Do-It-Yourself Documentation? Research Into the Effectiveness of Mailing Lists (Part 1)
by Andy Oram
Mailing list membership is a must for anyone who works with
complicated computer technology, such as a programming language, a
server, or a professional software package. On popular mailing lists
for difficult topics, such as Linux distributions, messages stream in
at every hour of the day and night.
How many messages on these lists get satisfactory answers? How long
does it take to resolve the questions? These are just two of the
simpler ways to measure a mailing list's effectiveness (we will
encounter others as we proceed).
In a series of blogs I'll present the results of a modest research
project of mine to measure the effectiveness of two mailing lists,
which will be the start of what I hope to be a larger study.
It's unfortunate that some of the most important things about mailing lists are also the hardest to measure. A great thing to track would be the audience's learning rate, for example, and one way to measure that would be to track how long it takes for "the same" question to get answered each time it appears. I put "the same" in quotes because, of course, a human would have to classify when a question is the same as some question already seen on the list.