Embeds, though fine in preview, do not seem to be allowed here, so I just link to the official announcement and to a commentary by Chris Pirillo.

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Has anybody tried out buddypress? (I've never seen it in action myself)
Premium plans aren't necessarily that expensive, given the number of people in the OAC, but it does have lots of implications in terms of how the Coop is to work. Of course, Keith is the one who has to think about this.

Richard Irvine said:
Has anybody tried out buddypress? (I've never seen it in action myself)
Yes, I have. On my own (without actual users).
I think BuddyPress has a lot of potential, especially with existing communities. But I'm not sure it's so easy to simply migrate the OAC's community to a new site. Although, Pirillo's piece shows that there are already some entreprising developers out there who are creating a tool to make it easier to migrate from Ning to BuddyPress. Ning did open up some parts of its structure, and this is an excellent scenario for the importance of data portability.
For a recent prior discussion concerning OAC's future on Ning, see here.
Thanks for that link. Sounds like we can make a case for the need to reconsider these very options.

Justin Shaffner said:
For a recent prior discussion concerning OAC's future on Ning, see here.
Ning will make an official announcement in early May. The Admins team has been actively discussing this issue privately and publicly in the link given by Justin. We welcome the widest possible participation by members in this discussion. Buddypress has already been considered and tested. Here is a comment by my colleague, Paul Wren, which gets it right as far as I am concerned:

"Ning will formally announce the details of their changes on May 4 (see this post: http://creators.ning.com/forum/topics/ning-update-rolling-out-full).

They're claiming that all free networks will have the option of converting to paid premium plans (the details and prices are TBA), or to receive assistance in migrating to a different platform (with sufficient time to do so).

We had already discussed the possibility of beginning to pay for upgraded Ning service to remove the ads, so I suggest we hold off on making any decisions until we know what the options are on Ning. That doesn't stop us from investigating all other options, of course."
Thanks to all for the background info - hadn't noticed earlier discussions on the matter here. Wait and see (and test alternatives) is probably the right approach.
I am late to this party but here is some feedback from me:
As we look into replacement solutions for Ning the question arises: what exactly is OAC as an online community. Probably somebody has an answer to this question, but as I am still trying to fathom how the site works, ask it. Is this, at heart, a forums website? Is it mainly a social networking site? Is the wiki important? Is it a repository or an event alerting system or...?

I ask because what technical solutions we chose depends on the answer to the question. I'm not sure I see the value of the SNS features of Ning b/c I am already on a dozen other social networks which already have my social graph figured out. If what we really value is the forum aspect then a lighter website with a php forum or even a mailing list might work.

I am sure you are already ahead of me on this one, but a fairly robust forum program under your own domain name seems like a good solution to me (and of course other features could be added later)... if you don't mind having someone administer the damn thing...

at any rate Ning's interface is hard enough for me to navigate that I think moving off of Ning would be great whether free service was cancelled or not... or is there something I'm just not getting about this site?
Rex said:
I am late to this party but here is some feedback from me:
As we look into replacement solutions for Ning the question arises: what exactly is OAC as an online community. Probably somebody has an answer to this question, but as I am still trying to fathom how the site works, ask it. Is this, at heart, a forums website? Is it mainly a social networking site? Is the wiki important? Is it a repository or an event alerting system or...?

The OAC is not one thing, but a young network with some unusual features that those responsible for its oversight must somehow help to become the many things its might be. Our first birthday falls at the end of next month. Clearly Ning's announcement, combined with that anniversary and the end of the administrators' agreed tenure, makes a new discussion of what the OAC is for and how it might best be housed both inevitable and desirable.

We have had such discussions many times over the last year, most recently here. It is true that it takes some dedication to find them, so we often react to the latest newcomer or event posing questions whose answers remain elusive.

I find it hard to suggest answers without taking a historical approach. This is because I see the OAC as an evolving empirical entity, not as an expression of one person's or any group's ideas. To every question concerning what we should be, I respond by asking what we already are and what damage a serious organizational change might do to that.

The OAC was founded on Ning more or less by accident by some 8-10 friends who met on Twitter. This number was soon reduced to half owing to a fierce dispute over the name and functioning of the cooperative. The resulting team of adminstrators consists of a retired academic and three graduate students. None of us, but especially my colleagues, has much spare time. We know that we need to recruit more people to the animation and organization of the OAC. But to take the latest example, reviews, volunteers are scarce.

We entered Ning as a social experiment and were surprised by its instant success, 1000 members within a matter of weeks. The energy realeased was amazing and so was the turbulence. Ever since, the admins have discussed alternatives. These discussions have been motivated by frustration with Ning's deficiencies, the Facebook feel of the place and the desire for greater autonomy. American academics and students have a plethora of such sites to choose from. There is a cultural tradition there of doing your own thing.

Perhaps I am more sensitive to how such a site might appear to people from around the world whose online diet is less supersaturated. I have always been struck by how easy the Ning format makes it for people to join and start something on their own terms. The site looks colourful, busy and inviting. I doubt if it is a serious social networking opportunity, but the chance for interaction between people interested in anthropology is unusually wide-ranging and decentralized.

The site statistics are pretty dramatic. We get over 500 visitors a day. The main activity here is obviously reading. Over 3000 members in less than a year, with maybe 40% of visitors from the US and UK, but the list of countries that follow is unusually diverse: Canada, France, Germany, Brazil, Italy, Portugal, India, Austalia, Norway, Greece, Japan, Turkey etc. Has there been such a global initiative before in anthropology or anything else?

Those of us who take an active interest in guiding the OAC discuss how to add functions, focus and energy to the network; but its amorphous character and our lack of commitment to dirgisme get in the way. There are times when it seems that not much is going on. But there are always pockets of self-organized activity and from time to time the OAC springs to life. I often think that the site is ungovernable and that perhaps it should stay that way.

If you ask what the OAC is, it is divided between being a talking shop and a store of resources. Of the admins, I pay more attention to the talking shop side, Paul Wren set up the wiki, Justin Shaffner the OAC Press and Fran Barone has organized the Groups. I would say that all three of my colleagues are more interested in making the OAC a more effective repository of durable intellectual materials. But for various reasons, the pace of development has been slow. In the case of the Press, we exprimented with a large editorial board of volunteers which turned out to be less than manageable. The OAC Seminar series is to be launched next week. I am trying to activate a Reviews section.

Oligarchy, democracy and despotism vie to be the dominant political model, as always. We encourage multi-lingualism, but have a long way to go there, certainly longer than a year could ever sort out. Above all, we have a global content and form, but there are no precedents for matching them more effectively. Already we are the second or third largest agglomeration of anthropologists in the world. Ning makes the site accessible and relatively easy to manage. As we have seen managerial labour is in short supply. Any site of our own will need more of it and might easily become a more centralized clique.

I haven't even raised the issue of what kind of anthropology is being promoted here. I believe that academic anthropology is moribund in the main imperial centres and flourishing in places like Scandinavia, Brazil, India and Japan. Inevitably American and British students and professors will be prominent here, but, whatever we do with the site, we must have encouragement of the others firmly in mind. I also believe that we should reach out to a broader constituency of those with a less specific interest in anthropology. Above all, as a global body, we should explore what that means for the varieties of anthropology practised here.

I have started a blog to lay out my personal vision of what that might be and invite others to join me (as they already have). Somehow, as Ryan Anderson made clear, we have to retain the diversity of the OAC while offering some points of central tendency that members may choose to join or to leave alone.

The governance of the OAC is up for renewal in May. I feel very comfortable with my colleagues on the Admins team. We are already sounding out members over what to do about Ning and testing alternatives. I would be very reluctant to risk what have achieved so far for the sake of greater autonomy alone. But I feel safe in holding to this conservative attitude knowing that I have dynamic young colleagues with better knowledge of the social and technical alternatives.

We do need fresh faces who are willing to play an active part in taking the OAC forward. Our network is amoeba-like and may be frustrating to direct. But if we wish to discuss its future form, it will require extra hands to give it that form.
Uh... I guess that I was just asking what features you would be looking for in a replacement website.
Rex said:
Uh... I guess that I was just asking what features you would be looking for in a replacement website.

What a dope I was to think that your question was: What exactly is OAC as an online community?
I, for one, am really glad I could read this elaborate and thoughtful explanation. It helps contextualize the OAC, it can help in shaping the future of the group, it addresses several concerns (both technical and "ideological"), and it shows both the power and the disadvantages of a "shared control" model.

However it may turn out, long live this group!

Keith Hart said:
Rex said:
Uh... I guess that I was just asking what features you would be looking for in a replacement website.

What a dope I was to think that your question was: What exactly is OAC as an online community?
Rex wrote:

I am sure you are already ahead of me on this one, but a fairly robust forum program under your own domain name seems like a good solution to me (and of course other features could be added later)... if you don't mind having someone administer the damn thing...

From my perspective, the forum is where the interesting stuff is happening, and for the most part this is the aspect of the site that isn't emphasized enough. I am not really all that interested in the networking part of the site, since I can do the same thing on Facebook--and in my experience the groups tend to get created and then stagnate after a certain amount of time. The open forum and the blogs are where content are created, but they are just kind of hidden with everything else on the main page--this is why I think that looking at how Daily Kos (I know I have mentioned this site before) structures it's front page (with regular writers and highlighted user blog posts) is worthwhile. Check it:

http://dailykos.com/

DKos is focused on the content of the users and then the ensuing discussions. Here, at least as it works now, everything is spread all over the place and there really is not a ton of interaction between the thousands of users. This is in part because a lot of content, ideas, and discussions are hidden away in little corners.

In other news, I just got something in the mail from Contexts, which is the publication of the American Sociological Association. The series of sites that they have created online are also interesting, and pretty well done:

http://contexts.org/

There are a series of blogs nested under the main site, and I think that works out pretty well. They also have a solid sense of graphic design, IMO. Sociological Images is one of my favorites to check out from time to time.

Anyway, there is clearly a lot of interest in some sort of anthropological project that engages wider audiences and takes some different online forms--the number of members at the OAC illustrates that pretty well. Now the question is how to move beyond this SNS framework into something that is geared a little more toward content, interaction, communication, and audiences outside of anthropology.

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