[SIGCIS-Members] Email Book

Janet Abbate abbate at vt.edu
Mon Dec 12 05:50:45 PST 2016

Hi Esther, 

Great topic! One of the significant early email lists was created by Anita Borg in 1987. This was right around the time Listserv was being created (ca 1986), but it wasn't widespread, so Borg wrote her own program called Mecca. The list was for women in operating systems research and was called "Systers." As Borg told it:

"I collected their email addresses (for those who had it—not everybody had email at that point, or some had email, but it was just inside their companies) and set up a mailing list and came up with this funny little name.  
We didn’t really have a sense of how to use it, so I would try to keep it going. I’d ask some question, or encourage a question to be asked. Then a few friends of mine who weren’t in operating systems—Barbara Simons and I don’t remember who else; other women in research—said, “Why operating systems? You don’t just talk about operating systems, do you?” So I said, “No. OK, we’ll open it.” It grew step by step as women asked to join. They needed it; they needed the connection. It is now limited to "technical women in computing."  
I think the most extraordinary time for us, in a way, was probably when it was about a few hundred people. It was more of a little community. On the other hand, it was clear that opening it up wider has done something incredible for women in the field. Before Systers existed, there was no community of women in computing. It didn’t exist. We all existed as individuals: we had a few women that we knew, but there was no community. There was no notion of how many women were out there, doing what."

Systers is moderated and has rules designed to create a non-hostile space for women in the tech arena, which was felt to be the exception rather than the rule. 

You can read the full interview at  


On Dec 11, 2016, at 10:55 27PM, Esther Milne wrote:

> Hi everyone,
> I've been an archive lurker for a couple of months so I thought it was time to introduce myself.
> I'm an academic writing a book commissioned by MIT called 'Email and the Everyday: Homes, Institutions, Markets'. Despite its 45 year history, surprisingly there have been no monographs dedicated to email. 
> Of course there are many journal articles, conference presentations and research projects that examine email communication. And the leading internet histories all discuss email but there is not the sustained analysis we've seen with other technologies and media forms.
> So I'm getting in touch with a few questions. Keen to hear your views! Currently, I'm writing about mailing list culture and moderation. What would you say are the key mailing lists for IT/email/computer history? And do you think mailing lists still have a role to play despite the popularity of alternatives offered by social media? 
> The other topic I'm researching at the moment is the email provider sector. So, both commercial and open source email client programmers or providers. If anyone is working in this area I'd be keen to talk. 
> Thanks for listening - email me off list if that's easier. Like I say, I would love to hear from you!
> cheers,
> Esther
> Associate Professor Esther Milne
> Department of Media and Communication
> Swinburne University, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA
> emilne at swin.edu.au ||| @esthermilne ||| 
> https://swin.academia.edu/EstherMilne
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Dr. Janet Abbate
Associate Professor, Science & Technology in Society
Co-director, National Capital Region STS program
Virginia Tech

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