I just received a digital copy of the first many-to-many I ever made – called "Here's the Book". It's a compilation of pages – each page created ready to be copied, by friends and acquaintances. The whole was then sent back out to each contributor. It was great to see, as I had lost my copy in the tunnels of time. Poignant, too.
I made a sequel to it, but by then the tone had darkened, and the optimism and open quality of the first book seemed to make the second one like a pale imitation. Still, it is a worthwhile document.
There was not a word for "zine" in those days, and I continued a few years later, in the 80s in Banff, with a series I titled Many-to-Many. Here again, participants sent me copy-ready pages, which I compiled and sent out again – not only to the contributors, but also to a list of about 200 subscribers, who sometimes submitted pages, and sometimes just read what others had produced. This continued for a few years, until the energy of the contributors waned, and the postage rates became too high.
It was a landmark, as there was no such thing as the web in those early days, and even the internet was only used by people in institutions with access to the big computers of the day. Telidon was nascent, but ultimately only a one-way system.
The big revolutionary deal about many-to-many was just this: it was not one to many (broadcast, or regular distribution), it was not one to one, but it was truly many to many – something new, but something we now take for granted. I like to think that some of those people who participated in that many-to-many "got it" and were able to easily understand this next level of group communications we are in today. Of course, that analogue version, dependent on the mail, was terribly slow.
Thinking back, and analyzing this a bit now: I am aware that individuals sending in contributions which are then compiled and sent out has been going on since the inception of magazines. However, here are a few important distinctions: the many-to-many built on itself, people commented on the previous issues in their next contributions. "Threads" of comments were formed. Also, the community that created the work was revealed to itself, as the contributors (as isolated individuals) sent in single pages, only seeing the whole (as community) once the pages were copied and sent out again. At that point the contributor sees his or her place in the thought-community – a place created by contribution, a community created by contributors.