On OAC Facebook, Keith Hart points us to Diego Basch's blog "Social Networks Implode Quickly" and asks if its conclusions apply to OAC? Here I will briefly summarize the argument and offer a few thoughts along the way.

Basch begins with the following points:
1) Metcalfe’s law. A social network increases its value faster than linearly as the number of users grow. Obviously it goes both ways. This is different from a content site: the content in Geocities or Tripod continued to be useful to individuals for a long time after authors stopped updating it.
 
2) “Coolness” factor. If your cool friends stop using Friendster or Myspace, you don’t want to use them either. It’s ok to lurk, but not to be seen doing anything. On the other hand, your Google searches may take you to content sites that nobody updates anymore. You can visit a Tripod page. No one needs to know.
 
But what is OAC? A social network or a content network? I'd say both—but not equally. 
The content is variable in quality, but some is very good, indeed.I am not surprised that people continue to visit and sign up for the site. We have an attic full of all sorts of interesting stuff, as well as a lot of junk—a fun place to rummage around in. 
As a social network, however, OAC is very weak. Why? Basch makes two more interesting points.
Concerning Twitter, he writes,
It doesn’t contain cultural artifacts with long-term value such as the lyrics to the Mr. Ed Theme. This means that if users stop tweeting, traffic will likely implode. Also, the barrier to exit Twitter is very low. Most of us don’t have that many followers, and we could easily “tweet” on Facebook, LinkedIn,  app.net, etc.
 
Concerning Facebook, he writes,
It’s harder to leave because your friends and family are there. You could replace many of the people you follow on Twitter by a different set, and still get most of the same value. However, your friends and family are unique.
 
If I am right about OAC content, we have accumulated a midden of anthropological stuff in which cultural artifacts with long-term value lurk. But the barrier to exit from OAC is, alas, low. The ties that hold us together are (I borrow Max Gluckman's terminology) "thin." When I think of my friends and family on Facebook, I see immediately what Basch is talking about. These are almost all people I know in other contexts besides Facebook. Besides family, there are people who belong to our sports club in Yokohama, the chorus I sing in, the professional associations in Japan whose meetings I attend, members of Democrats Abroad, a political organization in which I was once very active. How many of us on OAC will ever meet face-to-face, sing or share a meal, organize a rally or take a walk together? I find myself wondering if there are enough members of OAC in the greater Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area to sustain a Meetup, like the one my wife and I will attend next week in Tokyo for those who enjoy Scottish country dancing.
I find myself wondering why I am still active on OAC? I enjoy anthropology. I enjoy writing about it. I enjoy being read. And, yes, I have met some wonderfully interesting people here. But there are other places where I can do these things. And I must admit that I find it discouraging to visit OAC and find that every day for the last week, the most recent blogs are, except for one, blogs that I have written. Talking to myself is not the point. Could it be time to move on?

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Comment by Jacob Lee on September 18, 2012 at 5:17am

If I am right about OAC content, we have accumulated a midden of anthropological stuff in which cultural artifacts with long-term value lurk. But the barrier to exit from OAC is, alas, low. The ties that hold us together are (I borrow Max Gluckman's terminology) "thin."

Well that just about nails it on the head John.


On the other hand, there is no inherent reason that OAC can't continue on slowly accreting interesting content for folks to rummage through. As you see, I periodically come back, and as long as there is quality content other people will too.

Comment by Keith Hart on September 16, 2012 at 1:03pm

William Gibson has this to say in a recent Wired interview:

A friend recently tweeted something to the effect that he was once again trying to get into Facebook but he said, “It’s like Twitter but with mandatory homework.” That might be another good way to describe it. With Twitter you’re just there; everybody else is just there. And its appeal to me is the lack of structure and the lack of — there’s this kind of democratization that I think is absent with more structured forms of social media. But that’s actually way more abstract and theoretical than I usually get with these things. (Emphasis added).

It isn't easy to strike a balance between just being there and having to do homework. But maybe being democratically accessible and underused is not terrible. Circumstances change and sometimes people give a bit more of themselves to a common enterprise they believe in.

Comment by Keith Hart on September 16, 2012 at 12:52pm

There is always a lull in OAC activity in August/early September. This year I have been less omnipresent, you more so, John. It isn't really a question of deciding whether or not to contribute personally. Any organization needs creative input from people committed to the infrastructure and its purposes. This takes serious reflection on social media and constructive engagement with one of them over an extended period of time. Above all it takes enthusiasm and concentrated hard work.

The OAC is designed to allow small initiatives to flourish with minimal intervention. These tend not to last, but they do animate the network occasionally and provide variety. Moreover, they are never removed, so anyone can revive a thread when they feel like it. Lots more can passively explore the archive which is rich in images as well as discourse. Fran and I know that a lot more could be done to make navigation of the site easier, but it is unrewarding work and we lack helpers.

There are some recurrent highlights, of which the online seminar series is outstanding. Huon, Justin and I have lined up some fascinating papers and the first, by Ted Fischer on the good life, kicks off later this month. There are other experiments which wax and wane, just as the few active participants do.

I still think of this time in the OAC's history as a fallow period. There is enormous potential to do things here and remarkably little restriction on members' initiatives. Most of our membership appears to be dormant, but we can reach a large portion of them directly if we want to. There is no point in doing so unless a group of dedicated activists is ready to rethink priorities and sustain any momentum. All it takes is for a handful of friends to work together on a reasonably consistent basis. That is how the OAC was launched and there is plenty of room for interested newcomers.

In her reply to the OAC Facebook thread, Kate mentioned the history of Livejournal, a social site that lost members but reinvented itself. That sort of thing doesn't happen without a committed team of instigators. There is nothing to stop the OAC evolving through several lives.

Our strength at present may be perceived as a weakness. We lack a coherent message and committed central directorate. In their absence, small pockets of individuality and conversational exchange come and go. Well, they may not remain active, but they do stick around. We are genuinely open and we do provide a unique medium to express interest in anthropology, but we are not yet cooperative. These are early days. The OAC is not going away. Nor am I, but I may take more of a back seat.

Comment by John McCreery on September 16, 2012 at 1:28am

Kate, thanks so much. Do let us know what you come up with. The analysis sketched above is, at best, only a sketch. Lots of room for improvement, I'm sure.

Comment by Kate Wood on September 15, 2012 at 11:11pm

If nothing else, you've inspired me to write a blog post. I'm still thinking about this topic, a bit, though.

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