I won The Listserve Lottery


When I saw that, it took me a second to realize who it was. Then I was like, oh, it’s THAT Mark Frauenfelder! It was a great email, btw.

Great email, Mark! Great stories.

Yeah kudos!

I get so tired of the endless advice listserve emails, ones that simply tell stories are the best. Good choice.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get chosen, but I have the perfect one-line email ready.

Mark, great email. (And as the person who randomly drew your name, it was quite a shock when the generator spit out your email address!)

I’m curious: Do you have any suggestions as to how we can structure our “winner” e-mail better to prime winners to show, not tell — and to avoid these advice emails?

1 Like

Jeff, I hope you chime in to the question I asked Mark below!

I am soooo glad you are here.

I suggest that the “you are a winner!” email offer people some key bits of advice, and the chief bit of advice I would give winners is to avoid giving advice; consider telling us an interesting story about yourself, or something that happened to you.

The listserve emails I like the most are interesting stories from people, whereas the advice ones just grate – and it’s never anything I haven’t heard before a zillion times. But I bet there are a bunch of great stories I haven’t heard that you can tell me…

I agree. At first, we didn’t want the force the messages to take on a guided form, in hopes that people would use it to organize a picnic, conduct a social experiment or send a recipe. But, as expected, they started skewing toward that horrid advice-driven format. So, as you suggested, we may think about being more explicit.

…inviting my co-creators now, since this is a conversation worth having.

1 Like

Mark, glad you made out of those situations alive!

Codinghorror, I wonder if the problem is evolving; less that the winners are giving advice, but the tone of the emails sounds like advice. People seem to be sharing their stories, but then find it necessary to wrap it up with a moral they learned from the experience. Advice giving is so prevalent in the emails, i like to think the act of reflecting about what to write about makes someone come to some understanding about some life event.

There might be a way to do that without coming off as actually giving advice. Maybe telling winners to say how this particular life event changed them (and only them).

I got selected about a year ago, and I invited everyone to a picnic. Around 80-100 or so people showed up and it was a huge blast.

Maybe I’m just creepier than your average Listserve subscriber, but I was shocked that no one before me had tried to organize something to happen in real life, and even more surprised that as far as I know, no one after me has done so either. Perhaps it’s because by nature, The Listserve doesn’t feel interactive—the lines of communication are so one-sided and closed off. But what I learned from the picnic is that people are truly yearning to connect, especially given the constraints of the system.

I get the feeling that when most people get the “You’ve been selected!” email, there is a pressure and a daunting sense that these are your last words on earth, and you better say something incredibly profound and meaningful because this is it. When thought of this way, it makes sense for people to try to come up with something like what they would utter on their death beds, rather than explore and play.

Not that being playful and interactive is the only way to go, but encouraging that could go a long way to make winners realize that they probably have more options than they think. To answer your question, @AlvinSChang, maybe a gentle push in the winner email to think outside the box, and possibly give some examples of the things that people have done in the past could be interesting—advice, a quiz, recipes, picnics, an offer to receive something in the mail, and all the other crazy things we’ve done.

(A sidenote: If in an alternate universe I got picked again, I’d probably bury some treasure somewhere in New York and set up a crazy scavenger hunt. But that’s probably just me being weird and a creep, yet again.)


@nicolehe, it’s interesting you mention that it’s not interactive. Our thinking was that it promotes un-broadcast, one-on-one conversation with strangers; we hear about people meeting virtual pen pals relatively often. That said, I think this very mechanism has limited the feedback loop potential winners have to model.

@ScienceLifeNY We seem to have blurred the line between advice and stories. Maybe articulating the difference would help us define the way we prime the winners?

Oh boy if someone crafted a scavenger hunt, I would totally do it.

Listserve Puzzle

Yours was awesome.

1 Like

Being more explicit might help. I wonder if the three-day time limit for a response is also a factor. Crafting a short, punchy story is an art, and not everyone is equally good at it–advice seems to be the default partly because it’s easy to do quickly. Why couldn’t seven days work?

I agree about the lack of feedback being an issue. If I was ever picked, I might choose one of the online listserve archives that allows voting and ask everyone to vote for their favourite posts. Maybe most people like the advice, maybe most people don’t; at the moment there’s no way of knowing.

I think some helpful suggestions to winners would be good, but perhaps not so explicit as “avoid giving advice.” I think you mentioned “Show, don’t tell.” Maybe “tell us a story” or “make a connection.” Tips that are suggestive, but don’t overtly try to manipulate the community this has become.

I was pretty surprised when I saw Mark’s name come up. Great job on your post! Like others have said, the Listserve can get to be so much noise of banal advice. I do so love the odd bits of people’s lives, or stories, or other quality content. I try to enjoy the Listserve as it is…and treat it like a stream I can step in and out of. Now there I go with advice :wink:

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.