Plummeting grant funding rates are back in the news, this time in the U.K., where success rates in the Economic and Social Research Council—a rough equivalent to NSF’s SBE division—have dropped to 13%. In sociology, it’s even lower—only 8% of applications were funded in 2014-15.
I’ve written before about the waste of resources associated with low funding rates. But this latest round prompted me to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Disclaimer: these numbers are total guesses based on my experience in the U.S. system. I think they are pretty conservative. But I would love to see more formal estimates.
The recent news in Silicon Valley is that Reddit CEO Ellen Pao was fired. The infraction was that Pao fired a manager who was very popular among Reddit moderators, who do most of the work running and editing the website. Chuq Von Rospach, a programmer, has a very skeptical take on Reddit. Von Rospach thinks it’s doomed no matter who runs it. From Rospach’s blog:
My favorite visualization of online communities is the community bar. I’ve used, managed and built online communities going back into the 1980s, many of them sports related, so it’s natural to look at those communities as sports bars. The thing I’ve always told people interested in community management is this: if you’re running a sports bar, and you have a gang of bikers move in, you have two choices. You can either eject the bikers, or you’re running a biker bar. I never set out intending to put my time and energy into a biker bar, so I always worked to prevent the rowdy elements from taking over my communities, because I knew that would cause the people I wanted to be around to leave and find some other place to be.
To carry this visualization to Reddit, what you have is a really large, multi-floor building with a large ground-floor common space and a huge bar area filled with a wide variety of people. Much of the rest of the building are community rooms that people can use for their organizations and meetups to get together and interact. it’s a huge — and very successful — community space.
Reddit, however, has a basement, and in all honesty, the owners of this building would prefer nobody look down there, because again, it’s a big space full of community rooms as well, but down there are the groups Reddit feel are part of the community but would prefer most of us would stay avoid. In some ways Reddit should be lauded for being inclusive of all community groups, even the uncomfortable ones, but down in that basement is a big part of the ultimate death of Reddit.
Don’t try to fix it. It’s broken. It can’t be fixed. Instead, it’s time to decide what the service you want is, and build that service out of the ashes of the failure of this Reddit. A great starting point is the AMA and the most popular reddits. Figure out the revenue model and make sure it’s baked in to this new model. Anything that isn’t part of this new model that exists on the old site will end up being shut down. you can expect that won’t go well when you announce it.
Identify your top 25 community mods and your 50 most popular/largest/busiest subreddits with topics you plan on supporting in the new Reddit. Hire them and make them your core community team, with a charter of working with and training talking to and listening to all of your other mods. This is the crew you need to build a strong communication and camaraderie with you unpaid mod teams.
The 2nd tier mods who run large and successful groups but aren’t part of this team (say, the 100 most important or influential) are all put on some kind of contract that pays them something for their time and the success of their reddits. It may not be huge, but it’ll help give them incentive to align with company interests and make agreements with them more easily binding legally.
All mods will have to agree with the new site T/C and the rules of engagement and behavior for groups and mods. Make it very clear any that won’t will have their groups taken over and run by Reddit until a new moderator is found and takes over. The old mod should no longer have the ability to delete or lock the community, at least through this transition. If they want to run off to 8chan let them, and if their users follow, let them. But you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised how many will stick around in the mainstream groups, even if the lead mod gets huffy and bolts.
Bottom line: Reddit has a lot of toxic built in elements that might prevent it from successfully monetizing. Changing that is possible, but a lose/lose situation for the CEO who tries it.
You don’t see a lot of books linking cultural sociology and gerontology. An ethnographic study of elderly people in four neighbrohoods, The End Game is a study of the coping strategies that people use and how those are related to race and social class. For example, there are those who try to preserve their health so as not to be a burden on others, while others “use up” their health while enjoying themselves (e.g., by drinking). Abramson also pays close attention to the processes that normally occupy stratification scholars, such as how wealth affects how people access food, healthcare, and social support.
What I found most compelling about this book is the careful attention paid to the combination of class based resources and “toolkits” that are driven by culture or simply variations in personality. For example, health isn’t simply a matter of who can pay for a doctor. Health is also affected by the view that medical intervention is constantly needed to maintain a deteriorating body. One thing that I wish had received more attention is the link to outcomes – there should be more discussion of exactly which traits might be conducive to longer live, healthier life, or happier life.
Near the end, Abramson discusses a mildly disturbing encounter with a sociologist who asked why we should care about the elderly. The answer is that old age is a growing feature of human life after industrialization. It can also be a long stage of life. A 90 year old person has 25 post-retirement years! Thus, we should care about what is an extremely common experience and we want people to live well. Abramson’s text is an important contribution to that vital research task. Recommended!!!!