I am sure we all agree that the OAC depends on individual members caring enough to share their thoughts with others and the Admins team would like to thank all of you who have contributed to the kaleidoscope of our common life here.

We have been discussing for a while how we might encourage people to pool thoughts about ways of developing the OAC site. One idea is to open up a thread of the main Forum for a limited period. If something comes of it, we might do something similar twice a year. So please come forward with your observations and recommendations. Do not hesitate to comment on the discussions we hope will follow.

Here are some topics on which we would particularly welcome feedback.

We have altered the features, look and access to the main page. What do you think?

We have an enormous number of Groups, many of whom are dormant. How might we regenerate particpation in more of them?

Some aspects of the site, the Press and the Wiki, are concerned with generating and storing durable content. How might they be improved?

Do you have any comments on the governance of the OAC?

English is obviously the main language here, as elsewhere, but we are making an effort to open up to other languages, e.g. by adding a Portuguese section to the Press. What more could be done?

Would you like more accessible technical information to aid your participation?

What features would you like to see added or strengthened? How?

This by no means exhausts the possible range of topics to discuss. So let's hear from you, the members. The floor is open.


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Replies to This Discussion

Xiaoxiao, Welcome and thanks for your comments.

You can view the latest group activity here: http://oac.collected.info/

Instructions on how to toggle between the two different view styles are here.

I hope this helps. Your feedback is always welcome so we can improve how we display group content and increase group activity.




Xiaoxiao Yan said:
Hi guys,

I just found this website. I looks great to me so far. I like the translation tool. :) As for your question:


We have an enormous number of Groups, many of whom are dormant. How might we regenerate particpation in more of them?

A quick thought. I am actually not familiar to this website enough to comment. But I am trying to contribute as a newcomer to thank you for your work.

It looks to me that the "groups" function separate members into smaller groups completely.

After I chose a couple groups, I landed on these group pages and lost the sense of the big picture. The groups I join in happen to be not so active yet. Actually there are so many groups and members and there should be some updates in some of them at any time. If somehow and somewhere in one page we could present the list of the groups (in the order of popularity), with one or two newly updated posts following the title of the groups, this might give a sense of the dynamics of the whole community. Rather than a sense of in-activeness brought by the few groups one chose to join in.
.

Maybe there are such things already. ... just try to comment. It is a great website!

Cheers.

Xiaoxiao


Xiaoxiao Yan said:

a sense of in-activeness brought by the few groups one chose to join in.
.

Hi Xiaoxiao, The fact is that, for all our efforts to help people navigate the site, it is more inactive now than even a couple of months ago. It may be that those who know how to get around are bored and newcomers can't find their way around or are put off by the apparent lack of activity. Whatever the reason, if you look at the site stats under the About tab, the trend is definitely downwards. We have a great lineup of online seminars starting tomorrow. Maybe that will liven things up.
We are near the end of this discussion period. I notice people joining the Groups all the time. It is still one of the first things that new members do. They must be disappointed to find so many inactive. Having just tried to find a thread in one Group whose name I already knew, I discovered how hard it is to trace this stuff. Yet there is a wealth of discussion there and the oac.collected directory compiled by Fran ought to make it more straightforward to find what you want.

I often wonder what the organizers of these groups are up to. Have they lost interest? It will be a major effort to contact these Group organizers, but maybe it will be worth it. One possibility that just occurred to me would be to start a thread in the main Forum that would allow a focused discussion to take place between organizers and members about how we might make it easier to direct attention to these Groups. At least those who come forward will be showing their active interest in reviving some of them.
I'd like to get just one comment in before the buzzer, and it really is just a comment because I don't have a hugely constructive suggestion. I think that the groups are REALLY important and need to be made a priority.

Having spoken to a number of new users I know that people get put off the site because they think that the discussions are too "high-brow" or "intelligent". Somebody came out with a great line the other day that I think really sums it up. They told me that they were about to post something when they realised that someone had already posted a reply to the discussion. On reading the reply they decided that what they were going to post was not clever enough and that they would "have to go away and do some more reading" in order to post a worthy response.

This is why I think that the groups really need to be developed so that we get smaller circles of people that feel happy posting whatever they like to one another. Without this we risk getting stuck with the same few people who are confident enough in their posts.


Nathan Dobson said:
... I think that the groups are REALLY important and need to be made a priority.

Having spoken to a number of new users I know that people get put off the site because they think that the discussions are too "high-brow" or "intelligent". Somebody came out with a great line the other day that I think really sums it up. They told me that they were about to post something when they realised that someone had already posted a reply to the discussion. On reading the reply they decided that what they were going to post was not clever enough and that they would "have to go away and do some more reading" in order to post a worthy response.

This is why I think that the groups really need to be developed so that we get smaller circles of people that feel happy posting whatever they like to one another. Without this we risk getting stuck with the same few people who are confident enough in their posts.

What do you specifically recommend? that participants dumb-down their posts, or start talking about their favorite recipes for pumpkin pancakes, or what?

Look, I know that participating in a forum with intelligent people who know what they are talking about is intimidating (I know this personally), but a person has to learn how to choose her firmest ground in order to effectively contribute to such a discussion; such contributions are in fact appreciated; anyway it is all part of the process of becoming intellectually mature. But some people want to come in and revolutionize the field (who doesn't?), say way too much, and get upset when they find that their immodest claims poo-poohed down by the rest of the community.

Actually a lot of people would be put off if the conversations did not occur at a high enough level. Why should a serious scholar waste her time?That said, yes, some will be intimidated, and not contribute at all, and that is not a good thing. What to do?

I think one thing we can do is to designate a permanent part of the site (part of the forum, or a group) as a place for casual conversation. I think everyone would enjoy a space where they can joke around and be off topic to hearts content. Friendships between members of the OAC are critical to it thriving.

A more radical idea, and its just an inkling of sorts... is an apprenticeship program to the OAC, where senior members in the field or the OAC mentor and coach younger participants (who apply for that opportunity). Maybe that's too crazy an idea that will never work. Or creating semi-private closed courses/classrooms with open enrollment, in which non-enrolled persons cannot see what has been written by others to create a less intimidating learning environment.
There are two issue that I think are more important than the organization of menu items and other similar issues.

Issue 1
The OAC is the Open Anthropology Cooperative. I see some anthropology, and its relatively open (hell, I've found a place here, haven't I?), but the 'cooperative' seems to be missing more often than not-- mostly I suggest because the object of cooperation is not really set out. What are we cooperating on doing?

I like online forums, but one thing that frequently frustrates me is the lack of concrete achievements that I can point to and say, "We did this." Participation rarely builds upon what was done before.

What is something concrete that the OAC can make it its guided goal to accomplish?

I belong to the FIS list-serve which discusses topics relating to a theory of information. To my knowledge it is unique. The list manager organizes sessions devoted to particular topics, with the expectation that people remain on-topic; the people who participate come from every different field; the list has organized an international conference that many of the members attended; the list is moderated: participants are not allowed to post more than twice a week, to make sure that quality remains high and focused. Members publications frequently mention the list in their acknowledgments. I'm not saying that this is what we should do for the OAC as a whole, but I think we can learn from what they have accomplished.

I think when people see that the OAC is not just a spinning wheel, but a spinning wheel that goes places, participation will climb.

Issue 2

Earlier in this discussion I suggested that a point system may be useful, as a way to reward participation. I want to back away from that, not because I think it wouldn't work, but because my intuitions is a little more general than that: I think people participate when they feel that what they are doing is valued by their peers (among other things, of course). Points were merely a means of signaling that appreciation. But in some ways a point system is antithetical to the anthropological orientation itself. What other ways can this be accomplished? (not a rhetorical question).

One thing: some of us have academic careers, some of us don't but wish we did, some of us don't and are happy where we are. Here are a few things we can do:

1. Highlight the accomplishments of our members every once in a while. So and so has just published a paper in such and such journal! So and so was just awarded a contract to do X,Y, and Z for Intel. So and so just published an excellent example of muckraking journalism. So and so is in X helping Y stop Z. X was interviewed by their local station about Y, here's a link. etc.

2. Address the needs of our members. Archives of syllabi and lecture notes under open license, advice of various kind. I think also that the plight of adjuncts here in the US and abroad needs to be addressed. I know some brilliant people stuck in that muck with no hope of getting out.

3. Provide an alternative venue for publicizing and recognizing accomplishments of others. The working paper series is a good start. What else?
What a reaction! This is great and the OAC needs more. It's what I was tentatively getting at in my post in the "economic anthropology group", we need people to ruffle some feathers to kick start the OAC. The fact that I said "I don't have a hugely constructive suggestion" is of course incidental. As is the fact that I suggest that we use the groups to house the more conversational type of discussions.
I can see how people think their comments are not "good enough" to be posted on the OAC especially when I read comments in reply to those of us, yes I count myself in the uneducated masses group, that are veiled put downs. We all communicate in our own way and should be able to feel free to do so as long as it is done within an anthropological framework.

Separating the masses from the educated hierarchy, IMO, will not achieve the result you desire Jacob. Instead it will cement a feeling in many that they are not up to a high enough standard to participate in certain areas of the OAC.

Highlighting peoples achievements is already done in "This week on the OAC" The very first things I see when I come in is the good things people have been doing in the OAC. The brilliant thing about this one is it highlights serious and not so serious as long as it has something to do with anthropology. What an excellent way to attract non academics to Anthropology as an interest and possibly a future career choice.


Michael Findlay said:
I can see how people think their comments are not "good enough" to be posted on the OAC especially when I read comments in reply to those of us, yes I count myself in the uneducated masses group, that are veiled put downs. We all communicate in our own way and should be able to feel free to do so as long as it is done within an anthropological framework.


That is an inflammatory accusation. Cite specific examples.

But, let me say this: academics argue, and they find faults in other people's lines of reasoning. It's healthy, and it doesn't have to be taken personally. And yeah, when they see a line of bull, they call it. Why shouldn't they?

I don't have a PhD or even a Masters in Anthropology; I have not noticed any such put-downs directed at me. So where do you put me in your scheme of things?

I do recognize and respect expertise, whether that expertise is in mathematics, carpentry, truck driving, surveying, fishing, or anthropology.

Separating the masses from the educated hierarchy, IMO, will not achieve the result you desire Jacob. Instead it will cement a feeling in many that they are not up to a high enough standard to participate in certain areas of the OAC.

Couple things:
1. All my suggestions of mentorship, etc., were supposed to be voluntary, for those who are uncomfortable with participating at a certain level. No one is "separating the masses from the educated hierarchy". Look, I don't care if you have a degree or not, I only care if you have good ideas, are committed to honest inquiry, and know what the hell you are talking about. If you don't, be smart enough to recognize that, listen, and most important, *ask questions*. Jesus.

2. What is wrong with standards? If someone comes and starts posting that the Egyptian pyramids were constructed by aliens from Venus, or tells everyone that Mayan society collapsed because they worshiped the devil, why should such nonsense be permitted? The important things is that people modulate their participation in ways that honestly reflect their expertise in any particular domain. Expertise is not a degree; its what you know, what you can do, and what you can think. And anthropology is really wide-open. I'm not talking censorship here. I'm talking about people calling out nonsense for what it is. That's what makes (or should make) academic and scholarly inquiry different from other activities.

Highlighting peoples achievements is already done in "This week on the OAC" The very first things I see when I come in is the good things people have been doing in the OAC. The brilliant thing about this one is it highlights serious and not so serious as long as it has something to do with anthropology. What an excellent way to attract non academics to Anthropology as an interest and possibly a future career choice.

That is a fair point. But the question, is it enough, and what more might be done. There is no reason to only highlight people's achievements on the OAC. I am thinking along the lines of short articles about the activities of certain people. For example, I would love to see how Steven Vasquez's application ethnographic insights to his work in the criminal justice system turns out.
Jacob Lee said:
That is an inflammatory accusation. Cite specific examples.
Wow, you are a little sensitive. I would cite specific examples but, as the admin team know, the topics in question were deleted by the topic originator. May I just suggest you don't take things so personally, if my comment was directed at you I would say so as I am not one to hide my thoughts. Jacob Lee said:
But, let me say this: academics argue, and they find faults in other people's lines of reasoning. It's healthy, and it doesn't have to be taken personally. And yeah, when they see a line of bull, they call it. Why shouldn't they?
My thoughts exactly. I don't want to drudge up recent history, suffice to say some know what I am referring to, and referring back to my statement above it is difficult for me to give you the proof you demand. I can say this however, take a look at my profile page and the comments contained there-in. Follow the obvious links and you will see in part, if the other side of the discussion has not been deleted, what I am referring to.
I know that the timeframe for this discussion has expired, but I'd like to close it properly by addressing some of the latest points and recapping the entire session so we can move forward with acting on the issues raised. I would also like to see similar developmental discussions continue and perhaps even diversify with more participants and varied media.

Dumbing-down and smartening-up

I agree with the responses we’ve already had to Nathan’s point. I admit that sometimes the erudite commentary by senior academics here can be intimidating to those just starting out or with a passing interest in a subject. But I think it's against our ethos here to fragment contributions by encouraging newcomers to remain afraid to participate. That was an old way of doing things that the OAC's creation intended to reverse. Plus, it's very difficult to learn new things if people only wish to discuss what they're already an expert in.

Similarly, since we have been on the topic of group management throughout this thread, it’s important not to encourage groups to separate themselves from the rest of the site. All group content is public and everyone can respond to it. All parts of the site will always remain open to everyone. Perhaps instead we can encourage those who wish to share more relaxed thoughts to start a blog here. Blogging is a great way to voice your opinions with less formality.

Participation and Cooperation

From Jacob Lee:
The OAC is the Open Anthropology Cooperative. I see some anthropology, and its relatively open (hell, I've found a place here, haven't I?), but the 'cooperative' seems to be missing more often than not-- mostly I suggest because the object of cooperation is not really set out. What are we cooperating on doing? … I think when people see that the OAC is not just a spinning wheel, but a spinning wheel that goes places, participation will climb.

This is one of the most constructive points to continue this conversation into the long term. What are we cooperating on here? The OAC is great for the freedom that it affords members to explore and pick and choose how and when to contribute. But part of our intention here has always been to bring together a pool of like-minded and committed individuals willing to share, critique, and collaborate to achieve productive ends. We are strong on ideas, but putting them into action towards common goals can be a drawn out process, torn between total openness and democracy and a lack of clear commitment, investment or intent.

So what would everyone like to see us collaborate to achieve? What does the Coooperative mean to you? Where would you like to see this spinning wheel go and how best to keep it spinning for everyone?

Thread recap

Here are some of the issues brought up in the course of this discussion:

A. Technical

1. Adjust/re-organize the menu bar and its layout to improve site navigation
2. Possibly add a floating sidebar for enhanced navigation
3. Pare down the Latest Activity feed
4. Consider accessibility options - both site-wide and on the part of individual members (e.g. uploading videos with subtitles)
5. Add multiple language translations Done!

B. Organizational/Management

5. Prune and review the Groups (essential!)
6. Review the Wiki or a wiki-like function for collaboration (this would include the ability for members to upload syllabi and lecture notes as per Jacob Lee’s suggestion)
7. Awareness and highlighting of site-wide activity, from groups to blogs to eSeminars and book reviews, keeping members and new visitors informed
8. Spam removal Membership is now moderated for a spam-free OAC

C. Participation

8. Putting the C in OAC – What kind of Collaboration do we want to encourage here?
9. How to increase participation in general
10. Making the best of our multimedia capabilities. E.g. I like the video that Rachel made and think we should encourage members to contribute more helpful items like that to put on the About page. It can aid participation by illustrating how this site works and what it has to offer.
11. Publicizing and recognizing the accomplishments of others – how to do this? E.g. I’m presently looking into any services Ning provides to potentially add an interactive box on the homepage for "voting up" content, Digg-style. More on this soon.
12. Encouraging members to develop new initiatives within the OAC or connect the OAC to their external activities. E.g. blog cross-posting, interdepartmental collaboration, student participation/projects

Where to go from here

Many of the items in the list above are suggestions with no clear plan for action, so that’s where to go next. I believe that the groups issue is extremely important, as is the question of cooperation and collaboration. Both areas come down to the overarching issue of site activity, how to harness it, and how to better engage members in productive ways.

Thanks again to everyone.
My two cents:

It will be interesting to more people if anthropologists here do anthropology. I don't think tweaking what someone said two decades ago is anthropology. Philosophical and critical studies exist for such intellectual exercise. Let's go back to anthropology and study people and their culture not a man and his thought.

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