Welcome to Villa-St.-Jean-On-The-Web, Version 2.0. So, what shall we call it? “Villa Vox Populi”?
We’ve been noodling this for months, for reasons you may already know or have at least inferred. And now that Tom Brew has us up and actually running, I sit this Saturday night, with Prairie Home Companion on the box and a beer — not Feldschlossen or Cardinal mind you, but Fat Tire — on the desk, ruminating about how we got here and where we’re going. Yeah, beer and rumination, dangerous combo, but I promise no lengthy pontifications are about to pour out.
By the way, please don’t think that the introduction of Version 2.0 means the death of Version 1.0. It means no such thing: WWW.VillaStJean.com will continue to live on the web long, long into the future. But already it’s long, long in the tooth, aging as it does, not on a scale marked in human or even in dog years, but in internet years. Come to think of it, even in human years, though it seems but a blink of the eye, it has been awhile — a decade I would hazard — since Kevin DiPalma first created our website. Time flies. Internet technology flies too. It’s the rapid passage of the first which has posed the challenge we face. It’s the rapid passage of the second which we hope offers the solution.
When Villa St. Jean closed its doors over 35 years ago, the Villa community shattered into diaspora, a diaspora profoundly fragmented and thinly stretched owing to two principal facts: First, we are a pretty small community to start with, only several hundred living members tops. Second, it is impossible, on a single planet anyway, to be more geographically far-flung than we. Then in the 1980s along came e-mail, and in the 1990s, the internet, and then Kevin created our website, and, freed from the constraints of geography, the fragmented community knit itself back together.
And as time has continued its march, the internet model of website-as-community-hub is itself passing into obsolescence, especially as relates to a group whose members are as few as we. You’ve noticed the signs, you can see our site going stale: No fresh dialog going on there. Rosters, articles, references frozen in time. Links going dead. The issue is this: at its core, a website is a centralized method for running a community hub. It’s top down, requiring very active management by a small corps of dedicated people. It places the burden narrowly on the shoulders of a few — which is no big deal if you’re a large enterprise with your own IT department, but that’s not us.
It took us all awhile to notice, because we were so lucky as to have Kevin DiPalma shouldering an extraordinary and outsized burden. But Kevin has now moved to China where he barely even has access to the internet, and it has become plain that it is not reasonable to ask one or two people to so dedicate themselves. So we’ve sought a new solution.
As it happens, we are by no means the only ones facing this challenge. In fact, so widespread is this dynamic that it has given rise to an entire new class of web-based community services, so-called social-networking sites, and their first cousins, the blogging sites. (And it has made some people very rich: Facebook.com was recently sold for over a billion dollars.) Remember when everybody was being encouraged to establish a “personal website”? When was the last time you saw that? It’s history. The website model is too inefficient for small and medium-sized groups.
In essence, this new model we intend to leverage is based on “distributed processing”. Rather than placing the burden on one or two central people, everybody does his small part. It is less centralized, it is more fluid and dynamic. Something needs to be added? No problem. Add it. Something needs to be changed? Just go ahead and update the file. In effect, we all mutually become the webmaster.
That’s the hope, anyway. So far, Tom Brew has done an awful lot of heavy lifting, so we’ve seen no benefits of distribution yet. Moreover, since none of us has done this before, we don’t know what bumps and bugs we are going to encounter. Going to be a learning experience for us all.
By the way, before selecting Vox, we considered a half dozen or so other similar sites, which were eliminated for various reasons. Facebook, for example, has proved absolutely impossible to deal with (and we lost a couple of months wrestling with them), MySpace seems targeted at kids, and so forth. Vox was recommended to Tom by one of his colleagues, and we’ve concluded it’s the best option.
And also, in case you haven’t yet noticed, along with this, we’ve added a Villa St. Jean entry to Wikipedia. If you haven’t seen it already, go check it out.
Well, I see my Fat Tire is drained. That’s it from me. But maybe you can help me with one question: Just what was the function of the Spiritual Cultural Committee, anyway?