I am coming out of hibernation. Actually I escaped from the Northern winter to a Southern beach for a few weeks. The first day of March isn't the same in Durban, but the wind does blow off the Indian Ocean. The last three months I have been swamped by the task of getting two books finished and into the publishers at once; and now it's all over. (I just opened up a group discussion thread on the more exciting project of the two, The Human Economy). In that time I have been watching the OAC slowly grow, but didn't get much involved. But in the run-up to Christmas, I had a couple of ideas I want to raise with you now. Think of it as a harbinger of spring (or the fall if you are in the South)

 

1. The OAC's Mission

 

I like the colourfully anarchic feel of the OAC, the unpredictable way that links are made and ideas shared. Sometimes it seems right just to leave it to take its own course without any attempt to give it direction. But I also wonder if we are missing an opportunity by not identifying a mission for the OAC. I don't mean that everyone has to sign up for a constitution or a program. We are not a political party or a professional association. We have some good general principles and a few minimal rules laid out under the About tab. The best part is that we are truly open, as few organizations or networks are. Yet here we are after less than a year, getting on for 3,000 members, an impressive variety of people from all over the world with some interest in anthropology. So what is the OAC for? What do we want to do for anthropology?

 

This question was actively debated in at least two turbulent patches and I doubt if many want to go back there. But things are a little quiet now, don't you think? It might not hurt to ask what the OAC's mission ought to be. I have some ideas of my own, but it would be good to come up with a bunch of proposals and see if anything consensual emerges. So I am inviting you to say what you think we could aim for. Maybe we can work out how to reconcile the idea of a mission with the freedom each of us already has here. 

 

2. A new window to discuss possible developments

 

The Admins team have been discussing off and on whether we might add a facility to the main page where members who are interested in developing the range of OAC activities could bring up suggestions, ask questions and take part in a more purposeful discussion about how to take the old Coop forward. We don't know if some people out there would like a chance to have their say or to join in future developments. One way of finding out is this Forum post. We don't have anything concrete in mind, but we would really welcome your suggestions and participation.

 

Maybe this is two items rolled into one, but the Mission could be taken as one of the issues to be included under the second. We have had lots of new members in recent months and it would be nice to hear from some of you. 

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John, thank you again for your detailed comments and suggested improvements. I agree that some of the changes proposed thus far could contradict the desire for openness in trying to tackle fragmentation.

In response to your suggestions:

1. I think that shutting down inactive groups is equally contrary to an openness policy unless they are clearly and permanently devoid of activity and their owners have lost interest. As for programming an archive of sorts, we don’t have access to Ning’s source code and I suspect this would present an insurmountable problem. Since my last post in this thread, some group owners took it upon themselves to spread their admin responsibilities among group members, and I think this is an amicable solution that requires little intervention by the admin team. Also, the group index does a fair job of keeping our eye on the most recent content and letting the rest fall away. Likewise, the group box on the home page has also been modified to emphasize recent activity.

2. I don’t really like receiving mass emails about events and activities via groups, either. Why not announce things of site-wide interest in the main forums or in a blog post (which appear on the front page) rather than creating yet another announcement area? Some members do this already. Blogs can be useful for announcements if the announcer would like to ruminate on the subject a little as well, but not open it for the kind of debate reserved for the main forums. Still, if it would interfere with the more personal nature of blogs (like Keith’s excellent new contributions), then we could create a new forum category for announcements only, and that could be indexed similar to the groups like you suggest. The only catch is that people would need to remember to select the right category when they post their thread. I’m not confident that this would be 100% successful.

3. Admin Paul Wren organized and launched a centralized files area early on in the existence of the OAC in the form of the OAC Repository Wiki. Members can host files there such as bibliographic resources or create their own page with their publications. The wiki remains underused, which makes it difficult to gauge demand for file archiving. We can also consider a file box on the main page. I recall one heated debate as a result of this latter suggestion at an earlier date was over copyright issues. Members can always add their own file box to their profile pages via Apps. 11 Members have done this so far.

4. If the forums were swamped with all group activity, it would be likely be overloaded. If forums were removed, needing to post everything to a single group (or groups) would further fragment information of site-wide interest ... or?

You know upon thinking about this a bit more - off and on but mostly off - over the last few years I think Keith was right to want to keep it completely open and I think my idea is more suited to being done by an AAA or SfAA or SCA etc. related entity. Now that I've been on the http://www.studentanthropologists.org/ for a while (almost a year) I think those kinds of forums are better for that and this is better for what it is. Each section could easily have its’ own forum if it wanted to. 

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