Are mailing lists essential to community building?

Mailing lists: Community or communication?

Core purpose people on jungle gym.
Image by :

Subscribe now

Get the highlights in your inbox every week.

How many mailing lists or list-servs are you subscribed too?

147 votes tallied
22 votes
58 votes
35 votes
13 votes
More than 50
19 votes

Mailing lists seem to be the life blood of many open source projects. Here at Red Hat, there seems to be a mailing list for everything. There’s a company-wide memo-list to foster collaboration and connect with colleagues around the world and many special interest mailing lists like our home beer brewing list. Which got me thinking, are mailing lists only a way to communicate or are they essential to community building?

I started looking at all the mailing lists I’m subscribed to and am amazed. I belong to almost 20 Google Groups, several Yahoo! Groups, and countless Red Hat mailing lists. At work, some lists are for team communications, but others are for my own self-interests. Outside of the office, I’m subscribed to a variety of neighborhood lists in Raleigh, NC, user groups, and a few open government topics.

Every list is different, just like every community is different. On some mailing lists, I act as the owner or moderator. On others, I’m a lurker. For some, I choose to get every email; others, only the digest. Sometimes it’s about the purpose of the list, but other times, it’s about the signal-to-noise ratio.

I’m sure many of you are members of several mailing lists. And if you’re like me, you play a different role in each and consume them differently depending on your interest level.

Do you think mailing lists are simply a mechanism to foster communication or does it help create and build community? I’m happy to share some additional commentary after I hear from you in the comments.

About the author

Jason Hibbets
Jason Hibbets - Jason Hibbets is a senior community architect at Red Hat which means he is a mash-up of a community manager and project manager for He primarily works with the DevOps Team and Open Organization community. He is the author of The foundation for an open source city and has been with Red Hat since 2003. Follow him on Twitter: @jhibbets for a fun and shareable feed of his open source (and other)...