Focus on Fandom
Strange New Worlds Issue 10 - Oct/Nov 1993
The Man Behind SF-LOVERS Science Fiction Discussion List
An interview by Karen Ann Yost
In last issues Focus On Fandom column, Karen Ann Yost delved into the joys of
the SF-LOVERS, a science fiction discussion group available through Internet. In the
following interview Karen speaks with Saul Jaffe, the moderator whose task it is to spread
the words of SF-LOVERS throughout the Net.
KAY: Why SF-Lovers? How did the discussion list originate?
SAUL: Originally Roger Duffy from MIT started the science fiction mailing list.
The list was unmoderated and all the messages were transmitted to everyone on the list.
Around 1980, the email traffic became too large. It was around the time of the Empire
Strikes Back. Roger started the digest format where select messages were batched and
then sent to all the list recipients. In 1982, a friend brought the list to Rutgers and I
took over as moderator in October, 1983.
KAY: Ten years!
SAUL: Yes, Im having t-shirts printed to celebrate our ten year
KAY: How many subscribers do you have?
SAUL: I really cant tell you. Its hard to get an accurate count;
futile, really, because some of the addresses are redistribution lists that send SF-Lovers
to other users. I would guess we have roughly 1500 addresses and, of those, twenty to
thirty are redistribution lists. SF-Lovers could have as many as 200,000 readers. No one
can really tell.
KAY: How many countries are represented?
SAUL: Im not sure now. I usually try to get a figure when I attend
WorldCon (the World Science Fiction Convention). Last year, we had subscribers in
twenty-five countries. I know of some in Europe, Canada, South America, New Zealand,
Australia, and, recently, Japan.
KAY: You said the SF list needed a moderator because of the vast amount of
postings. How do you decide what makes the list and what to discard?
SAUL: It was difficult to decide in the beginning. Sometimes its just what
posting says it the best. Sometimes there are over 100 replies to one message, so why post
several of the same answers? The traffic also varies when a big movie, like Jurassic
Park, comes out. I try to avoid repetition.
KAY: Your list has several addresses that encompass writers, television, movies,
and miscellaneous. What address gets the most postings?
SAUL: SF-Writers gets the most posting and its obvious why. Each year,
only one or two SF movies come out. Television isnt much better. But there are
thirty to forty SF books coming out each month and it generates a lot of postings. I still
try to cater to different interests, however.
KAY: Sometimes within one digest there is already an established discussion. How
does that happen?
SAUL: There are three ways that can happen. One, youre just seeing replies
to postings in past digests. Another is that in addition to sending their replies to
SF-Lovers, the writer sends a carbon copy of their message to other individual users. So,
by the time Im reading the postings, I have a discussion going. Also, some of the
material might come from the Usenet newsgroups. A lot of the newsgroups were established
in the early 1980s in an attempt to deal with all the heavy E-mail traffic. The newsgroups
are electronic bulletin boards covering common topics that are usually batched and
distributed via Unix machines instead of a university or government mainframe. The members
include a lot of PC owners. Its developed into what I call a "controlled
anarchy." What I mean, is that, lets say Quantum Leap is developing a
lot of postings on one bulletin board and someone suggests creating a newsgroup just for Quantum
Leap. Everyone can e-vote and a new newsgroup may be formed.
KAY: How much time do you spend each day working on the list?
SAUL: Only two to three hours a day. I know it doesnt sound like much
time, but its gotten easier over the years. Ive established a pattern where I
can tell if I can use a posting in two to three seconds.
KAY: Whats your position at Rutgers and does the University know you
moderate a discussion list?
SAUL: I work in the computer center as a programmer. Yes, everyone knows what
Im doing. Actually, the friend who brought SF-LOVERS to Rutgers wasnt
affiliated with the university. The officials here thought it better that someone with the
school should run the list, so I offered.
KAY: Do you subscribe to other discussion lists?
SAUL: I subscribe to two. One deals with SF and the other is job-related.
KAY: Do you know of other SF discussion lists?
SAUL: Yes, theres one for Star Trek and Blakes 7. I
think theres one for Red Dwarf, too. I know theres a newsgroup for Star
Wars. I used to use some postings from the Star Wars newsgroup, but some of the
postings got too technical: like what kind of circuits did R2-D2 have. Most major SF films
and television shows have their own discussion lists.
KAY: What other SF activities do you have outside SF-Lovers?
SAUL: I attend a few conventions each year. Sometimes Im on
computer-oriented discussion panels. I find myself mostly on panels dealing with
electronic fan activities. I also do panels on fanzines because, lets face it,
SF-Lovers is essentially an electronic fanzine.
KAY: In closing, are you happy with SF-Lovers?
SAUL: Id like to see more reviews; reviews of books, television shows, and
movies from people in the know. Id like to see more postings about upcoming events.
A lot of the current postings are fun, but not necessarily informative. Id like to
make SF-Lovers as informative as possible. l