We are reaching the point when our two pages will have 20,000 members between them, even allowing for the overlap in membership, which isn't very great. Currently, OAC Facebook has 11,300 members and this main page 8,400. The first number is based on a much briefer period of existence and is growing rapidly, the second is coming on seven years old and recruitment, as well as participation, is slow.

I doubt if there are many of us who pay attention to both --  John Mc is pretty even-handed in his loyalties, but looking after OAC Facebook has drawn me away from here. The point of this thread is to invite comparison between the two and to discuss ways of bringing them closer together. The constituencies are markedly different. By my estimate at least a third of Facebook members are from South Asia. The use made of each page varies too. Contributions to OAC Facebook are snappier and involve less discussion, but the rate of participation is much higher.

This offers us a chance to consider the perennial question besetting such operations -- what induces and deters contributors? Beyond that, what are the propects for synergy in this case?

Incidentally, Fran Barone and I contributed a chapter on the OAC to a book which came out before Christmas: Sarah Pink and Simone Abram Media, Anthropology and Public Engagement. A link to that chapter may be found here 09%20chap%20Pink.indd.pdf.

I am not suggesting a soul-baring debate or even the need for urgent action, just the possibility of coming up with one or two ideas.

The discussion can stand on two legs. Here is a link to OAC Facebook.

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Two thoughts come to mind.

(1) I would gladly work with Huon, Ryan, Lee (and anyone else, of course) to develop our notion that OAC could become a forum for open discussion of material published in open access formats. My hand is raised. The question on the table is how to proceed.

Just as one possibility, I can set up a Basecamp project where we can share files and interact without adding to the administrative burden on Ning. If participants sent me the email addresses they want to use, I can set this up in ten minutes. Cost? Zero. I will use my company's Basecamp account, which has plenty of unused room for additional projects.

If others have systems they prefer, that's fine by me. I just note that this suggestion can be implemented NOW. No need to dither. Given the email addresses, I will just do it.

(2) I would like to say a bit more about the question I asked about hits. A thousand hits sounds great. Seven hundred in just a few days sounds even better. But what is their significance?

Digital marketers have found it useful to consider the funnel that Huon mentioned as a series of progressively smaller funnels. In the most straightforward model, you might see a result like the following: 1000 hits (funnel A)leads to 100 visits (funnel B, where individuals spend some time reading the page)to 10 comments (funnel C, where they begin to participate) to 1 active participant (frequently returns to the site and participates actively in discussions). It would be interesting, if possible, to look at the following question. If OAC NING has 8000 members of whom only four are active, is the proportion of active participants on OAC FB larger? It should be, precisely because, as Kate Wood, has just pointed out FB lowers the threshold for "participation" is lower. Cross-posting something that catches a user's eye is much less demanding than entering a discussion, especially one (mea culpa) in which old Bulls have already locked horns.

But this, of course, is only a first step. We need to consider life stage of participants. Another hypothesis is that online sites like OAC attract primarily two kinds of people, those at the beginning or end of academic careers. What is clearly missing on both sites is active, mid-career folk. No surprise there. People at this stage are busy and when they do intellectual work are focused on work that will lead to jobs, promotions or tenure. Neither OAC Ning nor OAC FB is likely to be attractive to them.

Note: Savage Minds seems different. I note, however, that both Rex and Kerim Friedman are safely employed at peripheral institutions, one in Hawaii, the other in Taiwan. Chris Kelty has moved on to bigger and better things. Dustin Wax now runs the Burlesque Museum in Las Vegas. But someone there has been working hard to identify and recruit new talent. Ditto for PopAnth, where Erin Taylor has just succeeded in recruiting a fine bunch of younger folk to take over editorial responsibility for the sections into which the site is divided. There may be a useful hint here.

If my crass, career-related analysis is correct, the most likely target for recruiting active participants may be young anthropologists just starting careers, for whom the visibility of having their work discussed on OAC could be made very attractive. If discussing work published by heavyweights in HAU and CA is one possibility, what about tracking the younger anthropologists who get featured on Savage Minds, and identifying especially promising work for OA forum or seminar treatment?

Again, if we like this idea, I will raise my hand.

Kate: the thread management is not great, which leads to the problem of keeping track where you are. If you come in halfway through a seminar, it's hopeless to try to catch up and actually contribute something.

Yes! this is something that must drive people crazy using this thing -- you can't scroll back to where someone said something--you can't click back either, because people's messages don't even appear on the same numbered page every time: which means that you can't remind yourself what someone said and so this is one of the reasons for disjointed conversation and reluctance to join an already long conversational thread. Ironically perhaps the mobile or ipod version of this does allow you to scroll back, but reading page length comments on an ipod is, well, it doesnt do much for your eyesight.

I feel like trying to follow one of the longer conversations here on a mobile screen would only lead to pain and despair.

Huon Wardle said:

Kate: the thread management is not great, which leads to the problem of keeping track where you are. If you come in halfway through a seminar, it's hopeless to try to catch up and actually contribute something.

Yes! this is something that must drive people crazy using this thing -- you can't scroll back to where someone said something--you can't click back either, because people's messages don't even appear on the same numbered page every time: which means that you can't remind yourself what someone said and so this is one of the reasons for disjointed conversation and reluctance to join an already long conversational thread. Ironically perhaps the mobile or ipod version of this does allow you to scroll back, but reading page length comments on an ipod is, well, it doesnt do much for your eyesight.

 Well, Keith, thanks so much to say us what is going on with OAC. You know that I m in the side of Slow Anthropology, so from that point of viwe ,after reading your comments and from the others I can see big numbers, velocity and surprise, much more than what to do...In one hand I m happy because it shows that we can´t control everything and in another hand a good interest on the OAC from the inside and from the outside...I take all these comments like a cyberassembly in order to claim our atention, to reflect, to give as well a responsability, thanks! Coherence! ..Firts I think it  is a part of this and second my small idea it is just to write your comment to all the OAC groups and see what happens...but , please always slowly, asking as well, small and specific comments we are not going to invent the powder!

regards, thanks for the space  and happy new year!

Cecilia

Apologies if I am stating the obvious but a small environmental note:

Ning: Keith noted "the Ning platform is moribund". I don't know why, but Ning has stopped technical development of their environment a long while ago and even rolled back features. My own conspiracy theory is that it was at some point hijacked  so as to put it to rest. I used to belong to many fruitful Ning platforms as it was the only truly good way of setting up your own social network at one point, over which you had control. i.e. Diversity and Competition in social platforms was nipped in the bud- long lived monotony

(interesting tangental observation about blogs here and worth the read  http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/dec/29/irans-blogfather-...)

Facebook: As a facebook engineer once told me, Facebook is not designed to listen to its users wishes and needs per se, its designed to generate as much traffic as quick as possible i.e. quantity not quality is their model.

What that means if anyone didn't already know it, I dont really know.  Excepting perhaps that the technical shapes the social especially when its designers aren't under any democratic obligation, and thus what we see with the two OAC platforms is somewhat predictable so far. I know I have faltered in offering help in the past but if at some point there is some sort of strategy meeting (maybe this is it?) then I would participate and out of that be willing to take on responsibility.

 

    In one of the endless Tom Selleck Jesse Stone cop movies (I think it’s Innocents Lost) Jesse and a friend and colleague are discussing their troubled lives.  The friend asks Jesse if he’s thought about seeing a psychiatrist and Jesse, after joking around a bit, fesses up that he has a shrink.  The friend asks, “Is he any good?”.  Jesse responds, “I don’t know.  I don’t have anyone to compare him with.”  [You see, I can always be counted on for the scholarly reference!]  I pretty much share Jesse’s dilemma when it comes to assessing the exchange between Kate and Huon regarding the difficulty / impossibility of navigating within OAC.  About all I have to compare it with is Google search, which I think is a new Wonder of the World and getting better all the time.  But Keith and his few sometime collaborators obviously aren’t working out of a Googleplex of their own, so I think we should cut him some slack and admire what he has accomplished.  Without experience in web design or apps (I don’t have a one), I’m able to get around OAC pretty well.  Following the discussion within a single Forum is easy – just click back or forth from page to page.  And the long list of  Forums on the Home Page lets you know at a glance what’s been going on recently.  For these reasons I find OAC lots more user-friendly than Savage Minds, which is about my only specific basis for comparing e-anthro things.  True, the Groups are mostly moribund, which is a shame since their themes are important.  And with the current Home Page you can’t find them unless you look under “What’s New” and lo and behold there’s your portal to Groups.  Huon and Kate are right that you can’t do a manageable search for a topic in the whole archive.  For example, if I search for “Edmund Leach” I get a jumble of long passages in which he’s mentioned, with no Google-type organization for relevance.  I also like the feature, which seems quite sophisticated to me, of being able to go to the left-hand column and click on “replied” in a post, taking you right to the latest comment in a Forum.  So all-in-all I’m happy with the layout of OAC. 

    The big issue still seems to be who participates in OAC or, rather, who doesn’t.  As a long-time vet John appears to have a good grasp of that.  For the most part we’re a collection of marginal types: young lurkers who are in and out and who aren’t interested in discussions that won’t fit in a tweet or two; and old guys who have too much time on their hands.  [Here I conjure an image of three or four geezers sitting on a park bench in Hialeah, hacking up phlegm, tossing peanuts to the pigeons, and bitching about what the world’s come to.]   I think much of this is inevitable.  Elsewhere I’ve described the discipline of anthropology as a community of outsiders, basically misfits who seek the company of other misfits.  After all, I am the esteemed director of the Center for Peripheral Studies – the world is all edges (and, especially now, extremely edgy).  As John notes, younger anthropologists on career tracks use what time is left them after classrooms and committees to publish in official, peer-reviewed journals and in getting out books.  For them participation in OAC forums would be a distraction, perhaps even a liability. 

    How do we find that fresh blood the Count always craves?  Here’s one suggestion; hopefully others will have more ideas.  Perhaps those of us within the academic community could incorporate OAC discussions into seminar and course work.  If professors are too nervous and too busy to participate, why not their graduate students and undergraduates?  Who knows, a grad student might find it gratifying (I refuse to write “empowering”) to mix it up with anthropologists at various stages of the life cycle, and without fear of a bad grade.  Back at the dawn of time when I was an anthro grad student you could become a Fellow – a lordly title! – of the American Anthropological Association only with a Ph. D. (and as I recall, perhaps mistakenly, you had to have an existing Fellow nominate you).  After initiation into the Holy of Holies, for years afterwards the washed-out blue copies of AA would arrive, to be installed on your bookshelf like so many sacred relics, almost wholly unread but nevertheless emanating their own powerful mana of professionalism, of vindication.  I cannot adequately relay the joy in my heart when one day I was changing residences and left that canonical collection behind.  Whatever its shortcomings, for all its warts, I think the OAC represents a merciful release from that hidebound world of old (not that it’s really gone ). 

    One means of involving young anthros in forum discussion might be, as we’ve discussed, to take advantage of our open-comment format to debate recent works in such publications as HAU and Cultural Anthropology.  If authors of those works would participate, that would be, as The Donald says, Huge.  

I'm one of those younger (relatively) anthropologists of which you speak, having taken approximately the same career path as Ruth Benedict (i.e. bimbled around a lot and made up my mind to study anthropology in my mid-30s despite having no clear reason to do so). I don't have a PhD yet, because I'm waiting for the funding stars to align so that I can actually afford to pay the guild fees. For me, a thriving OAC is, among other things, a chance to interact with people who have previously only been names on book covers or journal articles. It sounds silly, but this is not something that comes very easily in the academic world, especially to younger academics in such a shoestring discipline as ours. Is it a potential distraction? No doubt, but not more so than Facebook, the dozen or so Reddit message boards I look at, or the wikidrama pages. Could I be publishing instead? Not bloody likely, really (see above). People waste a lot of time online, especially when there's important stuff to do. There's no particular reason wasting it here would be a net negative.

(Also, I in no way meant to impugn Keith's efforts in creating the OAC, as I'm aware of what a Sisyphean task it is. It's just the ning platform itself is not optimally designed to promote discussion or make it easy.)


Lee Drummond said:

[snip]

As John notes, younger anthropologists on career tracks use what time is left them after classrooms and committees to publish in official, peer-reviewed journals and in getting out books.  For them participation in OAC forums would be a distraction, perhaps even a liability. 

[snip]

Abraham, 

My thinking is that technical issues related to Ning or any software we might consider as a replacement should be postponed until we know what our strategic goals are.You are in the precise demographic we hope to attract. Could we ask you to brainstorm a bit and tell us what, in the best of all worlds, OAC would do for you? 

Kate, Ryan,

It would be great if you could do the same. I spoke first to Abraham only because he raised his hand.

Everyone,

Keith has suggested that we examine the two OACs as social anthropologists. I take him to mean that we should examine the social processes by which the two OACs have been created and achieved their current level of growth. If I remember correctly Keith and Francine have written and/or published a paper on OAC Ning. If they could provide a link to a downloadable version, that could be a good place to begin. 


Hi John, long time no speak.

>You are in the precise demographic we hope to attract.

Could be. I am not South Asian though, I am Mediterranean.

>Could we ask you to brainstorm a bit and tell us what, in the best of all worlds, OAC would do for you?

(1) Kate pointed out one of the main initial attractors to me also "a chance to interact with people who have previously only been names on book covers or journal articles" I mean when I first posted on here I was an undergrad, and I got to participate in a discussion with Keith Hart. Though I know that was also a reason some friends read but didn't comment, for fear of 'being wrong'. I know I am wrong so I doesn't bother me.

(2) Later I came to OAC look for a platform to host anthropology related stuff, hoping its online community would also engage such as this project http://openanthcoop.ning.com/bb but the interweb don't work like that.

(3) Participation I have enjoyed since then has been when I have given time to participating in discussing potential papers, both because the material is usually quite good, from anthros I find interesting, and I learnt from doing so.

(4) I am also now a little selfishly motivated as I would hope to one day share some writing for discussion too

A main barrier I would say is that education is treated as a commodity, but not by me thus I approached OAC essentially as a way to cut my teeth, but as you mentioned above, most students thought it (a) a distraction cos where is the information they can passively absorb, or (b) those that treat education more like me were not as precocious as me (same goes for seminars at uni, many students not willing to participate because they might 'be wrong' instead of realising no participation is perfect or infallible, but having done teacher-training and worked in UK and Cypriot schools thats how we are taught, that there are facts and that is what is most valuable. Load of bullshit.

Finally I would add, every anthro undergrad course in the UK at least, suggest that students sign-up to the OAC as a matter of course, so it looks like the Uni is suggesting something digital for them to do. So students sign-up in first year, many find it too difficult to penetrate at first and don't return. I grew up mostly without TV and school and my dads books on Marx, the Bible and other weirdly written stuff. One has to be learn to forgo the limitations of a writing style, and be open minded enough to try and hear the meaning behind colloquial language -thats the type of shit they should teach at school. But there is more to OAC's user situation than that.

Also:

You said John: "My thinking is that technical issues related to Ning or any software we might consider as a replacement should be postponed until we know what our strategic goals are."

Agreed in terms of "postponed until we know what our strategic goals are"

BUT

"Keith has suggested that we examine the two OACs as social anthropologists. I take him to mean that we should examine the social processes by which the two OACs have been created and achieved their current level of growth." 

A technical point is not outside social processes, my point was the shape of the two different audiences is primarily shaped by the boring technical issues, so to I wont ignore them in trying to understand the 'social processes' i.e. sociotechnical

HOWEVER to attempt to answer Keiths original question of positing some IDEAS, I am still thinking. As you suggest John, first one probably needs to work out what the new point (aim) of something is before developing new ideas. 



ALSO I do sometimes contribute to the OAC facebook but not really. There are groups I do heavily use though, like Piers Locke's Anthrozoology. Often a good group, though also quite annoying.

 

The technology of the discussion is one of the social processes by which the platforms were created and developed. For example, considered from the viewpoint of a first-year anthropology student:

You've been using Facebook since you were 13 (or maybe a cheeky 11, having worked out how to fiddle your birthdate), and the affordances of the platform are obvious. You join the group and you see a post once every couple of days, maybe something you're interested in, maybe something you're not. Zero learning curve, zero thought required - you already know what it's for and how to use it.

You follow a link on the recommendation of your Introduction to Anthropology course leader, and you get to openanthcoop.ning.com. The front page is relatively clear what it's about, and there's some discussions linked so you can get in, but you've still got to explore the technology, follow links, etc. If you look at it on your phone it's not great*. There's no app. Once you get into the comments, you've got to make sense of an unthreaded mess. Unless you're really interested, you may well give up here.

The platform isn't peripheral to the question of who we're trying to attract, it's central. 

That said, Abraham has also brought up a good point about whether most undergrads are prepared to engage here. We do waffle on here, on the whole, and sometimes the conversations get pretty abstruse. You'd have to be uncommonly well-prepared to argue with authority to get into the seminars as an undergrad, for example. Anthropology is a pretty non-hierarchical field, but younger scholars may not know that yet - they're still being taught from the front of the room and regurgitating what they've learned back in a two-hour exam. So I think it's not just the social processes of the site itself, but the social processes going on outside that are influencing people to engage here.

* I looked on my phone and tablet. It's not great. 

John McCreery said:

Abraham, 

My thinking is that technical issues related to Ning or any software we might consider as a replacement should be postponed until we know what our strategic goals are.You are in the precise demographic we hope to attract. Could we ask you to brainstorm a bit and tell us what, in the best of all worlds, OAC would do for you? 

Kate, Ryan,

It would be great if you could do the same. I spoke first to Abraham only because he raised his hand.

Everyone,

Keith has suggested that we examine the two OACs as social anthropologists. I take him to mean that we should examine the social processes by which the two OACs have been created and achieved their current level of growth. If I remember correctly Keith and Francine have written and/or published a paper on OAC Ning. If they could provide a link to a downloadable version, that could be a good place to begin. 

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