E-mail discussion forums and news groups
In chapter four, the Internet was described as a sea of random communications that contained islands of stability. These islands of stability were seen as the list serves, discussion forums and news groups that spontaneously form around a common area of interest. It was suggested that these would be the best places for people to go to get ideas and inspirations for e-business - and places to go to make contacts, form associations and collaborative partnerships.
The Kevin Bacon phenomenon and small- world clustering explains why these e-mail discussion forums and news groups are so popular. Effectively, they are extremely large, small-world clusters and act to greatly reduce the number of steps between people connected to the Internet. In theory, anyone subscribed to one of these discussion forums is connected directly - by one step - to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of others. In areas of special interest, where there are thousands of people who work within a particular field, this will result in everyone being no more than one or two steps away from each other - greatly enhancing the Kevin Bacon effect
An e-mail discussion forum provides a powerful source of knowledge and information for all the subscribers. However, these sources of information and knowledge have to be used intelligently because of the message overload effect. It is one thing to be one step away from thousands of people, but, quite another to be able to communicate effectively with them all.
Once people discover the value of email discussion groups, they tend to join several. This brings them within one or two steps of expert opinion in a number of different areas of knowledge, but, it also brings an overload of messages each day. Most lists help the subscribers to cope with this problem by giving them the option of receiving all the messages in digest form - one file a day that contains all the previous day's messages - but, however these messages arrive, there will usually far too many for most people to read them all. Consequently, people who belong to e-mail discussion forums have to adopt a strategy of random sampling - in the same way that neurones in the brain randomly respond to activating message spikes: they read or respond only to a proportion of them.