To push or pull: some pros and cons of email lists versus discussion boards

When it came to email lists and discussion boards, I was an internet virgin. I was roughly and rudely deflowered through my first experiences of the Blackboard discussion board for Net11. This was not how it was meant to be. Things should proceed more gently and in an ordered fashion; instead this was anarchy.

I came to dread logging on each day, overwhelmed by the number of unread messages. I methodically followed each thread, thinking there might be some gem of wisdom further down the trail, more often than not to be disappointed. I was yet to post a comment then suddenly realised that I had become a lurker; that is a person who observes or follows the discussion, but does not participate (, 2009). But, I was determined to stamp my mark on this discussion group. How could I do that in this seemly endless barrage of messages? The concept of active communication generating identity awareness sprung to mind. In order to generate awareness by others of my identity within the discussion group, I would need to actively participate in the group (Active communication generates identity awareness n.d). Putting principle into practice I began to post selectively and deliberately, contributing I hope to the overall learning environment of the discussion board.

Was there a better way to have this kind of discussion? I decided to explore the world of the email list. I joined a group that interested me and sat back to see what would happen. When I checked my email the following morning I had eighty five emails, most of them trivial and offering similar responses to a rather inane request for help in removing odours from a new lounge. The next day, there was more of the same. I had subscribed to a support group for people with a medical condition with which I was recently diagnosed. However, it appeared that the support was more homespun and gossipy than of medical relevance. In three days I have received over three hundred emails three of which offered anything meaningful and useful. This group has lost its way; the members fail to recognise the boundaries between private and public communications. The responses have become too personally contextualised (removing odours from a lounge, a dog fight, and other similar minutiae) and have alienated at least one member, me (Public and Private n.d). I have decided to answer the three posts that interest me by email, and not via the list. The subject matters are best discussed in private not public.

After these experiences of email lists and discussion boards, I decided that the most obvious difference was the method of delivery of the information. Email lists use ‘push’ principles where the message is automatically sent to the reader’s email browser. Discussion boards utilise pull principles, requiring the reader to log onto the discussion board site and find the messages. The advantage of push versus pull can be overcome to a degree by subscribing to threads. The reader is notified by email that new posts have been made, but must still go to the discussion board site to read the posts.

Some critics of both email lists and discussion boards claim that they become tools for lazy research (Lambert, 2008). List and discussion board users rely on others to provide information that could readily be found through online searching or the catalogue at the local library (Lambert, 2008). Another criticism relates to the size of some email list or discussion board communities. Users can be overwhelmed by the mountain of emails that appear in their inbox each day,

Bad apples and flamers can be another problem with both lists and discussion boards. Sometimes uses forget the underlying aims of the group and use the list or discussion board to promote often irrelevant or inappropriate ideas of religion, politics or other pet subjects.

Both email lists and discussion boards promote an efficient way to exchange of information between groups of like minded people. Technological advances have enhanced the usability of email lists through magazine style consolidation of messages, eliminating the barrage of separate email messages. Also, since email lists do not require full access to the internet they will most likely be around for a while.


Active communication generates identity awareness, n.d., Internet Communications, The Concepts Document, Net11, Curtin University, Western Australia, retrieved from

Lambert, G. 2008, Is Twittering better than listservs, 3 Geeks and Law Blog retrieved on 7 April 2009 from, 2009., retrieved 10 April 2009 from

Public and private, n.d., Internet Communications, The Concepts Document, Net11, Curtin University, Western Australia, retrieved from


One Response to To push or pull: some pros and cons of email lists versus discussion boards

  1. ernest says:

    Great Blog.I like your views.


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