fifteen.minutes.art

July 31st, 2003

A Behavioral Experiment

A Behavioral Experiment and United Faiths
By PAMELA LiCALZI O’CONNELL

Bumpy Ride

Among the thousands of e-mail based discussion groups, many are private and clublike, while others are public and raucous. But there’s nothing else quite like BumpList (www.bumplist.net).

BumpList, a discussion forum with no defined topic, allows just six subscribers at a time. When a new person joins, a subscriber is bumped off to make room. To rejoin you must resubscribe, bumping someone else, and so on.

To stay on the list for any significant time requires numerous resubscriptions – the list calls itself “an e-mail community for the determined.” So far, more than 1,700 people have joined at least once and there have been 1,300 resubscriptions. (I lasted just 10 hours and 25 minutes before my first bump.)

BumpList is a sort of art project as behavioral experiment. “I want to get people to think about the culture and process of these lists,” said Jonah Brucker-Cohen, the site’s creator and a researcher in the Human Connectedness Group at Media Lab Europe, an institute in Dublin. For example, the structure of

BumpList prevents cliques from forming, making it more “democratic” than most lists, he said.

But that structure also makes it difficult to keep a conversation going, and a dialogue is, after all, the point of a discussion list. “Theoretically, it is possible to have a serious, sustained conversation on BumpList,” said Michael Paulukonis, a technology professional in Scranton, Pa., who is a BumpList member, by e-mail. “Practically speaking, I don’t think it has happened – unless you consider the dialogue the resubscribers have with the medium itself.”

Mr. Paulukonis has resubscribed to BumpList 148 times since it started up in June.

Indeed, the experience has been so frustrating that devotees of BumpList have started a separate Yahoo group to talk about it (groups.yahoo.com/group/bumplistgroup) since the list itself “militates against discussion,” as the group’s home page puts it.

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