An interesting profile of a niche community affected by the shift of attention from community-led sites to Facebook, “How Facebook – the Wal-Mart of the internet – dismantled online subcultures.”
Over time, these challenges to the BME community became increasingly problematic. Members deleted accounts or stopped posting. By 2015, the main community forum – which used to have hundreds of posts a day – went without a single comment for over six months.
Having predicted many of the web’s functions and features, BME failed to anticipate its own demise.
It’s definitely something I’ve seen in my niche world of Quakers. I started QuakerQuaker as an independent site in part because I didn’t want Google and Facebook and Beliefnet to determine who we are. There’s the obvious problems—Beliefnet hiring a programmer to make a “What Religion Are You?” test based on a few books picked up the library one afternoon.
But there’s also more subtle problems. On Facebook anyone can start or join a group and start talking authoritatively about Quakers without actually being an active community member. I can think of a number of online characters who had never even visiting a Friends meeting or church.
Our tradition built up ways of defining our spokespeople though the practices of recorded ministers and elders, and of clarifying shared beliefs though documents like Faith and Practice. I’ll be the first to argue that this process has produced mixed results. But if it is to be adapted or reformed, I’d like the work to be done by us in a thoughtful, inclusive manner. Instead, the form of our discussions are now invisibly imposed by an outside algorithm that is optimized for obsessive engagement and advertising delivery. Facebook process is not Quaker process, yet it is largely what we use when we talk about Quakers outside of Sunday morning.
I think Facebook has helped alternative communities form. I’m grateful for the pop-up communities of interest I’m part of. And there are sites with more user generated content like Wikipedia and Reddit that hold an interesting middle-ground and where information is generally more accurate. But there’s still a critical role for self-organized independent publications, a niche that I think is continuing to be overshadowed in our current attention ecosystem.
There’s a lot of talk online right now about fake news pages on Facebook and how they influenced both the election and how we think about the election. It’s a problem and I’m glad people are sharing links about it.
But when we share these links, let’s take that extra step and point to original sources.
Example: Someone named Melissa Zimdars has done a lot of work to compile a list of fake news sources, published as a Google Doc with a Creative Commons license that allows anyone to repost it. It’s a great public service and she’s frequently updating it, reclassifying publications as feedback comes in.
The problem is that there are a lot of web publishers whose sites exist mostly to repackage content. They’ll find a funny Reddit list and will copy and paste it as an original post or they’ll rewrite a breaking news source in their own words. The reason is obvious: they get the ad dollars that otherwise would go to the original content creators. They’re not engaging in fake news, per se, but they’re also not adding anything to the knowledge base of humanity and they’re taking the spotlight off the hard work of the original creators.
Back to our example, Zimdars’s updates on this clickbait sites don’t get updated as she refines her list. In some cases, clickbait websites rewrite and repost one another’s ever-more extreme headlines till they bear little reality to the original post (I followed the page view food chain a few years ago after reading a particularly dopey piece about vegans launching a boycott over a TV ad).
So here’s part two of avoiding fake news sites: before you share something on Facebook, take the two minutes to follow any link to the original source and share that instead. Support original content creation.
Crossposting from QuakerQuaker:
The biggest changes in half a decade are coming to QuakerQuaker. The Ning.com service that powers the main website is about to increase its monthly charge by 140 percent. When I first picked Ning to host the three-year-old QuakerQuaker project in 2008, it seemed like a smart move. Ning had recently been founded by tech world rock stars with access to stratospheric-level funds. But it never quite got traction and started dialing back its ambitions in 2010. It was sold and sold again and a long-announced new version never materialized. I've been warning people against starting new projects on it for years. Its limitations have become clearer with every passing year. But it's continued to work and a healthy community has kept the content on QuakerQuaker interesting. But I don't get enough donations to cover a 140 percent increase, and even if I did it's not worth it for a service stuck in 2010. It's time to evolve!
There are many interesting things I could build with a modern web platform. Initial research and some feedback from fellow Quaker techies has me interested in BuddyPress, an expanded and social version of the ubiquitous WordPress blogging system. It has plugins available that claim to move content from existing Ning sites to BuddyPress, leaving the tantalizing possibility that eight years of the online Quaker conversation can be maintained (wow!).
I will need funds for the move. The subscriptions to do the import/export will incur costs and there will be plugins and themes to buy. I'm mentally budgeting an open-ended number of late Saturday nights. And the personal computer we have is getting old. The charge doesn't hold and keys are starting to go. It will need replacement sooner rather than later.
Any donations Friends could make to the Paypal account would be very helpful for the move. You can start by going to http://bit.ly/quakergive. Other options are available on the donation page at http://www.quakerquaker.org/page/support. Thanks for whatever you can spare. I'm as surprised as anyone that this little DIY project continues to host some many interesting Quaker conversations eleven years on!
Martin Kelley for QuakerQuaker.org
Strange moment this morning when I checked my blog stats and realized that I get a fair amount of traffic for a movie review I wrote last year. I was checking the stats to see if any of the Quaker-related search terms might give clues for future content on Friends Journal or QuakerSpeak and for that purpose the review’s popularity with Google (and readers) isn’t that useful.
But this blog is just my life spun out. I don’t aim for keywords and I don’t want to dominate a thought-sphere. If I see a movie and jot down some impressions that attract a small audience, then my blog post is a success. A dozen or so random people a month Google in to spend a couple of minutes reading my thoughts on a fifty-year-old movie. That’s cool. That’s enough. In all the talk of targeting and SEO we sometimes forget that it’s an honor to simply be read.
The other night stayed up late to cuddled with my wife and watch good-natured but flawed Rom-Com. I read some reviews on IMDB and pondered the cliches in the shower the next morning. Boiling these impressions down into 500 words on a train commute would be easy enough. I should do it more.
Over on Twitter feed came a tweet (h/t revrevwine):
To translate, SEO is “search engine optimization,” the often-huckersterish art of tricking Google to display your website higher than your competitors in search results. “Usability” is the catch-all term for making your website easy to navigate and inviting to visitors. Companies with deep pockets often want to spend a lot of money on SEO, when most of the time the most viable long-term solution to ranking high with search engines is to provide visitors with good reasons to visit your site. What if we applied these principles to our churches and meetinghouses and swapped the terms?
Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse /
Hospitality keeps people returning.
A lot of Quaker meetinghouses have pretty good “natural SEO.” Here in the U.S. East Coast, they’re often near a major road in the middle of town. If they’re lucky there are a few historical markers of notable Quakers and if they are really lucky there’s a highly-respected Friends school nearby. All these meetings really have to do is put a nice sign out front and table a few town events every year. The rest is covered. Although we do get the occasional “aren’t you all Amish?” comments, we have a much wider reputation that our numbers would necessarily warrant. We rank pretty high.
But what are the lessons of hospitality we could work on? Do we provide places where spiritual seekers can both grow personally and engage in the important questions of the faith in the modern world? Are we invitational, bringing people into our homes and into our lives for shared meals and conversations?
In my freelance days when I was hired to work on SEO I ran through a series of statistical reports and redesigned some underperforming pages, but then turned my attention to the client’s content. It was in this realm that my greatest quantifiable successes occurred. At the heart of the content work was asking how could the site could more fully engage with first-time visitors. The “usability considerations” on the Wikipedia page on usability could be easily adapted as queries:
Who are the users, what do they know, what can they learn? What do users want or need to do? What is the users’ general background? What is the users’ context for working? What must be left to the machine? Can users easily accomplish intended tasks at their desired speed? How much training do users need? What documentation or other supporting materials are available to help the user?
I’d love to see Friends consider this more. FGC’s “New Meetings Toolbox” has a section on welcoming newcomers. But I’d love to hear more stories about how we’re working on the “usability” of our spiritual communities.
The End of the Web, Search, and Computer as We Know It:
I think about what constantly-flowing information means for blogging. In some ways this is Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. But what if someone started a stand-alone blog that wasn’t a series of posts, but rather a continuous stream of blurbs, almost like chat. For example: “I just heard…” or “Microsoft launching this is stupid, here’s why…” — things like that. More like an always-on live blog, I guess.
It’s sort of strange to me that blogs are still based around the idea of fully-formed articles of old. This works well for some content, but I don’t see why it has to be that way for all content. The real-time communication aspect of the web should be utilized more, especially in a mobile world.
People aren’t going to want to sit on one page all day, especially if there’s nothing new coming in for a bit. But push notifications could alleviate this as could Twitter as a notification layer. And with multiple people on “shift” doing updates, there could always be fresh content, coming in real time.
Just thinking out loud here.
Good out loud thinking from MG about where blogging’s going. I’ve realized for while now that I’m much more likely to use Twitter and Tumblr to share small snippets that aren’t worth a fully-formed post. What I’ve also realized is that I’m more likely to add commentary to that link share (as I’m doing now) so that it effectively becomes a blog post.
Because of this I’m seriously considering archiving my almost ten year old blog (carefully preserving comment threads if at a possible) and installing my Tumblr on the QuakerRanter.org domain.