Future of CoOL II

October 18, 2009

With the successful transfer of Conservation Online to its new home under the auspices of FAIC, the stakeholders in CoOL held a meeting at the Library of Congress to discuss its future.  The rest of us seized the opportunity to hold another conversation on Twitter of our own.

Up to this point, CoOL has served two major purposes: publishing and archiving the Cons Distlist and hosting of a handful of conservation related websites.  In its next iteration, I think that it is clear that these tasks need to remain at the core of the site, but what other offerings would benefit the field and what structure would best achieve our goals?

Clearly, the core postings in the Distlist need to keep their home: event postings, job listings, calls for paper, general announcements, and professional queries.  Some thoughts that arose on Twitter (or my own head) include an events calendar, public outreach in the form of FAQs, conference post-prints and presentations, curated links to relevant web content, and original content in the form of blog posts or articles.  What I would most like to see as a natural extension of the Distlist is an unmoderated forum in which subscribers (or everyone) can more readily discuss issues that arise in the mailing.  The current structure serves as a fine method for finding answers to basic inquiries or pointers to further readings, but it fails to build a deeper body of material, in part because many of the conversations take place over private emails, while other conversations are stilted because of the irregular publication schedule of the list.  The most active discussion that I can recall in my time as a subscriber came out of the certification vote, a discussion that I think could have benefited from an easier give and take.  A forum would provide that ease of communication, while allowing the field to build a more accessible body of literature.  But perhaps the release of the AIC Specialty Group Wikis will lessen the need for that second point.

A minor practical change to the Distlist would be to publish the moderated announcements on a continuing basis on the front page of CoOL, like a blog, and then mail the list out to subscribers on a weekly basis. Daniel Cull, if I am reading his tweets correctly, would like to see CoOL become an unmoderated wiki-style web-page with the info creation crowd-sourced to willing participants.  I suspect that this is a basic philosophical difference between the two of us, but I think that the curation/moderation aspect of the Distlist (ably handled by Walter Henry for the past 15? years) is the key to its success.  The authority of a moderator adds to the trust of a professional resource while maintaining the focus necessary to keep CoOL relevant to the field of conservation.

A more visionary though to transform CoOL is to use the site as a place to host original content, in the form of blog posts or articles (is there a difference?), and curated links to outside web content.  This could be formatted as a single page, like the newly started AIC News, or if there is enough new content, a network of pages that could provide individuals or institutions to control their own content.  From the Twitter conversation, it sounds as if CCI has materials that they would like to make available, but aren’t sure how to do it or what the appropriate IP rights should be.  This imaginary CoOL site could offer CCI a forum to publish their data while maintaining authorship rights under a Creative Commons license. Regardless, the new CoOL needs to find an effective means to balance the moderation of information with the addition of content from interested and informed parties.

With CoOL still in a state of transition, now is the time to create and implement a vision for CoOL in the 21st century.  The stakeholders have important decisions to make, but I think that it is clear the the field of conservation needs to take better advantage of the Web to improve communication and strengthen the field.


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