In September 1996 I helped to found H-Soz-u-Kult in Berlin and have edited the list ever since. During that time, H-Soz-u-Kult has developed into the central platform for communication and information among German-speaking historians.
Today, H-Soz-u-Kult has definitely outgrown its list-status and developed into an e-publishing project that produces more than 1000 yearly reviews and several hundred conference reports among huge quantities of other content of particular value for historians that work in the German language.
Two thoughts originating from H-Net especially guided the conduct of our editorial team and decisively contributed to the success of the project. These constitute a basis for some points that I feel the council needs to push particularly.
First, list mailings, as any other form of Internet publication, should be taken seriously as scholarly communications. They should be published in a way that will be useful for list members as well as for any other scholar who happens to find them later in the vast archive called WWW. Therefore, list editing is adding value to scholarly e-communication, just as a publisher creates a book from a collection of manuscripts. H-Net as an organization is the guardian of these assets.
Second, list editors need to be responsible to their audiences and target groups. H-Net's editing principles are based on a common understanding between subscribers and editors. They have transformed H-Net into a series of diverse networks with very different characters. For example, H-Soz-u-Kult always had a very particular (national) audience in mind: our colleagues in all areas of history whom we meet at conferences and conventions.
Given this history, I would like to pursue two points of concern with regard to the future guidance of H-Net by the council.
The first is, H-Net already rests upon a huge treasure of valuable WWW content that the networks continue to produce. It could be further developed and exploited for the sake of the entire organization. We have had beginning discussions about RSS, Web Services, linking of reviews to OPACs and licensing of commercial content providers. I am completely supportive of any initiatives in this direction. Perhaps opening the listserv logs to search engines might push the web usage of www.h-net.org into a league where modest advertising will become more attractive. But any policies formulated by the council should refrain from selling direct access to subscribers, which breaks with the basic principles the network rests on.
Second, network needs may vary in a universe of different list-projects. Technology and software to support editors should be developed in cooperation with and along the lines of the needs of particular networks, especially with those that prove to be particularly active. Sometimes small solutions and responsiveness to minor problems will prompt better results than plans for comprehensive content-building projects. If existing work flows lead to frustration among network teams that vigorously produce several hundred reviews every year they should be adapted immediately to facilitate better work flow.
Speaking of technology, others in this election campaign have already stated that wiki-technology will shape scholarly communication in the years to come (maybe as much as e-mail did in the last 15 years). Since its inauguration H-Net has brought accepted scholarly standards to e-mail discussion. Maybe the challenge for H-Net 2.0 (so to speak) will be to develop ways of making electronic publishing through wiki a little bit more academic than it commonly is in the rough world of Wikipedia. H-Net owns the human capital and the leadership capacity to move forward in this direction.