Aleksandar Gubas on Wed, 23 May 2001 18:35:54 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> the flocks of netgulls

A Personal View to the Mailing Lists

As a film and video maker; as a typical representative
of Belgrade intellectuals in their early thirties; in
Serbia's late nineties; belonging to the lower middle
class; with no computer at home; Windows literate but
not yet Internet literate - in 1998 I've discovered
the Internet. It happened when Belgrade-based cultural
center Cinema Rex started a cyber lab (the lab was
later given the name of CybeRex), and net surfing was
offered to local artists for free. Rex has made me a
When I first got connected, I spent the next 28 hours
with my butt fixed at the chair and my hand driving
the mouse. During those 28 hours I opened my first
e-mail account at (of course, it was merely
the first address I opened). That summer of 1998 I was
obssessed by surfing. I visited all independent film
sites listed at - and, of course, downloaded
many pictures of young actresses from celeb-sites (my
favorite wallpaper was Jennifer Love Hewitt in the
bikini, wet-haired and naughtily kissing a raven's
Also, I've discovered the e-communication.
Interestingly enough, I have never got hooked on chat
and ICQ. But since the summer of '98 I have produced
and exchanged megabytes of e-mail messages. From the
very beginning, a large part of my e-mail
correspondence was distributed through various mailing
lists - because in 1998 I've discovered
too. And I'd like to tell something about my
experience with mailing lists. These are not all the
lists I am/was subscribed to, these are just the most
interesting examples.


Webcinema is an international mailing list for
independent filmmakers. It is hosted by, Australian commercial server, and is
owned by Jonathan Sarno, indie film activist and
producer from New York City. Webcinema was the first
on-line community I got the idea to join.
Webcinema works as a discussion list and free
announcing/advertising service for indie filmmakers
worldwide. I think it had about 1.000 members in the
summer of '98. The list is still working and has grown
in size, but not dramatically. Unsubscriptions are
frequent, probably because many members get annoyed by
the discussion component of the list, which oftenly
turns into irrelevant threads.
The idea of launching Webcinema was inventive itself,
but it seems that this list has lost its vision later.
Although it sometimes appeared as a useful source of
information and the battlefield for some interesting
professional discussions, now I mainly delete
Webcinema messages without opening them. But I am
still a Webcinema member, because from time to time I
need to send some announcement to the international
indie filmmaking community, and for this purpose one
should not underestimate those 2 or 3.000 (or
whatever) Webciners. Somebody will read.
And after all, Webcinema was the first mailing list I
experienced and it helped me understand the


Discovering the possibilities of mailing lists, I got
an idea to launch a list. At that time, I was working
on the LOW-FI VIDEO project, aimed to the development
and promotion of Serbian independent, alternative,
amateur and underground cinema. I collected a few
dozen of e-mail addresses of my friends, fans and
supporters of LOW-FI VIDEO, and created an eGroups
list for announcing LOW-FI VIDEO programs and
activities to the Serbian audience (official language
of the list is Serbian).
Now LOW-FI VIDEO list has more than 350 members, and
it has played very important role in articulating that
segment of the Serbian cinema. I don't moderate it any
more, but I'm still a member. This list has clearly
proved the importance of mailing lists in the period
of May-October 2000, when Milosevic's government, in
its last and most brutal phase, closed and oppressed
Radio B2-92 and other media sponsors of LOW-FI VIDEO.
Thus the mailing list remained our only way to
communicate and inform the audience on our programs;
the only technical way to announce that we still exist
and are active. It was a hard period for us - but
romantic too: we felt as the true digital guerrilla,
turning our mailing list into our own partisan medium
and using it as an important strategic tool.
LOW-FI VIDEO list is basically a newsletter-type list,
but in a short period in May 2000 it was turned into a
discussion list: because of the current police
violence in the streets of Belgrade, we decided to
cancel a local short film festival we were organizing,
and we asked the members of the list for their opinion
on this. They understood our act.
Now the times have changed in Serbia and this list (as
well as the whole movement itself) should define its
new strategy, under the new circumstances - but it's
not easy for tribal activists to become capitalists,
although it seems inevitable.


This list covers the similar population as the
Webcinema, but is primarily UK-oriented. In spite of
it, Shooting People ( is very
popular and has many members (now exceeding 10.000)
from all over the world. It was launched two years ago
by Jess Cleverly (very indicative last name) and Cath
le Couteur, two English girls/women, previously
working as TV producers.
The popularity of this list comes out from its
simpleness and usefulness. It is being sent as daily
digest, each morning (GMT). The digest contains
information, ads, announcements, questions, advices -
everything of interest for a British (and not only
British) independent filmmaker. Due to its rapidly
growing size, the list receives many individual
messages and digests are becoming larger and larger,
which becomes a problem. Once upon the time I was
reading each Shooting People digest; now I do it only
when I have enough time.
Shooting People members are generally very kind and
helpful, and concentrated to the practical questions.
Once I asked the list members for advice how to shoot
the earthquake effect in a low-budget film, and I
received 7-8 interesting ideas by the other Shooters.
This is a list where one can really feel as a member
of community, and this is a list which keeps and
develops its vision. Shooting People made English
independent filmmakers one of the best networked
communities on the Web.
And they organize mailing list parties, where
unfortunately I am not able to come since I don't live
in London.


When NATO bombing began in March 1999, I spontaneously
started to post the issues of my war diary to the
Webcinema list (as the biggest filmmakers' list at
that time), describing the practical and emotional
side of life of an indie filmmaker under bombs. It won
the attention of many Webciners (generally, there is
great solidarity among the indie filmmakers), but it
was obvious and natural that I can't continue with
posting the diary to the Webcinema forever. And of
course, then I launched
At its maximum, this list had about 100 members. Most
of them were American independent filmmakers (mainly
from Seattle, New York City and Minnesota), some of
them were journalists and some of them even the USA
senators. The list was not quite big, but it was
pretty influential: my messages to this lists
(actually, the issues of my diary) were reviewed by
BBC, Le Monde, National Public Radio, Harper's, Blue
magazine, Arizona Reporter, Arena (British "magazine
for men") and some other media in Portugal, Japan,
Bulgaria... It's still a mistery to me how they all
learnt about the diary. This list made me a kind of
small Web-celebrity - which lasted for short.
Some guys and girls from Minnesota, being inspired by
the messages from the wardiary list, even organized a
rally there, protesting against the NATO bombing. They
were carrying target marks, thus demonstrating the
misunderstanding of what I was trying to say in my
diary - I was alergic to that target symbol (to be
honest, it's not easy for an average American to
understand what a guy from Serbia wants to say). There
was even an off-off-Broadway theatre performance based
on the diary. The experience with the wardiary list in
1999 was my first fascinating encounter with the true
power of mailing lists - and with the cross-cultural
misunderstanding them as well.
It was a very strong and exciting experience: you just
send an e-mail message from Belgrade to an
list, and something happens spontaneously in Minnesota
and Broadway! It's a perfect tool for possible
manipulation - but I was not manipulating; I was the
one being manipulated by the unexpected dynamics of
the list itself. When I was writing the diary, I
didn't expect anybody to take American actors with
Russian accent to read it publicly - but things like
this were happening.
And unlike the other lists mentioned here, this was a
very emotional kind of list.
Although the list was primarily created for posting my
texts, as the moderator I was approving some messages
and reactions by the others, posted to the list too -
until there appeared some hot Russian Orthodox
fundamentalists who wanted to post their
mono-dimensional preaching against the West. Funny
guys exist on that internet and appear from who knows
where, attracted by who knows what. That was the
moment to turn off the wardiary list - and anyway, the
bombing ended several months ago.


I've become a nettimer in Autumn 1999, after being
strongly involved in on-line discussions on the NATO
bombing, Western civilization etc. etc. Apart from
indie filmmakers, I've found leftist activists and
cybersociety theorists as another interesting company
for me - and nettime definitely rules in this area.
So, naturally, I subscribed. There's not much
philosophy in this decision; it was love at the first
sight, and it's still lasting.
Nettime is pretty chaotic, but it's just an inevitable
consequence of its democratic policy. I don't read 90%
of nettime messages, but I find the remained 10% very
interesting - and I read each nettime_announcer. I
feel some kind of loyalty to the nettime: this is the
list where I first posted the news about the fall and
arrest of Milosevic, as well as the other news and
thoughts. If I was a nettimer during the bombing, I
would probably post my diary there.
Nettime is also a list which enabled me the unique
experience of meeting a mailing list buddy alive: I've
met some of the other nettimers last October at the
net.congestion festival in Amsterdam and I shared some
beer with Fran Ilich from Mexico. This is a very good
Sometimes I see nettime as some kind of small but
important transnational on-line political party I
belong to. And it's likely that I'll meet more
nettimers alive in the near future.


While I was working in Cinema Rex, Katarina Zivanovic,
the chief of Rex, was oftenly mentioning some
Syndicate international mailing list. Once I asked her
how to subscribe, but she turned me away from that
idea, telling me that the list bothers and there's not
much of interesting stuff there. But after I left Rex,
I decided to check that Syndicate anyway, and I have
become a Syndicalist at the same time when I
discovered nettime. And I've learnt that Katarina was
right: the list bothers. Various hot activists, ASCII
artists and other spammers fill your inbox every day.
But on the other side, Syndicate is a very useful
source of the art information from Europe - especially
from Eastern Europe, which is the region where I
physically belong.
Every now and then Syndicate offers that kind of
information which was hidden away from me by not
stimulating me to subscribe while I was in Rex.
Syndicate is an on-line source where the information
can be freely available to the members, and at the
same time discreetly monopolized by the art managers
who should spread it. Syndicate helped me in deciding
to become the manager of my own.
Unfortunately, it seems that in the last few months
Syndicate somehow lost its informational function,
being saturated by political quarrels on the Balkans
items. I was also involved in such a quarrel on
Syndicate, and I regret it. It was with an artist from
Serbia whom I have never met - and I don't want to -
although we live only 80 kilometers away from each
other. When you're on-line, your compatriot can be
more distant to you than somebody from Seattle or
Basically, Syndicate seems to be a private community
of (mostly European) artists and intellectuals,
especially fans of conference tourism. But this list
has shown its another aspect too, being a European art
scene service - perhaps one of the most important
ones. And I think this is a responsibility which
Syndicate should think about in the future.
And Syndicate is another international mailing list
whose members I have met (and will meet) alive.


Since 1998 I collected 400 e-mail addresses of many
indie organizations and individuals, and in January
2000 I simply joined them into It was a newsletter-type
mailing list, designed with the idea of networking
European independent cinema scene. Networking idealism
This list was serving for distribution of Filmska
Pravda, free European indie cinema bi-weekly info
e-newsletter. After 14 issues I had to stop editing
Filmska Pravda because it was taking too much time and
there was no money from it. At that moment, Filmska
Pravda had more than 800 subscribers from every single
European country except Andorra, Lichtenstein, Malta,
Moldavia, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican (I haven't
discovered any indie filmmakers in Vatican).
I have to admit that I was not very scrupulous when
launching Filmska Pravda: I didn't ask those first 400
members for their permission to put them on the list.
I have put them just like that; I thought they would
unsubscribe anyway if they think the newsletter sucks.
And really, there were very few unsubscriptions. It
seems that people liked a newsletter with a lot of
info, being prepared by someone specially for them and
sent to them twice a month. And I hope it was giving
them a little bit of community feeling - or at least,
it was my idea when writing editorials for each issue.
But the life in Serbia in the summer of 2000 was very
depressive and I had to think about the things other
than running an idealistic network with no chance to
get fundraised at that moment. I love to network the
others - but it's a serious job and it should be paid.


I believe in networking. But it must have the vision
and must come out from the true need. A mailing list
should always ask itself which is its sense, purpose
and vision. Otherwise, the networking becomes just
another empty and prostituted phrase like
multiculturalism, tolerance, democracy, open society
When you find somebody else, more or less physically
remote, who shares something with you - interests,
attitudes, needs, ideas - that's a great feeling. The
Web offers you much more chance for this than your
hometown or geographical country. Maybe you'll never
meet the other members of your mailing list - but it's
good to know they exist. It makes you feel less alone.
Subscribing to a mailing list means the definition of
your flock; it means that you recognized some other
gulls to cry together on-line.
By placing yourself in such a freely chosen virtual
neighborhood, you bring yourself to a situation where
various emotional reactions are possible. It's very
interesting that one can feel even some kind of the
list patriotism, which includes the pride of belonging
and the responsibility to the idea.
A mailing list can be a tool for conspiracy; you can
use it even to raise the demonstrations on another
continent. And it's all for free! The lists can be of
various size and influence, and these two must not be
mutually proportional: you can have your own dangerous
on-line Masonry with no more than several dozen of
influential members, or you can be just one of
thousand innocent fans of something harmless. Mailing
lists are really capable of creating the future of the
world in various fields: politics, technology, art,
philosophy... and they can be just a hobby as well.
Mailing lists are easy to be launched, but ambitious
mailing lists are not easy to maintain. It needs time,
money and brain for strategy. Each list has its own
dynamics and timeline: when it's just launched,
usually a kind of euphoria follows, and then blow-out
after some time. It's the moment of the list's
crossroads: it can either extinct spontaneously sooner
or later, or continue to develop if it finds its sense
and will to survive and advance. And you never know
how a mailing list can change your life.
Last but not least - mailing lists can have that
interesting confessional component: you just write
down your thoughts, emotions and private stories, send
it to the list and somebody reads it. And replies. You
may not have a girlfriend or boyfriend currently, to
listen to your story; your best friend may be too busy
or not interested in that topic; but there is always
somebody on your list who would like to hear what you
want to tell - or at least you have that illusion. And
you don't need more. It's already said that love is
all you need. A mailing list can be your piece of
love. And your church.
All is just the matter of good choice.

Aleksandar Gubas
free-lance networker

[written for the Communication Front 2001 in Plovdiv]

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