As it turned out, we had approximately 35 people sign up over the course of the discussion, some of whom I knew, most of whom I did not. The list was open to anybody who asked to join, and most of the 35 signed up after finding the list described on some auxiliary posting. If I were to do this again, I would actively seek out participants, rather than expecting casual browsers to contribute. Most people on the list were lurkers, many seemed to be non-academics with addresses such as <firstname.lastname@example.org> and expecting something free-form, a few promised to contribute and never did, and a hard core of reliables actually participated. Maybe the silent partners learned something - I hope so.
Our discussion is obviously inconclusive, and I think this is an almost inescapable feature of these electronic forums, much more so than the inconclusiveness of philosophy in general. A single author in philosophy will rarely be published if his thread of argument drifts to a halt. A traditional collaborative paper has to reach some sort of internal cohesion before being published. A written dialogue can, of course, end with substantial disagreement, but will rarely simply taper off. With multiple participants in electronic debates, people drift in and out and (as was true in my case) say what they want to say at some given time, usually in short segments. Nevertheless, this group's discussion is more like a written philosophical dialogue and less like a conversation. I believe this is a virtue, for the staccato late night exchanges that are typical of many electronic discussions do not translate well into print.
The main conclusion I have after this interesting experiment is that we should lower the expectations that many people have about electronic philosophy. From my experience in other such groups, only a few well-informed people end up making genuine contributions. The rest is noise in various forms. This is just what we should expect from more traditional discussions - electronic media simply amplify the noise. This recommendation is not at odds with the democratic hopes I voiced in the starter paper, but it does suggest that the ``gatekeeper'' model for electronic media is the right one. Without a highly refined filter for these new outlets, Gresham's Law always applies.
email@example.com, Peter Dlugos & James H. Fetzer
University of Virginia
Bergen Community College
University of Minnesota, Duluth