The Massachusetts Studies Network

(I sent this to Joanne earlier today and she encouraged me to post it as a way to invite a discussion, which I've done in a slightly modified form below. LW)

I'm here at the MHF-produced local history conference, and was told about the Ning group that you're leading.

I'm fairly familiar with social networks and I've just spent some time with the site. I'll sign up and look forward to seeing as the way in which it evolves.

I also just started this interest group:

I'm puzzled, however, as to the central organizing vision of the mastudies Ning group. Specifically, what will members of such a broad group ("humanities") get out their participation? I see social networks as tools to achieve an objective, and while I have several objectives as they relate to my participation on the Marlborough Historical Society Board of Trustees and the Marlborough Historical Commission, I'm trying to connect with those objectives, so looking forward to hearing your vision.

(Note that I understand some of the interest groups, which could also easily be run as stand-alone ning groups. In fact, for many of us, geography (our city or town, part of the state, Massachusetts, New England . . .) is not an important distinction when it comes to sharing ideas and insights. The broader and more far-reaching the better, which argues for stand-alone groups that draw much more broadly than from just Massachusetts.)

And so my question, Why are we here? More importantly, why are you here?

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hi Lee - thanks for this post. I'll speak to your question about the "central organizing vision" (or lack thereof ;) of the MA Studies Network and let others chime in with their reasons for being here.

This is very much an experimental, fledgling network, designed to find out who might be drawn to participate in an online state studies network, what they would do once there, and how they would like to see it refined to be most effective for their own purposes.

These questions emerged out of the Mass. Studies Project's mission to support local studies throughout the Commonwealth, with special focus on the humanities. MSP loves to bring together scholars, historical society staff, teachers, K-12 students, university students, "life-long learners", amateur historians and many others to the mutual benefit of all. The new Web 2.0 tools seemed like an obvious direction to further this mission, but we weren't sure which to focus on.

Then we came upon this "Ning" platform, which lets non-technical people create and manage a "micro-social network", i.e. a focused network that does not aim to include the entire world, as Facebook and MySpace would probably like to do. Best of all, Ning is very open, in that it provides network creators with access to all of the source code for their entire network. This means that a MySQL / PHP programmer can actually refine the network features in just about any way. So, we proposed to the NEH (see attachment) that we use this platform to explore Ning's effectiveness in our context (Massachusetts state and local studies, broadly defined) with an eye towards sharing what we learn with the nation's humanists. We hope to be able to develop some packaged widgets, gadgets and/or source code that other projects could use to customize their Ning network if they don't have programmers available.

The heart of this network will probably turn out to be the "Interest Groups." The groups are member-controlled, and will crop up at levels of granularity as fine ("Merriam's Corner", "Mass. Memories Roadies") or as broad ("Local History") as members see fit. They can be project-related ("XYZ Historical Society Scanning Project"), conceptual ("Reading the Landscape"), they can have open or restricted membership.

When you ask what participants will get out of the network, I suspect it will be the connections and information-sharing generated within these groups of particular interest - but in the wider context of the whole network. That's what makes it different from having separate Ning networks for every group. Within the MA Studies Network, all members will be exposed to everyone else's events, photos, discussions, comments, etc through the front page and through their own meanderings through the network, which could inspire useful collaborations.

But, all of this is conjecture. I really have no idea what will come of this mix of people in an online network, which began with Massachusetts humanities types, and is already expanding and deepening in ways we hadn't imagined. We have a lot of work ahead of us figuring out to best support members, encouraging involvement without being overly controlling of the emerging network. I just know that it's great fun to be developing a space for this experiment - and to have conversations like this with new colleagues like yourself.

Looking forward to others' takes on this topic -

-- j
I think it will be crucial to the future of the network that there's something to get that people need: information, referals, manuals. If we assume that the heart of mass studies are those people who either provide service to (teachers, librarians) the people of mass about mass AND those people who collect and present (historical societies, archivists, academics) information and knowledge about mass, then it has to be those people who get something out of it.

What can be "gotten?" I ideally, I'd say, one would get something without having to give-- however, everyone knows that you get what you pay for. It seems to me that this kind of mixed network (professionals and volunteers) is one that provides both sides of that coin with the opportunity to get and to pay, and that payment could be in coin or in adding to the network.

That's really abstract. It means that, for instance,
- I in my role as grantmaker and professional historian can use this network to find people I need for one reason or another. Those people could be volunteers (someone who knows about glassmaking in Provincetown) or pros (consultants on governance of historical societies).
- I could use the network to spread the word about something we do.
- I could "pay" by providing referrals to consultants and other professionals, and by spreading information about other people's information, by inviting people here who I think might be interested in some particular issue to sit around a table, by hiring someone whose resume I see on this network.

I think the same could be said for everyone in the field.

What remains to be seen, is whether we can generate enough information available to make it worth people's while to look here and participate, and whether we can create a smart taxonomy that helps people do all that.

Joanne's tactic is to let it do its own thing for the moment. With a focus group that has a specific assignment (grow the network) that is carefully drawn from walks of ma studies life. I think that works, though I do think the moderators need to moderate: i.e. play with the taxonomy of the interest groups to make them "just right" in coverage. But hey -- this thing is started by librarians, and taxonomy is what librarians do. So I have full confidence that this will be done.

One thing that separates this network from a library, is that I dont think we have the option of groups within groups (local history--technology--websites) Instead, we need to draw lines linking ourselves, like a mp or chart. Interesting.

glad you're doing your bit.

Dear Pleun:

Thanks to you, I just joined the Network!

- Bob Judge
Here's an interesting article offering a theory about what brings people back to a social network. What would the "pillars" be for MAStudies Network?

Structural Social Network Theory
by Gregory Schnese
Source: CenterNetworks

MySpaceIt seems like successful social networks grow like weeds. Just look at how massive Facebook and MySpace have become. A good social network establishes the foundation for its users, then allows them to do their thing - with minimal interference. This plants the seed for organic growth. One user attracts another, who in turn attracts more. From here Metcalfe's Law kicks in: the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system (n²). As a network adds users its value grows exponentially.

Andrew Chen does a great job articulating this phenomenon, Metcalfe's Law dictates how social networks can grow or shrink. If a network is adding users, its value grows, if its losing members, its value shrinks - exponentially.

I've been thinking about Andrew's post and MySpace a lot lately. Why is MySpace still so dominant? It's owned by NewsCorp, has a terrible UI, it's search doesn't work and there is enough glitter to drive you mad. Yet here we are, 2008 and MySpace still has a ton of users. What keeps MySpace going? continue reading »
Why are we here? I hope that we are all here "for love of the game." Those of us interested in the humanities do not do it for the money and the fame and the glory. I think that we are involved because we have a personal passion for our varied subject areas and hope to pass that passion along to others. This network is an excellent way for us to do that on an informal basis. While nothing can substitute a meeting of the minds at a conference or meeting or discussion, this can suppliment all of those things on a daily basis.

At the public history conference held in June, someone metioned that they were always referred to as "up and coming," and I suppose that is why I am here. I want to learn from the seasoned veterans in the field what works and what doesn't. Who better to assist than those who have fought the battle?!



March 2017



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