I see it daily. New members join and they sign up for a series of groups. Then they find that they are dead. No activity, nothing. Some intrepid souls announce themselves and there is no echo from the cave. Fran Barone and I have concerned ourselves with the life of Groups for a while. She has installed a great way of checking them out. You need to know that the info comes in two forms: recent posts and an alphabetical index of groups that you switch between by clicking on an icon (guess which!). But this really isn't a technical problem.
I started one of the most popular groups: economic anthropology. But that is dead like most of the rest. So I started another called the human economy. I figured I was on a winner here, since I just started a postdoc program in South Africa with the same title and thought I might easily be able to persuade its members to be the active core of a discussion group. I put a lot of stuff online and bingo...after a few stuttering comments, nothing.
The problem with the Groups can be massaged in several technical ways, but there is something fundamental underlying their moribund character. It is obvious enough that a Group leader can inject energy into his or her threads. Look at what Achirri Ishmael has done from time to time with Southern Africa and Ethnographic Writing. I tried to revive Digital Anthropology once which, of all our Groups, ought to be a medium for airing our common interests. Its founder spent a few weeks at the OAC and then disappeared. There are a number like this.
If ever there was a question that a relevant anthropology ought to be able to address, it is this: what accounts for the social dynamics (or more often its opposite) of participation on social networking sites like this one? This is an applied question, since I can't help feeling that quite a few members are frustrated by the lack of activity in Groups that speak to their interests. But they don't know what to do about it or they do and don't care enough to do it. Most often there is no real interaction.
What I love about Web 2.0 is that the geeks were in charge for so long when technical issues predominated on the internet, but now the issue is social which gives people like me a chance to be innovative in our own right. We have here getting on for 5,000 members from all over the world, of whom a bare handful do anything beyond possibly read. I am not desperate. I am happy with what we have, but I also know that we are not even beginning to tap our social potential.
Perhaps the issue of how Groups do or don't work is one way of approaching this. Any suggestions?
Oh, I was not suggesting that we can use the BBS system. Sorry to be confusing. But as you mentioned, Fran, I thought maybe there's another way to materialize the merits of the BBS platform with what we already have here. I read the announcement and as the changes seem to solve some of the problems we discussed here, so, I guess it'll no longer be a problem. (By the way, thank you, Nathan.)
I suspect that the vast majority of groups suffer from a problem also seen on the OAC as a whole: A very low percentage of members actually contribute to the site. We have over 4500 members, yet the number of active contributors is probably on the order of 1% of that. If you have a group with 50 members, then 1% is less than one person... so from that aspect alone it is not surprising.
A couple of other contributors to the problem:
1. You Get One Chance at a First Impression. If a group is created and the creator does not post content that motivates others to participate right from the beginning, then perhaps a lot of new members will join in the hope they will see something of use to them, but things will die out quick.y
2. Creators Must Make Things Happen. Any group lives or dies by the energy and charisma of one or two individuals who drive it forward. Group creators must commit themselves to periodically adding new content, asking new questions, and taking active steps to get new members or bring old ones back.
I created a Southwest Archaeology group because that's my area. 17 people joined. I added little content initially, and things went dark. In the past few months I have tried to add new content, but only the crickets can be heard. This is probably attributable to the general absence of archaeologists on the site (with the recent notable exception of Michael E. Smith), but I know I could still do more.
I've looked back through the activity logged in the Collected.info stream, and do not see any groups that are thriving, but certainly there is activity. Can someone point me to an OAC Group that is working? If so, we should look at why it is working, and possibly create a thread where we can provide hints and tips to Group owners.