Want to know about the future of Ephs on-line? Go to Ephtown. Here’s how WSO alumnus and class speaker Evan Miller ’06 describes it.

I’m interested in making a sort of WSO for alumni. I didn’t appreciate the need for one until I graduated, but I’ve since come to believe that community in America is either dead or in a coma and it’s damn well difficult to solve life’s big problems without it (work that affects one’s friends and relations, love that doesn’t start in a bar). Anyway, I’m not writing you to preach, but to ask your help in establishing a site where Ephs can meet and help out other Ephs, discuss the issues of the day, and relish the small enjoyable things of life and of Williams.

Amazing stuff. The rest of the e-mail is below the break. Read it all. Twice.

Evan has now joined EphBlog as an author, the better to bring news of Ephtown to a wider audience. Our readers want to know more. (I wonder if the College will refuse to tell people about Ephtown in the same way that it never mentions EphBlog in any official communication.) Comments:

0) Know much about open source software? Start here and here. (Previous EphBlog discussion here.) Because I am involved with some open source projects, I am midway through Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel. In many ways, Evan is creating an open source version of Williams. You read it here first.

1) Williams College — the insular, technologically-backward and bureaucratic institution that we all love so well — needs to wake up! When someone as smart and talented as Evan Miller decides that he wants to make a site that Eph alumni will want to use as their homepage, then official college sites (e.g., here or here) are in big trouble. No matter how many thousands of dollars worth of checks you write to (incompetent) Harris Connect, your time has run out.

2) Evan was kind enough to listen to my hour-long rant about what Ephtown should be. I threw out a dozen crazy ideas. With luck, Evan will figure out which one of them was valuable and implement that one. Evan and I disagree about a lot of things, but we agree that there is a need for a single on-line location which brings together the community of Ephs. If the College refuses to make that location a reality, then we will do it for them.

3) I don’t want to be mean, but isn’t it a bit pathetic to imagine the Executive Committee of the Society of Alumni meeting this week-end, trapped in a cold and rainy Williamstown, learning about the latest “progress on our online communications strategies?” What progress? EphBlog has done orders of magnitude more for online communication among Ephs than everything that the alumni office has ever done. And now, Evan Miller (10 times smarter than me) is going to tackle this problem. The alumni office’s “online communications strategies” will soon be about as relevant as their ridiculous question of the day.

Now, I know, I know. The Executive Committee is made up of good people, dedicated to the betterment of Williams. I have many friends hard at work, everyday, in the alumni office. Shouldn’t I be nicer to them? Try to work with them? Try to explain how this whole internets thing works?

Yeah, I should. I should be a better person. But I have tried and tried and tried. And so have people like Ken Thomas and DeWitt Clinton and Evan Miller and so many others. At the end of the day, the College is a bureaucracy and the insiders selected for alumni leadership positions are unlikely to make trouble. The College is unable to make an online world worthy of Ephraim Williams and so we will make it ourselves.

4) How will history judge these efforts? We need look no further than Fred Rudolphs’s description of alumni efforts from page 207 of Mark Hopkins and the Log.

It would be incorrect to accuse the alumni of infiltration, for they had subscribed to the cult so well that they had not the slightest doubt that the college belonged to them. They were proud to be sons of Williams and sought, by demanding a role in controlling her destiny, to do their part in preserving her health, taking care of her in her old age, and seeing that her neighbors did not outdistance her. It was well that they thought as they did. The General Court in 1859 and 1860 passed legislation designed to test their manliness. Could the sons of Williams College manifest sufficient perseverance, devotion, and energy to send $100,000 home to Alma Mater to match the sums allotted by the Court? That was the test, and it was successfully met.

Those attempts to secure state funding almost 150 years ago seem far removed from the Williams of today. Yet the principle is the same. Too often, the College does not know what is best. We do. Following in the footsteps of David Dudley Field ‘1825, we will force the College to acknowledge and then embrace an online presence worthy of all the best that is Williams. Surely you know what Field accomplished, how he forced an insular College to recognize the importance of alumni, how he bent the leadership of the College to his will? Field is the patron saint of alumni trouble-makers.

Reading this from the alumni office on a sleepy Monday morning? Don’t know much about David Dudley Field, class of 1825? Time to learn some history. Those lessons will serve you well.


Rest of Evan’s e-mail:

I’d like to introduce you to EphTown, my name for the project that has occupied my spare moments for the past little while. It has forums like WSO, ads like Craigslist, profiles like Facebook, and an activity planner unlike anything I know of. You can see some screenshots here:

http://www.ephtown.com/static/faq.html

What it doesn’t have is a lot of people. I’ve invited enough classmates to get some feedback and make sure everything works, but to get off the ground I need to spread the word, especially to older (well, pre-2000) alumni. This is where you, I hope, can help me.

I’ve sent you an invitation in a separate email. Given the pain I experienced trying to hook Willipedia into the alumni office’s login system, EphTown will instead rely on invitations to authenticate new users. You can help me by setting up an account and inviting Ephs you think will be interested, and perhaps posting your thoughts and impressions to EphBlog. I’d like to generate and sustain interest in EphTown for as long as it takes to get a critical mass of Ephs on the site, so I hope you are amenable to “continuing coverage.”

As for the future, I am very much interested in making EphTown the site of Eph-COIs, to borrow your terminology. You’ve probably thought about COIs for much longer than I have, so I’d like to hear your thoughts about the necessary features and how it might usefully be tied into EphTown. My thinking right now is that each COI should have a forum, as well as a questionnaire that each participant is invited to fill out. This questionnaire would ask about each person’s experience in the relevant field, as well as their attitude toward recent developments in that field, and the answers would be available to everyone else in the COI. (This in addition to each person’s EphTown profile.)

I’ve also been thinking about ways of integrating EphTown and Willipedia. At the very least, I’d love to make EphTown logins work on Willipedia, and after that I’d like to feature Willipedia articles on EphTown on a semi-weekly basis. Together, I’m hoping that EphTown and Willipedia become interesting enough that people will make one or the other their home page.

Finally, I want to get other people involved in the development of the site, because there are only so many hours I can code each day, and I’m sure that other techy Ephs will have great ideas for making improvements.

This is all too far in the future. What I need now is EphTown to be a success. Please let me what you think of the site, and whether I can count on you to help me make it a winner. I will be in your debt.

No, Evan. Build us a site worthy of Williams, and we will be in yours. From the very start, our goal has been to create just such a community.

EphBlog is not simply a place for you to get your daily fix of Ephery. We’re that, of course, but we aspire to greater things. Many of us who live beyond the Purple Valley have discovered that life after Williams does not provide nearly as many opportunities for honest, informed and open-minded debate as we might have hoped. A wise Eph does not argue about foreign affairs with his boss. A sensitive Eph does not debate economic policy with her staff. A sensible Eph does not argue about controversial issues of the day with the other parents on the sideline of a childrens’ soccer game.

So, where should an Eph who misses the intellectual thrill of the back and forth discussions that make a Williams education so magical go? Where can he find smart people who completely disagree with him but are open-minded enough to listen to his arguments and patient enough to point out his errors. To be honest, we don’t know. But we hope that EphBlog might one day be the answer.

At its very best, EphBlog has been that place. But the limits of our technical skills have been reached. We need a new place to continue the conversation.

If you build it, we will come.

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