Using lists in Tela Botanica

Card's author : Outils-réseaux
Card's type of licence : Creative Commons BY-SA
Testimonies : The Tela Botanica network was developed around discussion lists.

The first "tela-botanicae" was established in March 1999, when the network was created. It finds its support in the services offered by Yahoo Groups. It remains active today, with 1,092 members and 34,000 messages exchanged since its creation, with an average of 225 messages per month (figures from 8 March 2010).

Diversity of its members

The list combines specialists and amateurs, neophytes and people passionate for botanic sciences. A beginner asks a question and then dozens of specialists answer, sometimes in great depth. Admittedly, if they had met up with each other, the exchanges would probably never have been so dynamic (for the fear of being judged by others, the high level of discussions…).

Division into themed groups

As exchanges went on, themed discussions emerged, sometimes creating an overwhelming number of messages on the list. The network facilitator, who was monitoring the situation, immediately suggested creating a separate and specific discussion list. This is how more than fifty themed groups were created, leading to some intense cooperative work for some and to collective production.

Summarised lists

The advantage of dividing the network into themed groups is that you can subscribe to discussions that you are interested in, without becoming flooded with emails every day. The disadvantage is that you don't have a global view of what is going on in the group. To solve this issue, one of the network members encouraged the creation of discussion summaries: the person asking a question had to write a summary with all the answers received.
Three levels of summaries were defined based on the level of information feedback.
  • Level 1 - gathering messages. Returning all exchanges on a topic (the only process involved is to compile all the messaged in an order and clean-up the form).
  • Level 2 - gathering messages and shaping them. Intermediate summarising giving messages a certain shape.
  • Level 3 - summary. Enriched summary (adding elements and controlling references).
All this under a Creative Commons licence, of course!

Tools to facilitate and frame exchanges

The network also created tools to facilitate access to these lists for new members: animated user manuals (video tutorial) and a code of good conduct (Netiquette).