13+ Years of BLDG-SIM Email List. What does the future hold?

If you’re a veteran in the building simulation domain, chances are you’re a member of the onebuilding.org BLDG-SIM Mailing List. The list was formed in 1999 and has steadily grown into the community’s #1 forum for announcements, discussions, and Q&A. Other lists have gradually branched off BLDG-SIM which focus on more specific topics such as eQuest, etc., however the central list has remained quite strong.

In an effort to really understand the nature of this email list, over the holidays I worked on an analysis of BLDG-SIM to determine how use of the list traffic has grown over the years, who is using it the most, and what people are generally using it for. The primary goal of this effort was to determine how we can transition parts of the functionality of the email list into more modern web-based tools while maintaining the benefits that the email list does well.

I did this analysis by downloading, parsing, and extracting information from the text archive files found in the BLDG-SIM archive. The goal was to simply visualize the volume of traffic the email list has generated over the years, who the most prominent posters are and what the most popular topics have been. The detailed data from the analysis can be found in this spreadsheet and the Python extraction script can be found in this gist.

List Traffic Growth

I first extracted the timestamp from each email, aggregated those timestamps over months and plotted them (dynamic chart found here):

For the first 5 years or so, email volume usually hovered around 1 email a day (~30/month) - a manageable amount for even casual users. Sometime in mid-2007, the volume increased quickly to a peak of 360 emails in the months of June/July. Monthly volume then stabilized at around 150-200 emails and has been slightly, yet steadily decreasing in the last two years. I speculate that many busy people over the years have started to either filter the email list out of their inbox or unsubscribe all together due to the volume. [Update: Jason Glazer, the founder of BLDG-SIM noted that the other lists (eQuest, etc) were started in 2008 which is also a likely reason for effects on traffic.]

Users

A breakdown of the email list posters resulted in a list of over 2000 people - over 300 of which have posted 10 times or more. I believe that this proves there is a fairly large, active group of participants and I would guess that many of the most active users are participating heavily in the Q&A portions of the email list. In order to recognize the real rock stars, here is a list of the top 20 all time posters (whole list here):

[Update: my extraction algorithm isn’t perfect as it doesn’t detect duplicates well. I have manually checked the Top 20 to ensure that they have no aliases down the list]

Topics

The analysis of the Subject and content of the emails was limited to just an aggregation of the most common subject lines at this time. This is somewhat interesting but a more comprehensive categorization by type of posting (ie: Q&A, Announcements, etc) and an analysis of the content could provide quite a bit of insight into trends and focuses of the industry. This is beyond the scope of this blog post and I would be happy to hear from others interested in breaking down some of this information with me!

Once again, for a little bit of recognition, here is a list of the top 20 subject lines of all time (whole list here):

What’s next for building simulation community building?

Many professionals see the BLDG-SIM email list as a very valuable part of how the community has grown and strengthened over the last 13 years. However, many professionals, like myself, believe that there are new and vastly better ways than an email list in communicating and disseminating certain types of information.

Specifically, the Q&A portion of the email list can and will be much better handled through a new stackoverflow.com style site which you can read more about from my last post:

A Building Energy Performance Simulation Q&A Site that will change your life.

Or just go straight to the site: Stackexchange Proposal Site for Building Simulation

Major benefits of a dedicated Q&A site like this include:

  1. VOTING on important questions and answers - this vastly improves the quality of questions and builds consensus in the field regarding common issues. If you visit our site, the most important thing you can help us with is voting.

  2. Search Engine Optimization - Googling a paraphrased question that you’re having at this moment is much more likely to result in an instantaneous value rather than searching through your past emails. This will also help with reducing common questions that are repeatedly re-asked.

  3. Reputation Building - Ability for rock star users to float to the surface through point accumulation. This is only possible with a voting-style system where quality questions and answers are rewarded by the community. This will also help professionals differentiate their skills and services in the market

  4. Reduced volume of emails on the email list which allows more important Announcements and high level discussions to receive more attention (perhaps some people will allow the BLDG-SIM emails to flow freely back into their inbox’s!)

Suggesting that certain focuses of the BLDG-SIM email list be branched off into other tools is in no way an attempt to kill the email forum. It is a spectacular venue for announcements, call for conference papers, and other one-time, general communications that most people on the email list are interested in knowing about! Helping the focus on this type of communication to occur will be a benefit to us all!