The listerv as a model of co-creation

The internet listserv is almost as old as the public internet itself. The listserv continues the open community model of discourse initiated with bulletin boards on very early internet platforms such as the Well in California. Personally I’ve been active on listserv’s since the start of the 1990’s and found them rich and fruitful environments for discussing ideas and sharing information. Some excellent listservs have passed into history, such as 7-11, alt-x and Fine Art Forum whilst others have morphed as other platforms, such as the web and Facebook, have offered new forms of engagement. Rhizome, one of the oldest listserv’s, involving creative practitioners and critical thinkers who work with network technologies, made this shift quite a few years ago, becoming a web only environment. The reasoning was that the amount of traffic (messages) on the listserv was too great to allow for reasoned discussion. However, the old-fashioned listserv format continues to thrive, if with smaller numbers of participants, serving those whose preferred means of communication is written text in a form that allows for a more measured and discursive form of communication than Twitter, Facebook or a blog would allow. Two of my favourite listervs are empyre: Soft Skinned Space and Netbehaviour. Empyre was founded by Melinda Rackham when she was completing her PhD on discursive (soft or co-creative) creative technology and is now run by Renate Ferro and Tim Murray of Cornell University. It has a team of moderators (myself amongst them) who direct the discussion with monthly themes. It remains a vital and highly co-creative community. Information about empyre can be found here:


Netbehaviour is a very different kind of listserv. It is unmoderated, which means any member of the list can post anything they want to the list on any topic they can imagine. As you might imagine, the discussion ranges far and wide and sometimes, but very rarely, gets a bit out of control. However, for 90% of the time the discussion on Netbehaviour remains considerate and remarkably relevant to the thousands of members of the list. This is not due to the list being shaped or directed in any manner (it isn’t) but is simply an emergent (and highly civilised) property of the community who are engaged with the list. As a positive model of co-creation we can probably learn a lot from this list. More information on Netbehaviour can be found here:


Simon Biggs, Edinburgh, April 30, 2013.


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