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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Just to qualify, I am not blaming the platform for anything, simply stated the obvious that the comparative architectures of facebook and Ning and their owners has a lot to do with the comparative difference in the conversations. So that answers Keith's first question.

Second question: synergy between the two? Unfortunately facebook doesn't allow auto-updates of external websites into groups (not that I have found yet anyway), only into Pages (which are not good for conversation). You can embed facebook groups into external webpages though (fiddly but possible). 

I dont see really understand what synergy we are imagining though?

 

The Ning could be moribund because it is another time, another steps, and the velocity become moribund things that are still alive, think it, please...so a recycling could be interesting, another kind of changes not to kill it. Facebook it is like the publicities when you go in a car on the road, it is something different with a page where it is possible to develop a seminar. I think maybe to see what is going on in similar pages, not only in Anthropology can help. I teach Spanish, I belong to one of the first very big with institutions as well in everything, after five of intensive work lastly it is not almost going on...so, so, so... I m very old fashion, I transfer the idea of the bar at the university, (where I consider now people learn more than before how the univesities are today) when I m writing on OAC and sometimes very small ideas,reflections, news, photos of my research.. because as I m a slow person and anthropologist too, in OAC I found a place of interchange many things, to learn, to show, to think, to know, etc. and that is all. Facebook , I repeat can be because now it is like to belong a futbol team, you have to have one. I like many comments here, as well as about waste that Kate has done that it is a point to consider What do you consider WASTE? It is not a fixed category, less in Anthropology...that could point in which point we are blind or/and we are speaking about...maybe to see the contradiction can point something more.

Abraham, Kate,

I am not dismissing the technical issues, and I like the point that Kate raises about the "Don't make me think" Web design of Facebook and "Why do I have to figure this mess out?" of OAC Ning. I can see this as a real barrier for those who have, in her description, been using SNS on line since they were eleven. On the other hand, we have Lee, who has, it seems to me, done what many of us older folks do with new software. We figure out the bits that interest us and leave the rest for another day. 

Turning, however, from barriers to opportunities, I am struck about in Abraham's description of what drew him to OAC resonates with my own motivations. For me, OAC has been an independent scholar's substitute for a college where at least a few folks share his interests. It is fun to interact with people whose publications I have, if not already read, at least seen referred to in other discussions. It is also a place to find pointers to interesting work that I would, otherwise, be totally ignorant of. Looking outside OAC, Carol McGranahan's writing workshop series on Savage Minds has been a real treasure in this regard. 

The marketer in me finds this fascinating. Could it be that our primary target should be self-identified oddballs who take ideas seriously. Assuming that to be the case, trying to appeal to the widest possible audience only generates a lot of noise that sends our primary target elsewhere. A guerrilla marketing strategy of the kind I suggested to Lee on the violence thread, looking through past traffic to identify and reach out one-to-to-one to people who have initiated groups or participated actively in long threads might be a more productive use of our time than another round of worrying about how we are going to appeal to everyone in the world. This could be a more productive strategy even if our ultimate aim is, like Keith's, to create a vehicle through which anthropology becomes a more useful tool for the creation of a human economy. The first step in building a political movement is to create a strong, self-multiplying cadre. Trying to get everyone on board never, ever works. 

P.S. I have nothing against South Asians. Personally I would like to see more participants from East Asia and other continents as well. At least in East Asia, the language barrier is formidable and, in the case of China, FB is currently blocked by the Great Firewall. But that, too, is an issue to address once the English-language site has been revived.

I asked if the two OACs might be more actively combined or at least inform each other. I also wondered if making it more explicitly an anthropological project (a) was possible, given the current state of anthropology or (b) might motivate some anthropologists to take the OAC more seriously than they do. I asked for ideas because they require the least effort. Ideas are cheap. Everyone has ideas. They are a convenient vehicle for self expression. The present thread has, as always, been entertaining, instructive and above all diffuse. Clearly the few who regularly use the Ning page are reasonably content with their own efforts. As possibly the only person here who cares about the OAC's long-term reproduction, my take on our achievements and prospects is less sanguine. The point is to regenerate the OAC as a social form capable of offering the means of self-expression to many, while fulfilling its mission to become a truly global network of participants as well as readers.

This means recruting active members who will give some of their time to developing the OAC. That commitment has been in sharp decline for years. It is alright saying we need younger activists, but this is precisely the constituency which is most likely to be diverted by professional and life priorities. Such has been my experience in the last year or so.

We agree that the OAC Press and the Seminar series have been a landmark success for some years now. I recall that at one stage we had a committee of 12-20 members, but all it did was talk. Three of us, without seeking much in the way of legitimacy, decided to work independently and we have done so ever since. Another example comes from this current exchange. Unlike the Ning thread, few members contributed to the Facebook version and their comments were very succinct. Not only that, but both volunteered to join a small network aiming to increase communication between the two platforms. Ryan has made some general points about individuals who might be willing to commit their energies to a redefined OAC project. The invitation is out there. Who wants to join?

I am willing to be part of any such initiative or to hand over to a new team. The "demographic" remains inexorably anthropologists from white imperialist societies. This is sometimes attributed to the use of English. South Asians are the majority of English-speakers on the planet.  But it goes beyond that. Look at the Forum entry below this thread, by a graduate student from Pakistan. It is highly instrumental, more than expressive. There is no doubt in my mind that the Facebook platform taps more directly into communicative practices that are more normal there than here. It would be a daunting task to try to bridge that gap, but an anthropologically engaging one. I gave up being a real ethnographer long ago, but my ethnographic engagement has been mainly online for 25 years. I would find it immensely stimulating to push boundaries outward with a little help from my friends. The task is not one of replacement -- young for old, non-western for western, female for male -- but of extension, piecemeal extension in the desired direction. All we need is the bodies.

John: I like the focussed strategy instead of quantity strategy you detail
Keith: I accept your invite, balls on your court
Cecilia: I wholeheartedly agree with your point on waste often being a horribly utilitarian category. And a very important point for OAC designers to take on board
Kate (I think): I would be happy to explore developing better application option,

Abraham, and Huon (I received your message but it is deleted on the comments, I dont know why)

Thank you both to consider what are the references that we are taking about what it is not a waste an what is it. Could be the utiltarian, the fashion, the class, the religion, the gender, the idology, the historical moment, what you consider the issue is to objetive why something is waste or not.

In my research team I check it the most of the times it is high and at the end we are doing and taking out many ideas, proyects, without watching this..the time pass and  then surpise!!!

As Eriksen mentioned we are in overheating  global society so we should be much more careful or , as we say in Spanish from the Southamrica "we go up as well on the horse of progress" with changes that we could do.

About WASTE in my research team we try to see and build an epistemology about it. Strasser has a very important and it is a referencial book "Waste and want" ...

we believe we know what it is waste, the tention with what is it it is need to study in EVERY AMBITS of Anthropology (Mauss used to recomend to see the junk baskets)...

so with the page, we should be clear and to asume, maybe to be in the WASTE, why not? In spite of it is not totally waste , could be just an intrepretation...

I asume, as well that I m learning about cyber social practices,  it is very reduced what I know.  In the history line something new, so the only thing for me it is to look after clearly what we want to replace, modify, to split beliefs with reality and if we lose in relation with the others web pages, well what do we lose? Colours, information, news, quality of comments, coherence, members, groups and its activities,..??

To think if we are going to change to continue not changing nothing?

regards, 

Cecilia

Keith,

    As I’ve said, I’m a big fan of OAC (long-version).  Also as I’ve mentioned to you a couple of times, I’m quite willing to help keep it going.  Understandably my offer probably doesn’t count for  much since, as John noted, old guys like me find what we like in a website and stay away from the techy details.  And I think there’s lots to like.  I don’t know what the e-version of stuffing envelopes is, but I’m ready to do whatever my limited abilities allow.  

    I view OAC forums, e-seminars, and OAC Press books as venues to extend and sharpen what I’ve come to call cultural analysis (I know, already vague, but not as elusive as what I prefer, “anthropological semiotics”).  I’ve been pretty clear (here and elsewhere) that I have a dim view of the history of anthropology.  I also think that dubious heritage has evolved into a contemporary anthropology that in large measure is at once pretentious and timid (truly an odd combination, to be sure). 

    I do think OAC could me more mainstream in the sense of involving more thinking individuals in serious intellectual debate.  One possibility is persuading authors of interesting work to participate in our discussions.  The e-seminars have been great in that regard, and the upcoming discussion of Albert Piette’s “The Volume of Being” promises to carry that forward.  Incidentally, since Huon has noted that Piette is much more comfortable writing in French, there should be no problem adopting the convention of his responding in French to comments in English (or French). 

    I’ve modified my long-held objection to anything Facebook to the extent of checking the OAC group for interesting messages, even posting a couple of items myself.  But the whole idea of “social media” still sets off bad vibes in me – I can hear the buzzing of the mindless hive in the background.  Yes, still mostly an unredeemed  recluse.  I don’t want to friend, like, share, tweet, or even text. 

    Not to be a complete grump, though, I still like to try to inject a note of humor here and there.  Hence a still from that modern classic, Machete, starring Danny Trejo.  The still circulates with the caption, “Trejo don’t text.”  Me neither.    

I,too, have raised my hand, and with Abraham and Lee on board, I am happy to pitch in.

Made a small start this morning, trying to figure out the logistics of identifying once-active members for personal follow-up. I discovered that the sort options for the full membership list are Recent, Alphabetical, or Random. There is one Superstar, Francine, and a separate list of 15 frequent contributors, most of whom I know. Since sorting manually through 8,417 members will be a huge and tedious job, I am hoping that Francine, or someone else with access to the Ning back end, can set up full membership sorts by number of contributions. This would make it possible for our guerrilla marketers to start with a small subset of once frequent contributors and to expand the list of possible contacts if we get more individuals involved in this effort. In other words, we could start with a cut off that gave us fifty individuals to contact, then expand the list to a 100, 200, whatever, as time and project members permit.

P.S. A similar breakdown of groups by number of participants and number of comments would also be helpful. Especially so, if the data were available as a time series, making it possible, for example, to identify the most popular groups in any given year since OAC was founded. The point of all this is to develop a dynamic map of topics that have excited response and see how these may have changed over time.

P.P.S. It would also be great if we could breakdown the times when active contributors who have fallen away were active.

The point of this type of analysis is to better understand OAC's developmentby mapping social action (here comment frequency and group participation). This kind of analysis is critical for developing an effective outreach strategy that does not overwhelm those willing to lend a hand.

Onward!

So we have 1) the technological limits and possibilities of the platforms that the OAC uses (ning and FB), and how that shapes the ways in which people interact; and 2) the possibilities for future synergy that Keith asks about in the main post above.

Stepping back from things a bit, I do agree with Kate when she says that: "The platform isn't peripheral to the question of who we're trying to attract, it's central." The closest analogy I can come up with is that the current Ning platform reminds me quite a bit of the detailed, complex, and often vigorous talk pages you'll find on Wikipedia, where people argue, explain, and debate with one another to no end. It's a very important part of the whole wiki framework--but the main page is just as important. It's where things get distilled, where the final products go...it's the public face of all of those intense debates and conversations. Sometimes I feel that the OAC has the equivalent of the talk page, but it's missing that public face. Something more concise, readable, shareable. I think the OAC Press and Seminars come closest because they are pretty easy to grasp. But it might be worth thinking of ways to add another face to this project as a whole.

The OAC FB page is pretty much the polar opposite of the Ning page. It has drawn in lots of people, but the content is short, ethereal, and limited. It's Facebook. As Abraham points out, it wasn't designed to be anything revolutionary--and yet people do find ways to do revolutionary things with it. Still, perhaps there needs to be something between the Ning page and the FB page that sort of anchors the whole project. Maybe the ning page can be that anchor but it just needs some tweaks.

But if we want to answer Keith's questions, we have to pay attention to what Abraham calls "the comparative architectures of facebook and Ning and their owners" because this "has a lot to do with the comparative difference in the conversations." I agree.

Now, if we take the ethnographic approach that Keith suggests, a good place to start is right here, with the people who are giving us some data to explore. Kate, Abraham, Cecilia, John, and Lee all talk about what drew them to the OAC in the first place. A desire to connect. To share. And so on. Many seem to express a desire for something else--something other than what the university has become, something other than the (limited and limiting) professional associations we're stuck with. I think we have to pay attention to these stories--why people come here--and try to find out about more people who are part of this network.

Keith shares his vision quite clearly: ""The point is to regenerate the OAC as a social form capable of offering the means of self-expression to many, while fulfilling its mission to become a truly global network of participants as well as readers." He also writes, "I would find it immensely stimulating to push boundaries outward with a little help from my friends. The task is not one of replacement -- young for old, non-western for western, female for male -- but of extension, piecemeal extension in the desired direction. All we need is the bodies."

But here's one of the biggest problems, as Keith explains: "That commitment has been in sharp decline for years. It is alright saying we need younger activists, but this is precisely the constituency which is most likely to be diverted by professional and life priorities. Such has been my experience in the last year or so."

He's right. One of the primary constituencies that the OAC needs to expand and grow is literally getting buried by a slew of professional and other obligations. Grad students and new grads, for example, simply have no spare time. They're all too busy trying to make it in the world of getting grants, publications, and jobs. All of their time and energy is being dumped into conferences, largely corporate publications, and the rules and regs of various tenure regimes. Others are simply buried in the contingencies of adjuncting and other forms of temp labor.

We often write this constituency off. But maybe we shouldn't. That was my point in my earlier post. Maybe there's a way to make it worthwhile for people to bring their best work, ideas, and energies to an open, free network like this. I think this is worth thinking about--why should all of these people be giving all of their time and energy to Wiley Blackwell, Elsevier, and other corporate publishers? Why not look in another direction? Why not take part in something that is far more open, that can be read, used, and shared by a far larger network of people? Why not build this instead of continuing to build and support the status quo that so many of us know isn't working for us?

All of this is to say that I think we do indeed need to work to expand the network and recruit more people. Bring them in. Listen. And so on. But I think we can also start being a bit more creative with the time and energy we already put into this project/site. I think we also have to create more. To funnel more of our best work through here. That's the way, I think, to draw people in and expand this project. It can't be an afterthought.

Ryan, I beg to disagree. We share a vision of what OAC might be, but isn't your proposal of the "If we build a better mousetrap, they will buy it variety"? How big is the demand for our mousetrap? (Clicks on "join" buttons have built the joint membership of OAC Ning and OAC FB to around 20,000. But what percentage of those even (1) hang around to lurk, (2) contribute comments, let alone (3) feel attached enough to contribute more than occasional remarks?) What do the people we need for our activist cadre want from the sites? (It may be different from both the casual socializing with like-minded people that FB offers and the intense conversations that have kept me and Lee hanging on.Do we know that higher quality material will attract a more dedicated set of readers ready to participate in our conversations or, best of all worlds, join us in the work that needs to be done?)My point isn't that we should abandon our dreams. It is simply that until we do the guerrilla marketing required to double or triple our activist core, we aren't likely to see many fresh ideas, let alone recruit a larger pool of activists willing to help run the sites.

I would like to thank everyone for taking part in this discussion and especially those of you who have volunteered to help launch a new phase in the OAC (both its platforms). It looks as if the list so far is me, Abraham Heinemann, John McCreery, Lee Drummond, Ryan Anderson, Christine Revsbech Jensen and Robin Oberg. Huon Wardle and Justin Shaffner are already part of the admins body in well-defined roles.This is a rather unwieldy size and the possibility of reaching agreement on major decisions is problematic. We will interact privately, maybe in a googlegroup. There is no expectation of maintaining a consistently high level of active commitment and members may take up specialised roles, temporarily or for longer periods (we already have such a specialist interest on the part of Christine and Robin).

Whether you have read it before or not, I hope that the members of this committee will digest the analysis of the OAC made by Fran and me. We identify many errors there and raise questions of organization and anthropology that have not yet been resolved. There are also many points raised in the present discussion. Most of us have not met in person and we are scattered around the world. Imo we need to play down the debating society aspect of our internal discussion. I have had many points of disagreement with what has been said here, but I preferred to leave them implicit or unsaid. The fragile character of our association can't be exaggerated, especially in the early stages.

The nature of our mini-network remains to be determined. I will manage the transition, but I do not assume that I will chair the new committee or indeed that it wil be chaired at all. We need to start small and identify concrete tasks quite early on.

John: "We share a vision of what OAC might be, but isn't your proposal of the "If we build a better mousetrap, they will buy it variety"?

Hi John. That isn't my proposal. My proposal is that we rethink/reimagine the time and energy many of us already put into this site, and then find some different ways to share those efforts with others and, hopefully, encourage them to join in and do their own thing. I think it's the *potential* of the OAC that has pulled 20,000 people in here, but when they do get here they find something a bit different. Or, maybe, they're not sure what they have found. It seems to me that this is why so many people join yet so few participate. We do need more concrete projects here, rather than the current hodgepodge. The extended discussions that take place here are great, and promising, but I think more could be done to make these discussions inviting to other members and readers. Not just to read, but to take part in and, ultimately, make their own. One idea: use those discussion threads as launching points for other, more concrete media production, whether essays, articles, books or who knows that else.

John again: "My point isn't that we should abandon our dreams. It is simply that until we do the guerrilla marketing required to double or triple our activist core, we aren't likely to see many fresh ideas, let alone recruit a larger pool of activists willing to help run the sites."

I get it, but what's the point of double or tripling the core if we're not even sure what we're doing? This has been one of the primary modes of engagement here at the OAC for years--get more people to join at all costs, with the hopes that *someone* will have an idea of what to do. I think the OAC already has plenty of radical ideas--about creating an open network of global anthropologists etc etc--but what has been missing is the follow through to make that happen. I agree with Keith that it's important to "start small and identify concrete tasks" in order to move forward. It doesn't take an army to start doing that.

Lee has already identified a few possibilities: 1) More seminars; 2) invited more scholars to share their work here; 3) encourage people to make the OAC part of university courses.

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