In thinking about and talking to people about the kind of social network I want, the notion of email lists keeps popping up in conversations. Traditionally I’ve been pretty down on email as a means of conversation, and generally try to discourage it’s use when ever possible. Though I’ve listened to the arguments and as a means for keeping a small group of people connected it may just have it’s merits. What’s been most interesting for me recently is talking to people who run incredibly locked down private lists.

Oddly related, I’ve been reading a lot about outlaw biker gangs. I’ve been devouring both biographies of bikers and undercover agents who infiltrated the clubs. I say it’s related because in both situations we’re talking about a goal of a tight knit group that functions well, and in both cases when it’s been made too easy for people to join those groups, or when the groups have become too public, things have fallen apart. When the clubs stay private, avoid soliciting new members, and require very long “prospecting” periods before potential members can join so that all existing members can feel them out, things generally work better.

I had incredibly high hopes for Path but as they kept increasing the number of connections you could have, and the more places your actions could be broadcast out to it became clear my hopes and their goals weren’t the same thing. And every time I talk about that with people I find myself back on the topic of really private email lists.

A few examples of active and functioning very private email lists from people I’ve spoken to recently. These are not all from the same group, so some examples may conflict with others:

  • Members are not supposed to talk about the lists existence around anyone who isn’t on the list, to prevent people asking to join, or feeling left out if they aren’t invited.
  • New members require 100% agreement from current members before they can be added, which can sometimes result in over a year from the time someone is proposed until they are finally approved.
  • On another list, 80% of existing members had to approve a new member, but only one member in opposition was needed to deny them.
  • To prevent any potential problems down the line, with one group no couples are permitted. (The list was not exclusively men or women)
  • On a few lists, invites are handled exclusively by one person.
  • Some lists have set membership limits, that is, once a membership cap is reached, someone has to leave to allow room for someone else to join – this is generally determined by activity, inactive members get booted.
  • One list had a secret list inside of the list, a council so to speak, that made decisions on who to add or removed, but no one outside of the council knew who the council was.

I find all this to be incredibly fascinating and may experiment with some lists of my own. Are you on any kind of a private email list? What are some best practices that you’ve seen in action?