Teams do things, usually. And sometimes action items come out of a discussion on the list. Would it be useful to have a to do list associated with the list to keep track of who is working on what? Maybe?

#29 Scheduled Nagger

Whether it’s a bad time to discuss because of high emotions, or it’s too soon because of the current point in the release cycle, or because you’re waiting for some external event to happen, you might have to table a discussion for a later date. It might be nice to have a little nagger where you can tell the mailing list, ‘let’s table this for 3 months’ and 3 months later your list will get a reminder to discuss it again.

#30 Freeze Thread Option

Too much is going on. Maybe someone posted something they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s just too flame-y. Maybe there’s a legal reason a thread has to stop. But, it definitely has to stop. What if, instead of turning a list on moderation and blocking all posts, you could block just posts to a particular thread? (Kind of like how web forums let you closed comments on a particular topic?)

#31 Message Annotation

Here is an idea for Flickr-style annotations of a mailing list post. Maybe you’re dissecting a commit or maybe you’re analyzing a post (maybe in another language, and you’re making translation notes?) I don’t know. Might be useful. I worry about how this would affect users connecting to the list only via mail clients and not the web ui.

#32 Refine Posts Into Articles

Earlier there was an idea to ‘promote’ really good posts into articles of some sort. Maybe the articles could be a system built into mailman – each list produces ‘articles’. When a good post is first promoted to article, it goes into the ‘need edit’ bucket for someone to claim to edit down and publish.

Well, again, what do you think? 🙂 Anything promising here? Anything you’d use?


  1. […] Well, that’s 16 ideas. I have 16 more. I’ll post them in a separate post so as to not overwhelm here. Check them out here. […]

  2. […] all’utilizzo di Mailman per le discussioni, Duffy ipotizza altre casistiche: in un secondo intervento, la designer ha pensato d’introdurre un generatore di podcast e un sistema di sondaggi […]

  3. Some good ideas! I have responded to these, and the 16 earlier ideas, on our own mailing list:

  4. Ah, the comment system ate my URL! Lets try that again http://groupserver.org/r/post/3cpJ9SaRdBi0jyOq9mTl9l

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