How Insiders and Seekers Use the Quaker Net
Every once in awhile I get an indication that various “weighty” Quakers come to my “Quaker Ranter” site, usually because of a group email that someone sends around or a post on some listserve. What’s fascinating is that few of the insider Friends ever spend much time looking around: they go to the one page that’s been referenced and then–swoosh, they’re gone, presumably back to their email or listserve. There’s a profound lack of curiosity about what else I might be writing about. These institutional Friends never post comments and they rarely even send any feedback by email.
This contrasts very sharply with the bulk of traffic to my site. Dozens of people a day come in off a Google search. Unless it’s a bad match, these seekers spend time on the site, clicking all around, following links to other sites, coming back, reading some more. Not everyone comes in via search engines: some follow links from elsewhere while others read the RSS Feed or just come in ever few days to see what’s new.
Part of the difference between “institutional” and “seeking” users is in their use of search engines. Many establishment Quakers don’t know how to use them or don’t think to use them. A website marketing proposal of mine was almost nixed recently when a committee member learned that search engines bypass a site’s homepage to return results from inside pages. I just assumed that everyone knew by now how a search engine works. I use Google dozens of times a day; it’s hard for me to imagine anyone navigating the net without it. It must almost be like they’re using a separate medium. Both of us are using the internet as transmission conduit, but that’s like saying both a newspaper and a personal letter use paper and ink for transition: while this is indisputably true, it doesn’t begin to speak to the different use and the depth of audience.
I wonder if the internet divide represents an even more significant divide between institutional insiders and the rest of us. The insiders might be staff, committee clerks or just very involved Friends but they share a certain way of understanding their world. First off, they have their ideas all figured out already. There’s a lack of curiosity here. They aren’t searching for new writers or new ideas. They will only consider something after some other Quaker institution has recognized it, a Catch-22 situation that the military refers to as “incestuous amplification.”
Any project outside of the established recognition zone is invisible. Even ones that have become dominant in their field are acknowledged only begrudgingly. In the last ten years, Quaker.org has done more for outreach than just about any institutionally-sponsored program or committee. Yet I know of establishment Quakers who still think of it as an upstart, and truly believe their puttering about is more important, simply because their organization has been around longer. In truth, many Quaker websites get so little traffic as to be next to non-existent.
The insider’s primary point of reference is institutions. Power comes from knowing how ideas, proposals and decisions flow through these organizations. A good idea is only good if it’s made by the right person and vetted by the right small group first. Sometimes I’ll hear of the gossip of some group scheming within some Quaker institution and I always have to laugh: like, WHO CARES? It’s a small bunch of people scrambling over crumbs while the world ignores them. There’s a whole other world of Friends and seekers out there building their own culture and connections, or trying to.
This Quaker Ranter site is primarily for those still curious, for those still interesting in building something real, for those wanting engaging conversation and stories. I actually prefer it to be a little bit “underground,” unknown or forgotten by institutionalists, for I think there’s discussions we need to have and the open internet is a good place for that.
I’ll be editing and adding to this post over time as I see more patterns of site use. I’m curious if others have seen surprising patterns of internet use. Oh, and by the way I should cop to being a Quaker insider myself, though I always try to keep the big picture (i.e., God and the Spirit’s commands) foremost.