Dear “Board,” and all,

I am wondering if we have a “learn-able” moment– for anyone,  other than myself.

Earlier today, and without my prior knowledge or consent, a piece of my personal correspondence to Mr. Swart was posted to the front page of this “Blog.”

It was evidently posted with my name at the top, perhaps as if I had intentionally posted it, under the rubric of another post I had made; and despite the fact that it contained explicit statements that I would not make statements such as those it contained, in public.

This came in the middle of what could be described as some rather heated conflicts over the posting of materials on EphBlog, — which I did not, for my part, anticipate.

As for its contents, my email certainly said some things that should not be aired in public– but nothing beyond the sort of tripe I’ve heard and in the private conversations and emails of professors. (I am suddenly reminded of one History professor, of my acquaintance, who fired off a scathing personal indictment of a fellow professor in email– only to realize, just a bit after hitting ‘send,’ that the fellow he was insulting, was still on the recipient list.)

I also wrote Dick to to express particular things to Dick and Dick alone, in the manner that one can — in loose language — express matters to someone in private correspondence, and in particular, to Dick who has oft-times, publically and privately, expressed the sentiment and assurance that gentleman do not reveal the contents of each others’ letters.

I am appalled, on several levels. In the sense above– the sense that I am responding to the publication of private correspondence, not intended to be in the public eye– I have nothing to respond to, other than to apologize to Profs. Spero and Schevchenko, for any effect of comments that were not intended for public light, and which might be easily read in a public light to mean something which they did not, in private.

Let me say– I didn’t sign up for this.

In agreeing to provide technical leadership to EphBlog– I simply did not sign up for this. I did not sign up to provide free tech support, of the nature you can get from almost any teenager, for a “blog” of no particular technical sophistication (see below)– while being treated with a good deal of condescension and arrogance. I’ll leave it at that.

As for Mr. Kane and Mr. Catsam, there is no need to apologize for comments which I am fully willing to make in the light of day– if comments that are again, rather tame, or not, in comparison to the mill.  If Mr. Catsam does not want his institution and position insulted,  then he should not shake them around as the grounds for pushing other people out of the room.

We were discussing the state of education,  after all– something no one seems to really take a hard look at– but right now,  I want to talk about EphBlog,  though this draft is going to be somewhat disorganized due to the moment.

Recently,  I was asked to add the names of Mr. Catsam and Mr. Swart to the sidebar of this forum, as “contact information” for anyone who might wish to reach someone at this “institution.” I made this change purely in light of that stated purpose, with great reservations about the sense of power and entitlement the “conferring of titles” might engender in some parts.

Now,  on various levels,  I don’t know what’s going on here.   I’m about to tell you in more detail– but in the end,  EphBlog is nothing more (and in many ways,  not as much) as a publication that a few guys throw together in a dorm room–  like Keith Hedlund,  Ethan,  I and others,  did with the Gharial.

I’m trying to be– here in public,  I’m trying not to be personal,  or put this in a personal way,  though perhaps that would indeed be best.   But “the deal is,”  we gave Keith a nice title,  such as President or Editor-in-Chief,  or whatever–

so how do I put this?  the nice way?  It’s just a bunch of guys (and in our case,  a few gals) putting something together,  because they love what they’re doing and think it’s important and they love what they’re doing,   despite the work that comes with it.

And it takes a lot of discussion and co-ordination and respect and discussion on top of it.

And it’s still just a bunch of guys and gals in a room.

And if Keith–  my point here is ultimately not meant to be about any one individual,  or Dick or Derek,  but to raise the question of how “EphBlog” operates,  or does not,   and what it’s operational structures should or should not be–

well,  in that context,   (which is is not this context),   if Keith would have,  for instance,   — again,  how to put this– treated me as an employee and not a collaborator,   then I would have promptly walked away — or told Keith off in no uncertain terms.   (Not that Keith would ever have thought of acting in such a manner).

Equally– if Keith had opened up the PageMaker files,  and made changes without discussing with the editorial staff,  destroying work that took time to assemble,   leaving a sort of a mess–  well,  in my mind,   I’m searching for reasonable explanations of why Keith might do that,   because I’d expect Keith to have a reason– well,   regardless,  my point is that if it were a repeated practice,   exercised with heavy-handedness and a tone of command and “I know better than you,  do it”  instead of exploration, discussion and “what can we do” —  then the Gharial would very quickly,  have had a major staffing problem.

Now this is an online forum– notoriously,  online forums do not convey tone accurately,   and intents and gestures and the like,   can be much harder,   to interpret or understand.  And perhaps we have not established the proper channels and protocols and mechanisms,   for such conversations– the kind of channels a typical online forum of this nature, might have.

Since Mr. Catsam has just thrown in his $02 — I will say, that a series of private emails, which do not reach all involved, and which lay out I-know-not-what — that may be Mr. Catsam’s version of how things work, from his seat, which seems to me one lacking practical experience — but from my seat, the way to handle any such proposal, and any such change, is with the light of day and a public posting and simple transparency.

Unless you’re looking to exclude certain people from the discussion, which, after all, has been going on for a good deal of time.

It is unclear to me, what operational authority a person such as Mr. Catsam, has as the ‘President of the Board’ of the non-profit corporation known as EphBlog, what the practical grounds of that authority are– or what it should be, in the course of a project such as this. Certainly the President of the Board of Williams College, if there be one, has little to no operational authority over the affairs of the College, nor would he or she expect it.

I’ve certainly heard no attempt that I remember, at articulating that authority, or what it means, why it exists and to what purpose nor (with respect) what the position of “Managing Editor” entails, for an entity such as this one. Rather, it seems we have a sort of declaration by fiat, and some sort of undeclared, likely unwarranted assumptions, in play.

Let me try and pause right there-– I did sign up for this project, for a particular purpose, and that was the vision of EphBlog as a larger (much larger) online community to connect the alumni– I might say, in ways “yet undiscovered.” I’ve heard David articulate this vision over the phone, and in person, and even in a WCFM interview– maybe it’s something he can only do verbally! but I came here to achieve that greater vision, not to be the grunt sub-administrator of a WordPress blog.

But it seems to me– that without that articulation from David, which I expected almost a year ago– without a written sense of it, which we can refer to– then as an endeavor, we’re just wandering, from one unarticulated vision, to another unarticulated vision, in a rather bizarre, pointless manner.

Returning to the issue of some kind of editorial control– I don’t oppose it, I in fact endorse it, and I’ve discussed various options, possible now and possible later (with or without a change of technology) — but it has to be discussed, understood, made available to people, publicized. To put it a little more softly than I put it to Dick, last night: there’s no need, to be heavy-handed.

Have a place to ask people– what they’re doing and what they’re up to. Call it the “Writer’s Workshop!” and let the questions and discussions be publically visible as well– if not in the main content area.

For that matter– thinking, on the side of things, literally, we could use the sidebars in WordPress, for such information and discussions, for now.

Except for a publication with much more resources on the table– well, you’d think that we’d just post the proposal, say what’s going to happen when, and open it up for comments and criticisms, and play things on a case-by-case basis from there. At least, that’s how things are done where I come from, and it seems to work.

Though– even doing that, under WordPress, seems rather hard to do, without someone taking on a more active, “moderator”-like roll than anyone has taken here.

I am certainly not prepared to grant Mr. Catsam, and whatever his plans are (again, he seems not to have the time to reveal or explain them publicly, except in a repeated series of asides that EphBlog is not that important, and seems perfectly fine as it is, to him), the position of Lording over this forum, and declaring that things “must be so,” because of a made-up title in the left column of this Blog.

On that note, I would also like to remind everyone that this is just a blog,and has become nothing else in the meantime. It is not the Saturday Evening Post. It is not a major publication. It’s not even a decently sized, or used, minor website! It’s just a blog– the sort of thing a few students might throw up in their spare time, to have a discussion among themselves.

The standard format and convention seems to me, to allow posting of materials (often conversational, partial, or highly discursive in nature), somewhat as with a bulletin board– or SwartArt, for that matter. If Derek or Dick or anyone wants to change that, besides what’s already been discussed– it seems to me, there needs to be some discussion, and declaration of what’s happening, and consultation, not fiat.

A ‘weblog,’ as well, whatever else it may be or become, is in its essence merely a collection of information on the internet, “of potential use or interest or not.” It is arguably, not a publication, having rather more the characteristic of a repository.

And so on– my point is that one should concern oneself with such things, and their history, if one wants to have “a blog,” or an online offering, of any substance– and without discussing and considering the matters (which indeed happens in the course of many endeavors of this nature, as they grow), without having some larger, associated conversation about what the nature of the new media are, and what we can do with them, and what others are doing, and what is possible, and so on–

should I ask you to draw the conclusion or should I pepper you with a statement? My point is something like there’s not much happening here– you’ve got an off-the-shelf WordPress implementation, you’re posting material, you’ve got a small group of users– there’s not much but a lot pretensions, my own pretensions, perhaps first among them.

But what are you going to do? Is this it? Do you have any grasp, any idea– of how much more, is possible? That what we have here, so far– does not even scratch the surface (rather, perhaps, obscures it?)

One might compare a “wiki,” which is an online forum of sorts, open to all, editable by all, (under certain rules)– designed, as the word (“quick”) implies, to allow rapid assembly of knowledge and information, for people to explore connections quickly, in groups, online — share and assemble “information” into “knowledge.”

Technically, what we have here could be established by any enterprising Williams student with a will to learn, in approximately a weekend. It is not high-tech, and in fact, lacks many of the accompanying accoutrements, in terms of welcome and explanation, that a diligent first-year (or friends) might add to his or her “blog.”

Neither do we seem to have the goodwill, and spirit of exploration and experimentation, which in my mind most characterizes such endeavors– rather, a lot of individuals with the tendency to demand that matters be done, and stated, “their way.”

Because the platform itself is highly limited, it is hard to judge the technical skills of the readership, but certainly some level of technical learning is required by any more complex forum– and usually, delivered largely in the course of use.

Our regular “readership” or “usership” is, and as far as I can tell has been, in the range of 60 to a peak of eighty individuals– excluding the good people on campus who read EphBlog each morning, mostly, evidently in fear of David’s next semi-racist attack on the College and its staff.

It also seems to me, that this Blog (if you’ll grant the trope) aspires to throw its weight around, as if it was a big and significant publication, with a user base and impact which, simply, it has not achieved through actual work.

This Blog needs an Executive Board of 6 in about the same sense that the left wheels of the ice cream cart at Whitman’s, need an Executive Board to get anything done. Where do you see an endeavor of this general nature, with such a ‘management structure?’ In terms of Operations, what we have is an excess of people with no practical experience, and no ability (much less will) to do tasks that require some (often small) technical understanding and capacity– and darn few worker bees (this worker bee has very little tolerance with being commanded as if “the help” and treated as a peon).

Despite my current extended ‘pique’ at David’s pattern of postings, and sinking feeling that this ‘blog’ has perhaps done little more than gather a cadre of oddly aligned individuals to feed David’s ego for him,– in one way or another, I do believe there is something to David’s “I write for myself first, and for my father next” mantra. I’m certainly not necessarily writing for any “reader” beyond that when I post here, and neither do I suggest it of anyone else, and I really don’t believe in the censorship of anyone’s thoughts or communications, or for that matter, means of communication or thought.

I might suggest– think of EphBlog, whatever it is, as more of a “tool for thought,” than as a print publicaiton.

As far an managing material– to the ends of fostering better communications, or better discussions between participants- there are of course many, many things EphBlog might do to move forward– primarily, move to a richer (software) framework. I see no point in further addressing this at the moment– except to comment, that one problem here, seems to be multiple, competing, perhaps contradictory visions of what this forum is– often unarticulated or assumed to be “true” on the part of our participants.

The ‘norm’ on internet forums of this nature are that people may post what they want, as they want, when they want, without editorial controls or much censorship, other than some sorting by topic (which EphBlog’s underlying software does not allow). The general thinking behind this, as I see it, is that no entity or group, really should have the ability to control the conversation or decide what discussions or exchange of information is valuable– because the final, is up to the participants themselves.

In short: “It’s about Open Exchange.”

This is typically or often (but not always) moderated by some general enforcement of norms of civil behavior, and restrictions on asocial behavior, unproductive behavior, and general idiocy– all lessons which do not seem to have gained that much traction here, in all frankness, though I do believe we’ve gotten somewhere.

Per the above, it has been EphBlog’s operational norm– with some notable challenges to the concept, and deity-like counter assertions from David, quoting the “FAQ” that he himself wrote– that “authors govern their posts” and are free to post without fear of more than minor editorial change, much less outright and intentional vandalism, by other authors and administrators.

Forums such as these are also, often and perhaps typically, but hardly always, governed in an entirely open and transparent manner– that is, a manner which is recorded, available, and open to all who show interest and ability– often with strong weight, given to those who have the technical or practical skills, necessary to running the endeavor.

Otherwise, I will be returning the sidebar, to indicate that the contact method for this “Blog” is via ‘eph {at} ephblog.com’, which has been EphBlog’s traditional contact method and is essentially open to any member of the community who asks to be added to it– including Mr. Swart and Mr. Catsam, if they so choose. Note that I do not read materials sent to the address.


Ken Thomas ’93

Print  •  Email