Last week, Simon Job – the creator of MathsLinks and its attendant sites – wrote a post called The transcience of sharing.

Simon is a sharer par excellence, not to mention a generally thoughtful and down-to-earth guy. So when he talks (types), I listen (read). Essentially, in his post he is posing this very valid question:

Why is sharing happening on social media (where it is transient) rather than on platforms that are clearly built for it and superior to it in almost every way (e.g. MathsLinks)?

This is a question I’ve thought about too – and it’s bugged me. Over the last few months, these have been the thoughts percolating around my head.

  1. (a) It’s where the community is active, which motivates the poster. In the right space, at the right time, it will gain a responsive audience and that response is a very powerful motivator.
    (b). It’s where people visit, every day and for no particular reason, which is how the viewer sees it in the first place. People come to dedicated sites like MathsLinks when they (i) are after something, (ii) have the presence of mind to look for what someone else has made/found first, and (iii) have the time to commit to browsing for a little while. That happens far less often than people pulling up their social media feed of choice (which seems to happen reflexively once people get to a bus stop or train station these days).
  2. Precisely because it does not aim to preserve, only the trendy and really engaging things bubble up to the top (either through Facebook’s black magic sorting algorithm or Twitter’s more organic system of retweets).
  3. I alluded to this above, but MathsLinks (and other similar repositories like TES Australia and Scootle) has become its own worst enemy by being so good. There are hundreds of objects there – which is awesome, but also means that a new user doesn’t even know what’s there or where to begin. There’s awesome stuff there but (coming back to the time issue that has already been identified) someone needs to commit to searching thoughtfully through it to find what will be useful to them in the present moment. This is an issue with faculty resource files just like it is for MathsLinks.

So what can be done to improve the situation? I have a handful of thoughts, corresponding to the points above.

  1. Clearly, MathsLinks is awesome as it is. We just need to connect it with the community more effectively. I feel like this is a market problem – it’s a great product, in a quiet spot. Stick it in the middle of George Street and it’ll go nuts because people will be exposed to it more frequently and the conversation about how good it actually is will spread from there. How practically to do that in our context is another question entirely, though.
  2. Maybe there needs to be a dedicated team (and by team, I mean more than just Simon) of people dedicated to capturing those cool posts when they come up on social media and then preserving them. We don’t want to discourage the spontaneous sharing and ensuing discussion; we want to leverage it and keep it somewhere that it can be found for future reference.
  3. Perhaps we need to do something like a “weekly featured resource”? I have considered doing something like that in my department with “my best lesson this week” as a regular feature of faculty meetings. It would just help people become aware of the riches that are hidden away there, rather than letting them gather digital dust in the cellar of the internet.

Just some food for thought.

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