x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

How millions could read your writing

By signing up to The Listserve Project, you'll receive one email per day from another member of the group and you can bet your bottom dollar it'll be a good read.

Over the past 15 years, many things have changed. I dropped out of art school, got a full-time job, moved countries, got married. The one thing that hasn't changed, though, is that every single morning I still sign in to my Yahoo! email account and go through the tedious process of scrolling through piles of unsolicited emails from strangers and friends alike, to get to that handful of messages that I will actually read.

To be honest, I don't mind the unsolicited mail from strangers, as most of it goes to my junk folder anyway. What I don't appreciate is spam from friends. No, I don't want you to send me an Oktoberfest flyer copied to 100 people. If you want to invite me for an outing, please ask, call or SMS - don't broadcast my email address to a bunch of strangers. I also don't appreciate chain mails. I don't care if your cat will die in two weeks unless you forward this email to 14 friends from your list. And if you need to depend on chain mails to find your one true love, then I'm afraid your fate as a lonely heart is already sealed.

Despite the chore that checking email has become, as of May this year there is one email address from which I look forward to receiving a message every day.

Always the first to know about obscure internet and technology-related things, my brother sent me a link in early May about something called The Listserve Project.

Graduate students at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program had been asked to complete a final project for their Design of Conversational Spaces class (maybe if I had classes like that in college, I wouldn't have dropped out). Students were asked to explore the intersections of technology and communication and figure out what fosters quality conversations and interactions online.

A group of five decided to base their project around emails because of the medium's broad reach and its ability to serve equally well both as a mass conversation platform as well as an intimate space.

Their submission would focus on the individual and what that individual would say when presented a random, one-time opportunity to engage online with a large group of people.

The project's mechanics were simple: a list will be compiled of consenting participants and, every day, one person from that list will be randomly chosen to send a message to the rest via email.

They set up a website and the mailing list would go live once it hit 10,000 subscribers, which it did within just five days. The first "Listserve Project" email went out on April 16 and the project went viral.

Since I signed up in early May, I have read hundreds of messages: Epp from Eritrea confesses he doesn't really like running but still does it; Ryanne Hodson waxes lyrical about his love for the band Fugazi; the Frenchwoman Fanny assures us that everything happens for a reason; and an anonymous mother talks about the sheer exhaustion of trying to raise six kids.

Listserve has consistently proved that, though you never know what you will get in your inbox, you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be a good read. After all, would you squander an opportunity to write something to one million people who have signed up to read what you write? Me neither.

Like all weekends, I got up lazily this Saturday, made myself a cup of tea and parked myself in front of my laptop to read the day's Listserve email. I was a little surprised to find two. The unexpected one was an admin message telling me it was my turn to talk. I've never been lucky with lotteries or draws, so I was ecstatic. I had waited for this day for a long time and had thought long and hard about what I would write if selected. All my pre-planned ideas suddenly went for a toss. Instead of trying to impress everyone with my articulation (as I was initially tempted to), I settled on simply sharing some insights - just writing a few lines from the heart.

It turns out the creators of the Listserve Project were right: being a part of this project teaches you interesting things not just about other people, but also about yourself.

Sign up to be a part of the project at www.thelistserve.com. Visit our Scene&Heard blog (www.thenational.ae/scene-heard) to read Ujala's submission.