Author Topic: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community  (Read 3780 times)

polly_mer

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Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« on: July 19, 2019, 08:01:49 AM »
Relevant Background: I'm starting this thread speaking for myself as one of the handful of people who got us transitioned.  These are my thoughts, although I know from discussions before, during, and after transition that I'm not crazy out in left field.


Polly, where are you going with this?

I'm wearing my college administrator and engineering hats to think in terms of ensuring long-term survival of these fora by balancing between the goals of migrating regulars from the CHE fora, preserving the good parts, recruiting new people, and acknowledging that the world has changed since 2002 and even 2007 so we need current advice, not just long-standing, beloved threads enshrined at the CHE fora.

I read nearly every post nearly every day.  For years on the CHE fora, I did the same.  While I post a lot, I read even more.  Years of observation here and elsewhere indicate that a thriving community has enough new content that people come and engage with that content.   Years of reading discussions indicate that people engage with content on these fora in several different ways, but one way is to lurk for quite a while before posting either a relevant question or joining a long-standing support thread.

What difference does that make to me as a regular forumite who just wants to post?

Thank you for being a member of the community.  This is our community and we're all better off because you're here.

People love to hate on administrators, but even volunteer efforts fail when no one is keeping an eye on the bigger picture and ensuring that smaller daily tasks are done.  I have no desire or energy to micromanage anyone (notice I said I'm reading most posts: I didn't say I'm editing tons of posts, removing tons of posts, or banning people who disagree with me publicly), but I have been taking purposeful actions that I hope will help these fora grow and thrive.

Thus, I appreciate all feedback received: formal, informal, public, private, and what I pick up as I read through most of those posts most days.  I don't always act on every piece of feedback, but I am considering it as I think about the long-term goals for these fora.


  Why would you devote time and energy to being a volunteer adminicritter?

Because a thriving community with fabulous active members doesn't just happen without a few nudges and I want this community to thrive.  I view this as service, just like when I become an officer of a professional society or take over organizing the new arrival lunches at work.

As was noted recently in another thread, we have several hundred people registered for these fora.  However, a fair number of them have never posted, despite being registered for long enough that they should have been able to post and get approved.  I keep an eye on the stats on the front page.  Right now, we have 28 guests (i.e., people with a webpage open to this site) and 7 forumites (i.e., people logged in with monikers).  I seldom see the reverse with several times as many forumites logged in as posting as lurkariat browsing.

Guests cannot use any of the variants of "show new posts since last visit" features.  My bet is that a fair number of our registered-but-never-posted forumites have signed up just to use those features including following threads or just being able to jump to the first unread post in an ongoing thread.  Again, keeping an eye on the main page stats and who is logged in indicates we have people here nearly every day who don't post.  I spent several years on the old fora reading nearly every day without posting and then I refrained from registering for more than a year when that became a thing.  Thus, while I have 12 years logged with these fora, I remember vividly all those prior years of reading.

Thus, when I read something like:

I thought of asking before, but now I will since someone has brought it up: Do child boards really help much?

<snip>
Are there people who find this helpful? I'd be glad to hear why.

and related posts that hinge strongly on SPADFY for even basic web-browsing, I am reminded that I should make explicit some information I have that underlies actions I take.

For example, while I love the games, I think it's unlikely that most of the lurkariat are eagerly awaiting the newest entry for, say, "Keep a Word, Drop a Word" either at the top of the General Discussions board or as a substantial portion of the "show recent posts" disembodied posts since threads work much more nicely to see a true discussion.  Instead, it's more likely that people are browsing by section, as they would an actual paper newspaper. 

For the goal of having more people with a variety of viewpoints joining us to participate in lively discussions, having a front page of every section that has a good variety of types of threads and reasonably active threads will likely yield better results in terms of having members of the lurkariat join us or at least that's a hypothesis I'm currently testing in various ways including starting new threads in boards that aren't as active.

To be clear,  I love the games; I'm an active participant in games.  We will continue to have games as long as I'm a primary member of this community.  As one of the most thread-derailing silly people, I have no plans to try to get only serious posts enforced anywhere.

However, it's more likely that people will come out of lurking to join us for substantive discussions, which means they have to both find those other discussions and see that we're an active community in those discussions.  Two threads each a week old on a technology sub board aren't very appealing.  Two threads on technology as part of the 15 active threads in the past 5 days in General Discussion may entice someone to delurk.

Eh, what else do you have, adminicritter?

The CHE chose a particularly poor time to make the transition because most of the big areas (teaching, research, job search including grad school) aren't nearly as active in the summer.  That's part of the nature of the academic calendar.  For example, few people start teaching for the very first time in July, but it would be good for those who will be starting in the fall to know we have that board and we have the long-running threads of collected wisdom.

Thus, calls for the various sub boards people enjoyed on the CHE fora are somewhat premature before we know what discussions will take off here.  The really active board by the numbers is General Discussion.  Thinking ahead to having sub boards to group threads for those who like to read that way, I floated the idea to the transition team of making Fun and Games our first sub board.  I know there's a good sub community who will find the games in the equivalent of moving the coffee table three feet to the left for rearranging fora furniture and it has the side benefit of having General Discussions then show more variety when different threads float to the top instead always the same handful of game threads.

Those are my thoughts.  You are free to point out that no one asked me to do any of this and Eigen is the one who did the heavy lifting for getting us a space.  I look forward to reading.  For those who are curious, that's about 3 hours this morning on administrative work here, reading, and posting.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2019, 11:23:23 AM by polly_mer »
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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2019, 09:45:22 AM »
Polly, thanks for all your work on this. You certainly devote a lot of time to this stuff.

It would be good to get the experience of people who have experience in fora that run independently and keep on going. The worry would be that this site is just for die-hards from the old fora and never gets new blood, so it slowly dies. How to bring in new people?

I note that this is not a secure site: there is no https: and I wonder how that affects the ranking in searches. My experience is that Google tends to favor secure sites.

The old fora got traffic from CHE which promotes itself. CHE currently provides a link to this site, but presumably that won't last for long, (unless we can do a deal with them: maybe a free ad for them here in exchange for a link from them to us?)

Either we get traffic from search engines, from word of mouth, or by people sharing links in other places, such as on social media. What about getting press? Maybe CHE or IHE would want to do a story on us?
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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2019, 10:09:17 AM »
Polly, thanks for all your work on this. You certainly devote a lot of time to this stuff.

It would be good to get the experience of people who have experience in fora that run independently and keep on going. The worry would be that this site is just for die-hards from the old fora and never gets new blood, so it slowly dies. How to bring in new people?

This is on my mind a lot. Due to the pseudo-anonymous nature of the forum, and the fact that googling "academic forums" does NOT lead here, I am wondering what we can do to make ourselves more visible. Perhaps "telling google" via keywords etc. may make us easier to find, I don't know. The old forum has this rotating banner about "Follow The Chronicle on Twitter!" (how edgy) and "Forum is down July 1 (no year provided) go to new forum here". At least we can be found relatively easily if someone finds the old forum. But it's not immediately clear that the old forum is inactive until you see the rotating banner alternating with "OMG Twitter" and "NO FORUM 4 U".

Quote
I note that this is not a secure site: there is no https: and I wonder how that affects the ranking in searches. My experience is that Google tends to favor secure sites.

Sigh. This whole "insecure" thing means "just the normal internet". And, if you type https://thefora.org you get the secure version. We really should have http://thefora.org redirect to https://thefora.org. That's relatively straightforward - it requires some .htaccess voodoo. I think I will ping eigen on this.

Quote
The old fora got traffic from CHE which promotes itself. CHE currently provides a link to this site, but presumably that won't last for long, (unless we can do a deal with them: maybe a free ad for them here in exchange for a link from them to us?)

Either we get traffic from search engines, from word of mouth, or by people sharing links in other places, such as on social media. What about getting press? Maybe CHE or IHE would want to do a story on us?

I think a thread dedicated to this has merit. Basically, how do we make people aware of this place who would benefit by it? There is a real issue with the fact that it is actually to your advantage to HIDE the fact that you are on the forum to your fellow department members - it's very easy to get discovered if you are not careful, and we all know that many departments are full of assholes. We had one dingbat in our department who was "live posting" from an excruciatingly long and frustrating department meeting. He never knew I knew it was him but it was kind of fun "spying" on him for years. See what I mean, though? So somehow "word of mouth" is not going to be the ticket, I fear. But I am very much open to suggestions.
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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2019, 11:03:06 AM »
It's basically an advertising problem. To increase awareness of the new fora, you have to get the word out to members of the target audience. Not just once (as in a one-off press release, Facebook post, or newspaper story), but on a regular basis.

I've been involved in two online community efforts. One is a medical discussion site that began in 1994. I joined in 1997 and helped redesign the layout ~ 2001. The site is dying because 1) original membership is dying off, often literally, and 2) the site represented a source of highly specialized information that is now much more widely available, so there isn't any real reason for new people to join.

The other site is a blog that began in 2011. It too has a specialized audience, which has been growing, but at a snail's pace (perhaps because it started after blogs stopped being the ticket to fame and fortune). I send links to the blog's content to people who communicate with me about related topics. If they find the blog useful/interesting they become regular readers. So maybe I need to start doing the same thing with particular discussion threads on this site.

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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2019, 11:24:22 AM »
It's basically an advertising problem. To increase awareness of the new fora, you have to get the word out to members of the target audience. Not just once (as in a one-off press release, Facebook post, or newspaper story), but on a regular basis.

I've been involved in two online community efforts. One is a medical discussion site that began in 1994. I joined in 1997 and helped redesign the layout ~ 2001. The site is dying because 1) original membership is dying off, often literally, and 2) the site represented a source of highly specialized information that is now much more widely available, so there isn't any real reason for new people to join.

The other site is a blog that began in 2011. It too has a specialized audience, which has been growing, but at a snail's pace (perhaps because it started after blogs stopped being the ticket to fame and fortune). I send links to the blog's content to people who communicate with me about related topics. If they find the blog useful/interesting they become regular readers. So maybe I need to start doing the same thing with particular discussion threads on this site.

Way back in 1989 I accidentally typed 'rn' instead of 'rm' at a UNIX prompt in the computer science building whilst working on homework. It opened a world of information to me. I felt like I had stumbled into a hidden world. 'rn' stood for 'read news' and it was a way to read Usenet newsgroups and post to them.

I see forums such as this one as the next version of the Usenet. I have to wonder whether people who started 'internetting' in the past 15 years or so (say, during Myspace's heyday) just aren't as used to this kind of communication. Social media and other things split your attention and there is only so much time you can be in front of a screen (yes I said that with a straight face). Plus, I have to imagine there are a lot of facebook groups for different academic things.

I may be wrong but this place is rather unique, in a good way, from other things out there. It seems to me to be very faculty (as opposed to, say, administration) biased, which isn't a bad thing, and I know many people have gotten valuable career-helping advice here. I see that as the forum's strongest feature.
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mahagonny

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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2019, 11:32:27 AM »
Polly, thanks for all your work on this. You certainly devote a lot of time to this stuff.

It would be good to get the experience of people who have experience in fora that run independently and keep on going. The worry would be that this site is just for die-hards from the old fora and never gets new blood, so it slowly dies. How to bring in new people?

I note that this is not a secure site: there is no https: and I wonder how that affects the ranking in searches. My experience is that Google tends to favor secure sites.

The old fora got traffic from CHE which promotes itself. CHE currently provides a link to this site, but presumably that won't last for long, (unless we can do a deal with them: maybe a free ad for them here in exchange for a link from them to us?)

Either we get traffic from search engines, from word of mouth, or by people sharing links in other places, such as on social media. What about getting press? Maybe CHE or IHE would want to do a story on us?

How do you get new people? You might ask how you avoid losing old people.


I may be wrong but this place is rather unique, in a good way, from other things out there. It seems to me to be very faculty (as opposed to, say, administration) biased, which isn't a bad thing, and I know many people have gotten valuable career-helping advice here. I see that as the forum's strongest feature.

Cannot agree. From the point of view of most of today's faculty, tenured faculty are administration, and this forum is dominated by the tenure track perspective.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2019, 11:45:40 AM by mahagonny »

polly_mer

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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2019, 03:38:19 PM »
Currently, 30 guests and 2 forumites for those who are interested.
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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2019, 05:12:06 PM »
- it's very easy to get discovered if you are not careful

This is true. For example, I worry for some newbies that post very specific details about their interviews and job negotiations here.  If and when this community grows, unless they disguise their respective fields and other details, some run the risk of having their posts read by those offering the jobs.

I'd also caution against The Fora giving off vibes of being cliquey.

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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2019, 05:26:45 PM »
I'm no longer associated with higher education in any way. I am here for the community. I met so many people in person, and have gotten to know others online from my years in the trenches that I'm unwilling to let you all go. I'm stubborn like that.

I'm not sure what can be done to help this site thrive. I'm an "outsider" who is trying very hard (for 5 years now) to find a job in my field that is in the same geographic location. I was never tenure track, so my advice on that topic is never going to be useful.

I'm just posting this here to clarify for some who don't know/realize that there are plenty of non-academics hanging out. What do we have in common? Terminal degrees, for one thing. In general society we're the odd ducks. It's nice to be part of a crowd other finely feathered ducks of various sorts! Our collective plumage is gorgeous.

polly_mer

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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2019, 05:36:08 PM »
I'm just posting this here to clarify for some who don't know/realize that there are plenty of non-academics hanging out. What do we have in common? Terminal degrees, for one thing. In general society we're the odd ducks. It's nice to be part of a crowd other finely feathered ducks of various sorts! Our collective plumage is gorgeous.

Indeed.  One benefit to a higher-ed-interested community that I see is having a stable enough social group as individuals change jobs.  We who have made a transition or are engaging in a transition can help support others who need to look at broader career goals.  We need more voices talking about how to make a rich intellectual life that doesn't include full-time academic employment because that's the reality for many of us here.

One reasonable fear for those leaving academic employment is social acceptance.  We can provide some acceptance by our diversity of membership in various career stages inside, outside, and straddling academia.
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mahagonny

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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #10 on: July 19, 2019, 06:28:19 PM »
I'm just posting this here to clarify for some who don't know/realize that there are plenty of non-academics hanging out. What do we have in common? Terminal degrees, for one thing. In general society we're the odd ducks. It's nice to be part of a crowd other finely feathered ducks of various sorts! Our collective plumage is gorgeous.

Indeed.  One benefit to a higher-ed-interested community that I see is having a stable enough social group as individuals change jobs.  We who have made a transition or are engaging in a transition can help support others who need to look at broader career goals.  We need more voices talking about how to make a rich intellectual life that doesn't include full-time academic employment because that's the reality for many of us here.

In case anyone's interested in another perspective, I've got something a little different. Full time academic employment comprised of multiple part time teaching jobs, without it being a rich intellectual experience thanks to hopelessly uninspired leadership. However these jobs do supply regular compensation. For intellectual stimulation and success I maintain my non-academic life.

Additional: there are the right number of people on this forum, in my opinion. There's no reason to assume people who are transitioning from academic employment to other do not have available groups/friends for support. There may be reason to think academic administration or former administrators are not a big part of that support, but whose problem is that?

On edit: those who have assiduously tried to stifle faculty from even getting to have a voice (read: unionizing) will continue to be recognized as a big part of the problem with academic employment, and solutions will be sought and found without their involvement.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2019, 06:54:28 PM by mahagonny »

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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #11 on: July 19, 2019, 08:10:07 PM »
had my say, i'll be out of here. cheers

bioteacher

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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #12 on: July 19, 2019, 08:39:28 PM »
There's no reason to assume people who are transitioning from academic employment to other do not have available groups/friends for support. There may be reason to think academic administration or former administrators are not a big part of that support, but whose problem is that?


I disagree. Job hunting is extremely isolating under the best of circumstances, for any job seeker. For academics transiting out, I say it is even harder. All of the local resources I have approached have no clue what to do with me. They suggest I head back to teaching. Then they suggest I go back to school. Finding people who have transitioned out of academia is NOT easy because people with terminal degrees are a tiny subset of the overall population. We're assumed to be antisocial and awkward, or so accustomed to our lofty conversations we cannot converse with mere mortal blue-collar workers.

Hand a stranger a tablet and pencil on the street and ask them to draw a scientist. I bet 99.9% of them will draw old white guys in a lab coat or tweed jacket. Even the women will draw men. I admit I'd default to that, and I see a scientist every time I look in the mirror.

We are not responsible for creating this job transition problem, but any and every possible resource that can support someone in that transition is valuable. SPADFY. If these forums help one person, we've worked a miracle. Why not share that miracle with as many people as possible?

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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #13 on: July 19, 2019, 09:22:40 PM »
There's no reason to assume people who are transitioning from academic employment to other do not have available groups/friends for support. There may be reason to think academic administration or former administrators are not a big part of that support, but whose problem is that?


I disagree. Job hunting is extremely isolating under the best of circumstances, for any job seeker. For academics transiting out, I say it is even harder. All of the local resources I have approached have no clue what to do with me. They suggest I head back to teaching. Then they suggest I go back to school. Finding people who have transitioned out of academia is NOT easy because people with terminal degrees are a tiny subset of the overall population. We're assumed to be antisocial and awkward, or so accustomed to our lofty conversations we cannot converse with mere mortal blue-collar workers.

Hand a stranger a tablet and pencil on the street and ask them to draw a scientist. I bet 99.9% of them will draw old white guys in a lab coat or tweed jacket. Even the women will draw men. I admit I'd default to that, and I see a scientist every time I look in the mirror.

We are not responsible for creating this job transition problem, but any and every possible resource that can support someone in that transition is valuable. SPADFY. If these forums help one person, we've worked a miracle. Why not share that miracle with as many people as possible?

OK, you won't leave me alone. Fine. I'll tell you something you may not know. If it weren't for me and my presence on the old CHE forum, this forum would include a continuation of Polly_Mer's relentless, bullying opposition to the legal rights of faculty to organize for collective bargaining. After I predicted there would be no adjunct faculty advocacy presence on this forum her hand was forced and she invited me here. Thus a number of template threads appeared - 'how to support adjunct faculty' etc. The problem is readers already know who Polly_Mer is. So they'll lie there dormant. They should.
It was not my intent to participate here. A forumite contacted me to say 'come on over and read. Your point of view is missing. It's dull.'
Well, I did. i've had enough.
A person can't undo the destruction that they have done to academic employment by saying 'but wait --- look over here! You can find another job and be happy.' It's bullshit.
Good night.

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Re: Polly's Thoughts on Future of Our Community
« Reply #14 on: July 19, 2019, 11:37:09 PM »
Interesting to see that Goodbye Cruel Fora has made the transition.