SEMNET Citizenship


The history of SEMNET

SEMNET was originally established by Carl E. Ferguson, Jr., University of Alabama, and Edward E. Rigdon, Georgia State University, in February 1993, in an effort to facilitate the exchange of information in the field of structural equation modeling (SEM). Ferguson and Rigdon, two marketing professors, recognized that SEM is an interdisciplinary field. While many people were studying or using SEM in their research, they tended to be isolated from each other. Departmental or disciplinary boundaries meant that even people working at the same institution, perhaps in the same building, might not recognize each other. The negative effects of this isolation were intensified by (1) the rapid pace of change in the field, (2) the complexity of the method, and (3) the poor quality of most SEM software.

Ferguson and Rigdon had been searching for a vehicle to break through this isolation since hosting a small interdisciplinary SEM conference in Atlanta in early 1992, but few options looked promising. Electronic bulletin board services required an investment in equipment and time. Commercial services were too expensive, given the specialized nature of the field. Several professional associations had special interest groups (SIG's) devoted to SEM, but organizational bureaucracies made cross-discipline exchanges difficult. Establishing a new professional association for SEM was too much work to contemplate, except as a last resort.

In early 1993, Ferguson learned that the Seebeck Computer Center at the University of Alabama would be willing to play host to an Internet discussion group. Following a meeting between Ferguson, Rigdon, and Joyce Donnelly, director of the Seebeck Center, Darren Evans-Young of the Seebeck Center did the necessary programming, and Ferguson became the list owner/ postmaster.

SEMNET's subscription list grew slowly at first, driven by Internet postings, word-of-mouth, and flyers distributed at academic meetings. More rapid growth occurred as teachers and leaders in SEM became subscribers, and after a description of SEMNET appeared in the second issue of Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, which had begun quarterly publication in January 1994. By the end of 1994, SEMNET had over 450 subscribers around the world. In April 1996, SEMNET has more than 950 subscribers.

Who should subscribe to SEMNET?

SEMNET is intended for everyone who studies or uses SEM methods, whether they are a novice to the field or a leader. All disciplinary affiliations are welcome. Even in its early days, SEMNET's subscription list included disciplines ranging from medicine to marketing to fisheries management.

What are the rules for posting on SEMNET?

General "netiquette" applies here. Remember that what you post to SEMNET will be seen by nearly one thousand very busy people around the world, including a great many of the leading authorities in SEM. SEMNET exists because its subscribers are willing to read and answer SEMNET postings. This willingness comes from the subscribers' perception that the postings are worthy of their interest and their precious time. Junk postings erode that perception, and threaten the vitality of the list.

Remember also that, just like an ordinary letter, once it's gone, it's gone. SEMNET is currently unmoderated. That means that your posting goes out automatically, to all SEMNET subscribers, more or less. Your own e-mail system may include a sophisticated "recall" function, but SEMNET does not have this function intrinsically. So be careful.

Also, double-check the "TO" address, to avoid sending personal message over the 'net. That's really embarrassing.

Finally, remember that the people who read your postings are mostly pretty nice people, who are doing you a favor by reading your messages. Be polite. Don't be insulting. If you feel like you've been insulted, assume it's just a misunderstanding. Resist the urge to charge out in defence of your name or your work. Remember that SEMNET subscribers, by and large, are well qualified to evaluate the merits of an argument, and know the difference between insight and invective. They also, by and large, remember when they were just learning about SEM, or about electronic communications, themselves--they won't condemn you for making a mistake, because they have made mistakes themselves.

Can I use SEMNET to sell products and services?

The Internet was established as a tool for research. Many of the entities that contribute resources to maintain the Internet in general (and SEMNET in particular) do so on the understanding that they are supporting a noncommercial service. Furthermore, in general, SEMNET subscribers will prefer to see as little "advertising" on the list as possible. On the other hand, SEMNET subscribers are vitally interested in developments in SEM, including developments in SEM software and literature. Subscribers like to know about new software, or new versions of software, and about books and journals that are relevant to the field.

Consequently, SEMNET subscribers will appreciate information about new SEM software, books and journals, but not puffery. To make the best impression on this group, keep your SEMNET post brief, and either direct interested persons to your Web site or offer to provide more information by return mail or e-mail. (If you choose the latter, be sure to ask that e-mail replies be posted to your individual address and not over SEMNET.) If you follow this rule, your messages will be welcomed by the vast majority of the SEMNET audience.

What makes for a good SEMNET question?

Anything that relates to SEM is fair game. It's a good idea to check (1) this FAQ, (2) published sources, and (3) available software support first, but even very basic questions are welcome here. Very advanced questions are also welcome. Given the nature of this field, however, posters should recognize that not every question has a known answer, and more than a few questions have multiple answers, each one contingent on a different set of assumptions. Understand the temptation to ignore a question whose correct answer is very involved.

What makes for a good SEMNET answer?

(This paragraph is based on the thoughts of David Ronis, Raymond Liedka, Joop Hox, and Kelly Wason.)
For questions with brief, concrete, and noncontingent answers (that is, answers that do not reasonably start out with, "It depends . . ."), start your answer by restating the question. Instead of including a (potentially lengthy) verbatim copy of the question, restate the question briefly. If you think that question relates closely to a broader class of questions, describe that broader class. A good answer is, of course, correct and complete, with assumptions spelled out. If you are not sure about your answer, then say so. Provide references to the literature, if you can. And if you need additional information before you can answer a question, encourage the original poster to provide that information details. Most questioners will be happy to do so.

Can I cite SEMNET messages in a manuscript? How?

Published literature can be very frustrating when you want the answer to a specific question. By contrast, specific answers are what SEMNET is all about. So can a researcher cite SEMNET posts in research manuscripts?

At the least, SEMNET postings are equivalent to personal communications, which can be cited as long as they are correctly and carefully identified. More than that, because all SEMNET postings can be retrieved from SEMNET's monthly log files, these messages enjoy a greater degree of verifiability than personal communications as a whole.

On the other hand, unlike published research, SEMNET postings are not peer-reviewed, so the potential for error is probably greater. Furthermore, publication of a manuscript carries the presumption that the authors are willing for their work to be cited, while the authors of SEMNET postings may prefer that at least some of their remarks not appear in print.

So, to be polite, first get the author's permission for you to cite or quote their particular remarks. Then use the reference style for personal communications that is recommended by your style manual. As time goes by, newer editions of style manuals may include a specific style for this type of reference.
Return to the SEMNET FAQ home page.
Return to Ed Rigdon's home page.
Last updated: April 11, 1996