Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Etana turns out to be an excellent site for students of Philo and his social world too. But it makes me think about how long it is useful to keep up all these other collections of links like my own site, NTGateway, and others. I know from my own work that it eats my time, and I can't imagine how Mark Goodacre gets time to keep up his great site as a one-man work...
Have we reached the point where we should seriously consider coordinating more of this work, get some sponsors, and establish a team to work on a really megasite for Biblical studies? Viewpoints are welcome....

Mark Goodacre gave his response here.

Torrey replied:

I am glad to hear he will not stop developing his site,- but even without being a prophet, I can foresee that it will be a more and more demanding task as a one-man work.
Hence I also do think it is time to start thinking about the future. I totally agree with Mark, that SBL would be the major organisation to involve in this. Maybe the CARG sessions at the SBL Annual Meeting would be a setting to start some serious discussions on how to develop ways to get further. The relevant material on the Internet is growing so rapidly, that it is hard to imagine what even the next year will bring.

This is certainly a worthwhile conversation to have and to keep having. My thoughts:

By sponsors do you mean someone to give us web space? Probably one or more academic institution could supply that. Or if we want to have separate space, one can get quite a bit very cheaply. I'm not sure what else we would need sponsors for.

I myself have reservations about the team and megasite idea. Personally, I prefer a Darwinian "emergent order" approach in which each of us eventually says, "I'm going to do this particular thing, because I like it and other people like what I do, and drop the other things I've been doing, because I'm tired of them and someone else is doing them better anyway." Over time (and it's very early days yet), the result is likely to be something like that megasite, only distributed in a more efficient and robust way and done by people who've already shown that they really want to do it and they can do it well. Sure, there will be some duplication and redundancy, but some of those is good, and so is some competition. Some of the duplication is useful: there's a lot of readership overlap between, say, Mark Goodacre's sites and mine, but there are also a good many people interested in one area more than the other and it is convenient for them to look at Mark's links rather than mine, or vice versa. In other words, there's a fair amount of niche marketing but with a healthy overlap and I see no need to give any of it up.

True, it would potentially be useful to have a megasite of links to all our manifold sites and blogs etc. But various people, Torrey included, maintain such things. I'm not sure what the benefit would be to adding another.

Torrey, if you're feeling Internet fatigue, perhaps you should consider cutting back to just the stuff you care about the most. We would hate to see any of your sites go, but you have to decide what is worth your time and effort. And as I've said before, if anyone else wants to start up a website or blog, well, by all means go for it! If it's good and fills a niche, others will link to it and it will become part of the picture. My experience is that having more people with an Internet presence helps us all. For example, when Mark Goodacre started his blog, my hits per day went up, not down.

As for Mark's idea of involving the SBL, I would need to hear more about exactly how. It would be fine for us all to get together over beers at the meetings and discuss what we're doing and what we want to do. I suppose we could consider starting a group on Internet matters and biblical studies, although it would have to be clearly differentiated from CARG, which might not be easy. Or, as Torrey suggests, we could see about arranging a CARG session (or sessions) on the subject. But what I wouldn't want to see is a committee trying to disseminate a centrally planned vision of how biblical studies on the Internet should look. There aren't any hierarchical controls over the Internet, which means that people can and will do whatever they want, and I don't think centralization can or should change that.

That's what I think at the moment: it's rather early to contemplate an SBL-sponsored team effort and I'm not at all sure that it will ever be the way to go. As Torrey said, we don't know what will happen even in the next year (and I suspect all our guesses will be wrong), so it would be very difficult and perhaps futile and even counterproductive to try to plan an overall strategy now. But I don't mean to be a wet blanket and I'm perfectly willing to be persuaded otherwise and to get involved if I think it's in my interest.

As for my intentions, PaleoJudaica is still fun and as long as it remains fun I'll keep it going. And I'm hoping to hold another online course in the next year or two, this time blog-based rather than using e-mail.

UPDATE (15 January): Torrey responds here. I can't think of anything more to say right now except that I'll be happy to meet with those interested either at the International SBL meeting in July in Groningen or at the SBL meeting in San Antonio in November, and either beer or wine is fine with me.

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