The Political Science Department has a blog. Odds are, it will fail. And that would be too bad! It would be amazing if there were a central location at which Williams faculty, students, alumni, parents and local residents could talk about politics. EphBlog, sometimes, serves that function: see our 89 comment thread (none written by me) about the politics of Afghanistan/Vietnam last week. But the faculty/students in Political Science could do a much better job of it than we do. How? Here are the basic steps for creating a vibrant on-line community of Ephs:

1) New content every day. A community needs readers, and readers want new content. If you want them to come back, you have to provide it. Professor Darel Paul is a busy guy. He isn’t going to write interesting posts like this unless he is sure that someone is going to read them.

2) The easiest way to produce new content each day is to recruit more authors. (I approached the department about this. Current policy seems to be that only faculty are authors. That would be fine if faculty produced enough content but, right now, they don’t.) I would recommend recruiting/naming a Blog Advisory Council of 5 students, each of whom would be given posting privileges and each of whom would be expected to put up at least 2 or 3 items per week. The must be a score of political science students who would be interested in this role and good at it.

3) More readers. Readers-and-content is a chicken-and-egg problem: tough to know which comes first. But, just as the answer is eggs (since the dinosaur predecessors of chickens laid eggs) to the latter puzzle, content is the answer to the former. Once you have content, readers will come. But, at the same time, you want to engage and encourage those readers, involve them in the conversation and maintain their interest.

a) Make commenting easy. (The initial version of the comment settings seemed to require authors to approve each comment. That is a bad idea. You want, as much as possible, to have comments appear instantaneously.)

b) Engage with your readers. If someone leaves an interesting comment/question, you should reply, even if just to acknowledge her contribution. Readers want to feel a part of the dialogue.

c) Better outreach. Although you can’t expect the College to keep a link to the blog on the main homepage all the time — even though it is probably better content than the endlessly recycled Alumni Review articles which are there now! — you could ask Jim Kolesar to highlight the political science blog on occasion. You could also include it in the next Eph Notes mailing.

Do these three steps guarantee success? No! But not doing them (which seems to be the current plan) guarantees failure. Again, I think it would not be hard to create an interesting on-line discussion about politics among Williams people and that the Political Science faculty is the perfect group to lead that conversation. But do they really want to? That’s the question.

A few years ago, I might not have been so excited to see political discussions migrate away from EphBlog to some other site, even if that site was run by and for members of the Williams community. But the passage of time has made me more ecumenical. The most important thing is that the conversation about politics happens somewhere, that there be an electronic log at which Ephs of all generations might discuss important issues of the day. Until now, the only possible location for that conversation has been EphBlog. I hope that the Political Science Department — filled as it is with amazing teachers like Sam Crane, James McAllister, Cheryl Shanks and many others — picks up the torch.

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