Ask Idealware: Solutions for Tagging and Archiving a Discussion List

Laura Quinn asked me to contribute an answer towards Idealware’s Ask Idealware. It was a great question so I happily shot off an answer in email. It also made me realize that this was yet another thing contributing to my recent pattern of “not getting to blogging.” I have been writing for other publications, traveling and prioritizing more time for my own health – exercise and meditation – and blogging keeps coming out on the losing end. So Laura said it was fine to repub on my blog so my total silence can be broken! 😉

Anyway, here is the piece!

Melanie asks:

I’m working with a group of public radio station fundraisers who want a way to communicate regularly online to share tips and tests they have done in conjunction with project we are working on together to increase the number of donors to public radio nation-wide. The consensus of this group is they would like to do this via listserv. I really dislike listservs and would like to find a different option. Especially so we can easily archive and tag the posts. The vast majority of this group tells me they will be most likely to participate if something comes to their email inbox, not if they have to go to a blog to read and make comments. Is there a blog/listserv hybrid solution, perhaps using rss or something like that?

Nancy White, with Full Circle Interaction, responds:

If I hear you right, there are a number of things you want to support in this interaction:

  • Q&A and sharing of tips within the group via email
  • Archiving and organizing the tips so they can be found later, especially via tags
  • You intend to use the offerings as is without synthesis or editing (or not?)

Here are a couple of ideas that come to mind. They offer a bit of variation – so it depends which of the above activities are most important. The real challenge is most discussion tools haven’t yet integrated tagging even in web interfaces, and I have not seen any that enable tagging via email. So instead of having people tag as they post, it has to be done post-posting. That adds work. But it probably increases the consistency of tagging. Getting a group unfamiliar with tagging to institute a consistent tagging practice is not so quick nor easy. 😉

  • Combine an email list, tagging tool, and wiki. Use an email list with a web repository that offers a permalink to each post, then use an external tagging tool like to tag them. Aggregate those tags automatically into something like a wiki. For example, with Wikispaces you can automatically feed tags into a page. So you can either make a page for each tag, or if there aren’t too many tags, aggregate them on one page. If you do this, I suggest that you have an overall tag (like nancycrazyforchocolate) and then a tag that addresses the specific content of the post. This requires somebunny/bunnies to do the tagging. Maybe ask people to take turns doing this and have an initial conversation about shared tagging practices.
  • Curate the Q&As. The KM4Dev community functions in the day to day via a DGroups email list with a web repository. They pair this with a wiki (using Mediawiki) on their server where they collect “community knowledge” The community practice is whomever asks the question, collects the answers then summarizes them on a wiki page. A template helps organize those who feel a bit intimidated by the practice. Again, DOING this takes time to develop as a community practice. It is finally pretty well adopted by the KM4Dev community, but after 2 years of bugging by yours truly, now known as the wiki pest from the west.
  • Use a blog but set up email subscriptions. I’m not sure – and this would be good to ask one of our community’s blog experts, if there is blog software that not only delivers blog posts by email, but allows posting of comments by email. Here the key practices would be requiring the initiator of the question to actually post it on the blog and tag it initially. And remind people of the power of search.

Finally, I have to ask the hard question. Will people go back and use the archived and tagged material, or will they follow the age old pattern of just asking again? Will they wade through multiple messages or is synthesis going to really add significant value? We find in KM4Dev that community members tend to re-ask, but other, non members, seem to be hitting the wiki, suggesting that the artifacts we’ve produced are of value beyond the community. But in community, we seem to love that personal response that comes at the moment of asking and answering.

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at Have other great options? Disagree with our answer? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.