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.
OAC FB=chatter,i.e., numerous brief, short-lived contributions, great for calling attention to something seen and noted.
OAC Ning=conversation, i.e., few but occasionally long and rich dialogues, great for thinking out loud and probing new ideas.
Observation: Announcements on OAC FB of new threads on OAC Ning typically elicit a handful of likes. They never seem to lure new participants to join the conversations.
Observation: Active participants in conversations on OAC tend to be OLD. Ryan Anderson and Huon Wardle are now our youngest regular participants. I am seventy-one and surmise that Lee Drummond and I belong to the same generation.
Idea: I have enjoyed the OAC seminars on OAC Ning and am grateful to those who have invested the time and effort required to make them happen. I wonder, however, if both the quantity and quality of participation would be increased by collaboration. Could OAC Ning become a forum where the latest offerings from, for example, HAU or Anthropology of This Century, were promoted and discussed? Calling attention other people's work and providing constructive criticism that builds on what they have done could make OAC Ning a node in the network where synergies occur.
Keith, I think you hit the nail on the head here:
Contributions to OAC Facebook are snappier and involve less discussion, but the rate of participation is much higher.
The OAC developed rapidly out of some chatter on Twitter. Clearly there's still a demand for more light interaction. I had always wished that this Ning site could facilitate both forms. As it happens, Facebook filled that gap on its own, which was probably more a product of Facebook's success at monopolizing people's time than anything the OAC did right or wrong.
Considering some key differences between Ning and Facebook, it's important not to gloss all FB activity as competing in a negative way with the Ning site. There's no place on the OAC Ning to share a URL with minimal commentary (in fact it's a faux-pas), while FB allows that sort of thing - both socially and technically. I don't know if anyone remembers, but I experimented with a link-share Ning App a long while ago and it didn't take off. So I guess I'm suggesting that there's a sort of symbiosis on some levels by not forcing the sites to do the same thing when people are just not going to use them in the same way. Could there be some synergy in leveraging their differences?
As John said, Facebook is good for chatting, sharing and getting the word out. Ning is better at collecting thoughts and conversations to ruminate on. It's also better for archiving, linking and preservation. (Even though it does none of those well, it does them all better than FB does.)
People check into the OAC Group on FB because they're already doing stuff on FB and/or they get notifications while they're on FB from someone they know. They can leave a comment or "like" a story while doing other things. It's okay if their attention gets diverted. Not much energy is required to find the latest topic; it's right there at the top of the page. FB is also more mobile-friendly. Meanwhile, visiting the OAC takes more effort and intention. Visitors even have navigate away from FB to open a fresh browser tab (gasp). Sometimes the discussion here requires heavy lifting. How far can you get before TL;DR? There's lots of content to wade through. And there aren't as many pictures of cats doing stupid things.
To try a facile analogy, the OAC on FB is like chatting with strangers in the conference lobby. The OAC on Ning is like participating in a panel discussion. Both are indispensable parts of the whole, but they are very different in form, function and what they require from us.
So if the aim is to convert FB users/participants to Ning participants - or to entice people hanging out in the lobby to attend your panel - then the question needs to be re-framed into something like, how do we communicate to members or potential members that there is value added in joining the OAC on Ning to participate "in full"?
At first glance, the FB group's exponential growth has seemingly imbalanced the rate of interactions over here. I'm not sure that's true or if the opposite is true or if there's no statistical correlation. Nevertheless, how to leverage its growth is a more interesting question for me, rather than seeing it as disruptive.
Finally, I can't help but mention that it's sort of fitting that the OAC is spilling over media platforms. That's how we got here in the first place.
(Also noteworthy is that I started commenting on Keith's post on Facebook, but when it got too long-winded, I came here instead).
I just have a very short answer. It's time to start being more deliberate about linking content and conversations happening here and the OAC FB page. Post links, quotes, questions, whatever. Reminders. Something to help draw people in.
John: Observation: Active participants in conversations on OAC tend to be OLD.
I recall Kristian Garthus pointing out that reading long posts makes it difficult to participate, even so, a couple of recent forum threads have garnered over 1000 hits in quite a short time -- so people are evidently interested. Actively participating in the OAC takes up quite a lot of time -- it is slow anthropology as Celia Montero says. Not surprising that there are a couple of olduns chewing a lot of the fat-- which is good: we need old people to take a more active role in shaping contemporary dialogue because they have a lot of stored up knowledge and sometimes wisdom. I like the idea that anyone less than 70 is 'young', but it may flatter my wishful thinking.
I don't use facebook, however the success of the OAC-facebook page is good news: I took a look at one point and it had a lot of people putting a lot of stuff on it, especially links and films and whatnot. Hence the possibilities in terms of channelling from OAC-facebook to the OAC page for more extended discussions and readings are rich--OAC-facebook can act as a funnel drawing those people who are interested into OAC papers, seminars etc.
The period in which OAC was a very active crowding space wasn't necessarily its most successful (let's say 2009-2011): though there were some great discussions there was also a lot of the kind of solipsistic interaction that the new media enables generally; a lot of time seemed to be taken up with angry claims and rebuttals etc. The more quiet recent period has produced a number of somewhat more coherent discussions:--an example of a good 'quiet' seminar was the one with Michael Agar that John set up where there was a loose open dialogue which nonetheless threw out a range of serious insights. Of course, Michael Agar is another old codger (hope he doesn't mind my saying that).
So, all told, the smaller scale of activity on OAC is by no means a bad thing because it can allow good conversation-- with the quick-fire memetic stuff going on on OAC-facebook.This is making a virtue out of a necessity since it turns out that the number of people who will engage in the kind of extended conversation we have been talking about in a sustained way is very small.
I really like John’s suggestion that an attractive feature (and possibility) of OAC long-version is to provide forums for discussing important new work in anthropology. Three recent examples of this which I think have been very productive have taken up Michael Agar’s book, The Lively Science (okay, not so new), David Graeber’s HAU essay on the divine kingship of the Shilluk, and Tim Ingold’s HAU essay, “That’s Enough about Ethnography.” Of special value here is that Michael and David participated fully in the discussion of their work. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the gold standard for intellectual debate. In my admittedly limited experience, OAC is uniquely poised to take advantage of the recent partial thaw in anthro journal publication practices. Both HAU and Cultural Anthropology now proudly proclaim their new-found open access format. However, they stop short of making their journals open-comment. Since they don’t deviate a whit from the often stifling and arbitrary peer review process, “open access” translates as “pearls before swine” mute readers are left in isolation to root in the feast spread before them. It’s still way too top-down thinking – a practice that’s got us into a wide variety of messes, least of which is the state of discourse in anthropology. So, in sum, I think OAC is great and has even greater potential to inject critical analysis into the stream of an anthropology too long hide-bound. Keith and Francine are pioneers to be celebrated; they have gone where the hand of man has never set foot.
Oh, so far as I know (and that, again, is limited) the only comparable anthro website that facilitates an OAC-style collaborative exchange is Savage Minds. The advantage OAC has over Savage Minds is that while the latter serves up a rich buffet of essays, comments on them (limited to 700 words or so) get spread around in a sort of kaleidoscopic fashion, so that it’s hard to follow a discussion. And then, when you add a comment, there’s that daunting message, “waiting for moderation.” We’ve been way too organized and moderated; let’s give immoderation a try.
I second Lee's points -- OAC is unique in letting anyone comment using any anthropological terminology they like and if you want to discuss your ideas then you have to put up with that and respond whatever way you can. I agree too, that OAC has a great potential as a theatre (high seriousness, tragedy, comedy of the absurd...) also agora/market place of ideas for the myriad open access offerings during the current metamorphosis in academic production and exchange. In that respect, language barriers present one problem; for instance, Albert Piette whose difficult short paper, The Volume of Being, is coming up for discussion soon, speaks French and only secondarily English, so people who use this site have to be prepared to have a good degree of communicative flexibility--to create various personal trading languages etc.
Could we look a bit more closely at this? Huon notes that "a couple of recent forum threads have garnered over 1000 hits." Do we have any data concerning how many were hit-and-run, one-time visits versus how many individuals became repeat visitors following a thread?
Only Keith would have the means to inspect that, but I noticed, for example, that the Emancipatory Politics forum thread had clocked over 700 hits before you could say quantitative easing. I am guessing that a lot of that traffic is coming to the OAC page via OAC-facebook, but what that actually signifies for the OAC and its activities is a much more complicated problem, though. I am reminded that in the early days of OAC I was chatting about the site to an anthropology post-grad on the steps of our department and she said semi-seriously -- 'Oh, yes OAC; that is facebook for clever people'. A double-edged thought and things have moved on since then anyway.
Robin Öberg Maybe a sticky post with hyperlinks to pages with essential readings... smile emoticon
One thing this particular thread has made clear to me is that the Facebook page and this one turn out to be highly complementary;-- something I hadn't realised before because I saw the emergence of the FB page as, ultimately, a replacement for this one.
What has happened, as I see it now, is that some of the key 'social network' features have shifted to FB--attractive features which is why the FB page has grown large quickly--but it becomes apparent that this page has something else to offer that was not obvious to me before:--as Lee and John say, this is the only place where the new anthropology open access materials can be discussed in depth. So, some of the features that FB already does much better have atrophied on this page (messaging etc.)--- leaving the really interesting bit to show up.
Christine Revsbech's comment is relevant - FB might be more proactive in distilling certain kinds of topics / research for discussion in depth here.
It never occurred to me that OAC Facebook might be disruptive to what goes on at the Ning platform. What strikes me about the bulk of these responses is how satisfied they are with the main platform's content, opening up to Fb mainly as a source of recruitment to what goes on here. The present exercise confirms that they are separate worlds. Fb is larger, growing faster and sustains more activity. The constituencies of each are vastly different. On the one hand a private club of half a dozen old white men (give or take a decade or two), on the other some younger Euroamericans and a vast membership from the subcontinent (which happily ignored the present thread). Facebook requires less maintenance and is more openly accessible. It should surprise me, but it doesn't any more, that users rarely ask who actually does the work of keeping the show on the road or developing it. Reproduction entails inter-generational succession. For some time now, three of us have kept the Press and seminars going. Members of the exclusive club can entertain each other without bothering much about such questions.
My interest in exploring possible relations between the two sites comes from a sense that the Ning platform is moribund. I have failed to recruit active members to the administrative committee. The Cooperative is in essence a one-man-band, acknowledged by Lee above. Of course the site can continue to function at a low level as long as a handful of adherents want it to do so, but you should not be in any doubt why your number remains so few. What struck me about the comments so far is that they are largely technocratic. As Fran and I pointed out in our chapter, it is striking how little members use social anthropology when contemplating the need for new developments. It seems that our discipline prepares us to make piecemeal observations of the world as it passes by, but not to make something new in it.
The fact is that some interesting and useful comments have made here, starting with John and Fran. I need time to digest them all. The contributions made by Christine and Robin in the previous post deserve careful attention. This is not a call for action, but nothing will happen unless some people put their backs into it. Since I think about personnel all the time, one choice seems to be to set up small guiding groups for Ning and Facebook separately, perhaps with an occasional interface. To my mind, the hardest task will be to acquire collaborators from our huge young South Asian Facebook membership. And that does not mean persuading them to take part in "our" established conversations, but finding out what they do and how we can adapt to them.
Here we are with a social media creation that potentially unites 20,000 people, the majority young, with a shared interest in anthropology. A handful of ageing core members can only ask how can we get some of them to play our game? Obviously this is the principle of least effort at work. I do not disparage our achievements so far, but we are not addressing the potential of our size, global distribution and divided platforms. I have tried to add to the numbers of committed agents and I will try again, probably by focusing on Facebook. I understand that the problems are enormous, but we have come too far to lapse into complacency and torpor.
Lee: "In my admittedly limited experience, OAC is uniquely poised to take advantage of the recent partial thaw in anthro journal publication practices. Both HAU and Cultural Anthropology now proudly proclaim their new-found open access format. However, they stop short of making their journals open-comment."
This is something that the OAC offers that the vast majority of other plaforms do not. Open comment and participation. Lee has made this point more than once in the past, and I agree completely. As "open" as CA and HAU are, they are really only partially open. They bring content to people, but do not have any infrastructure for actual dialog or participation. So while they move away from the one-sided, closed nature of many journal pubs (which dominate much of our time and energy), they don't quite go far enough. Savage Minds, as Lee also points out, seems to be the closest...but comments there are limited, often sporadic, and restricted by moderation rules.
Keith: "To my mind, the hardest task will be to acquire collaborators from our huge young South Asian Facebook membership. And that does not mean persuading them to take part in "our" established conversations, but finding out what they do and how we can adapt to them ...
I agree with this as well. Many of these discussion spend a lot of time asking how we can get all of these other users to join what is already happening here. I think Keith has a good point and that we need to think broadly and creatively about the extent of OAC's network and what it could become if we creatively explore and expand the possibilities of anthropology within this network.
One thing that keeps coming to mind for me is this: Perhaps it is time for the OAC to be a space where more of us direct our primary energies and efforts, rather than a space where we discuss things on the margins (or during our spare time). Most of our energies go to books, articles, etc etc. Why not funnel some of this material through the OAC? Why not have those conversations (which often don't actually end up being conversations anyway) here? Or at least have *more* of them here? Why don't more of us publish working papers here for starters? At some point if the OAC is going to be the space that many of us want to see, it's going to have to take precedence, be a primary space/site of engagement.
I haven't been contributing here much recently (largely because, well, life). However, when I do find time to read through discussions here, I find them much more stimulating and interesting than the Facebook posts. The Facebook OAC tends to get a lot of very frivolous or superficial posts, pseudoscience and cod-anthropology, students asking us to write their exam answers for them, and so on. It's much easier to engage, but it's not as intellectually satisfying.
That said, there are some problems with discussion here, many of which have to do with the Ning platform. First, 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. The multiplicity of ways to interact can also be pretty overwhelming. I think we've had this discussion before, actually, about consolidating and/or changing the site to make interaction easier. Ultimately, though, I think we need an answer to the question: What is OAC (here) _for_? Once there's a bit more clarity on that it would be possible to make it better for that purpose.
(Related to the possible demographic differences, this may be due to differences in mobile device display. Device trends show that in a lot of emerging markets, mobile display and apps are where it's at. Facebook has an app. OAC@ning doesn't. I don't know how the site looks on mobile, but its circa-2007 look suggests it's not great. If you want to increase younger or more global participation, this needs to be a consideration.)