[Air-L] THWONK: Re-inventing email lists

Mike Bennett mike.bennett at ucd.ie
Wed Jul 1 02:54:19 PDT 2009

Since the Chronicle article has kicked off a bunch of conversation  
about the death of e-lists, I thought I'd take this opportunity (a  
little earlier than planned) to make an announcement about our new  
very relevant research project.

Our new project is called THWONK, with the tag line "Where You Design  
The Rules Of Online
Communcation!" @ www.thwonk.com

THWONK is a research tool for enabling people to invent new kinds of  
online communication systems, and create new variations of existing  
ones. Initially we're focused on mailing lists and mail. Its still in  
the very early days and rough around the edges but the core  
functionality is in place.

With THWONK you can create an e-list where message length is limited  
to 140 characters, or only allow people to contribute so many words to  
a mailing list per week, or force people to contribute otherwise they  
are automatically unsubscribed, or enable distributed moderation, or  
perform realtime analysis of message content with stats generation, etc.

Our aims with THWONK are:
1. Enable user generated social structures
2. Enable discovery of new generalisable social structures for online  
3. Create a flexible and innovative new tool for Human-Computer  
Interaction / Computer Mediated Communication research
4. Build an innovation community inventing new CMC systems

THWONK is at:

In the longer term we are going to simplify the creation of new styles  
of lists, ideally to the point where no programming knowledge is  
required at all.

If you have suggestions for features, or you have an ideal for  
collaboration please let me know :)

To use THWONK you can use a simple web wizard (there's lots more  
features we're adding to it), or you can write simple and short  
Javascript programs, which run on our servers. When a mail comes into  
a destination address on the server, the Javascript associated with  
the destination runs on the server. The Javascript implements whatever  
mailing rules and constraints you like, e.g. create a Twitter like  
email list where message length is limited to 140 characters, etc.

There's a tutorial for Javascript coders at:
and some API documentation in place:
...but there needs to be a lot more documentation written, which is  

All the best,
Mike Bennett (& Jonah Brucker-Cohen)

Postdoctoral Researcher

CLARITY Centre, University College Dublin, Ireland

- email: mike.bennett at ucd.ie
- blog: http://www.user-designer.com
- web: http://www.stressbunny.com/mike

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