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I built a site to read mailing list archives because of the list MUD-dev. It’s a high-quality, all-signal discussion of online game developers. The authors are some of the creators of the current crop of massively multiplayer virtual worlds, and the archive collects their wisdom.

I really wanted to read through the archive, but I wasn’t happy with the other presentations I’ve seen of it. The basic unit of other archives is the message: a page contains a message and links to its parent and replies, you can click between them. On, the atom is the thread. When messages are short and quote each other, it’s easier to skim and or read the entire conversation than on other sites or in mail clients that only show a message at a time.

The site uses JavaScript to allow keyboard navigation: j/k to move between messages, q to toggle the display of quotes, and n/p to move between threads. This is the first graphic design I’ve created that I’m pleased with, but my goal was to strip away as much as possible so the content dominates. I rethought a lot of the standard presentation of archives. For instance, most present threads like:

Default thread

As mentioned yesterday, the display is:

Example Thread

The difference is stark: instead of dominating the display with the repeated subject, the subject is highlighted once and the authors and structure of replies are the focus. It’s easy to see when conversation happened or pick out messages by particularly interesting authors or number of replies. The screenshot doesn’t show it, but hovering over my thread list shows a subtle vertical line to make it easy to pick out sibling responses.

So far I’ve only loaded a few lists I had handy archives of (about 1.3 million messages): mud-dev, its
successor mud-dev2, some Ruby lists, some local Chicago programming group lists, and lists. I think I may also have the largest contiguous archive of the Linux kernel mailing list, a very busy mailing list that’s been an excellent stress test during development. I’ve found a few dozen mailing lists of other open source projects I’d like to archive as well, so the site will continue to grow.

Of all my projects, has the least potential to earn money, but its goal is to maintain a public resource. Hosting a few gigs of text is cheap. The site will display text ads on the first page of a visit from a search engine to offset the expense, and I’ll explore other options if it becomes a serious drain.