Wednesday, April 6, 2011

If it is built, would anybody come?

I recently watched an inspiring presentation by Professor Dan Cohen, entitled "The Ivory Tower and the Open Web." For some time I have been wondering if the web could be used to help develop an online a scholarly community that was relatively tightly focused on early Judaism. A website would offer such scholars an opportunity to engage with colleagues in an ongoing way. It would by no means replace conferences, but could help to promote a different kind of dialogue.

A website like this might ideally include:

  • An updated list of announcements of interest: Upcoming conferences, calls for paper, funding opportunities, etc;
  • An aggregate of current, relevant news, such as IAA find reports. Some of us currently get this from blogs, such as Paleojudaica, whose posts can be aggregated into a single spot on the page;
  • An aggregate of the tables of contents of relevant journals as they are released;
  • The blog itself, which would be the central focus of the site. Here scholars can post new ideas, texts, images, etc. for which they seek feedback. These would not be full drafts to workshop, but rawer ideas. Others could then develop a conversation around the idea using "Comments";
  • Drafts to workshop. There has been increased interest in (and tools for) online open peer review. These tools can be used in a less evaluative context;
  • An archive of visual resources, perhaps linked in through a photo-management site such as flickr;
  • Guides to relevant educational materials;
  • A chat room. This is more whimsical, but there are times in the day that I just need recharging. It would be fun to have a site to go to in order to chat with colleagues in the field.

It would not take very much to build such a site using "Wordpress". The key to the site's success would be collaboration: would anybody actually come to it and participate in the community? I experimented with something like this a few years back using another platform, but it didn't work out. The primary reason, I think, was simply that people are busy and didn't feel that it was worth their time to participate. This, of course, is entirely understandable. I wonder, though, if now the passing of several years and a new platform would make a difference.

Of course, if anybody else would like to take this idea and run with it, I'd be delighted. Sign me up!

(The photo, of the construction of the Olympic baseball field in Beijing, was taken from here.)

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