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How are we doing?

It has been over a year since ChoralNet Communities were introduced.  It is time for an assessment and to make some decisions.
Communities were envisioned as a tool (best term I can come up with) that would combine the information storage and display capability of websites with the communications possibilities of online forums, blogs, and messaging.  The idea was that like-minded groups of choral people (i.e., "communities") could easily communicate online without having to create their own systems.
I would appreciate hearing from you.  It is my gut feeling that communities are not being used, not being used to their fullest capabilities, and furthermore, need more refinements and power before the original vision can be achieved. My hope is that ACDA websites and such would begin slowly converting over to using communities.  I do not see that happening.  Perhaps I am too impatient.  But there may be other factors.
Many people are already wedded to things like Facebook, but it has been my contention that those big sites will never be responsive to the choral world and our specific needs and, furthermore, due to their very size, are prone to hackers, lurkers, and the more seedy side of the Internet.  ChoralNet, on the other hand, can be a safer, more professional, and more responsive entity.  WE (the choral community) own ChoralNet and can get what we want if we ask for it.   But rather than throw resources at a bad idea, we need to  gather data and reflect.
So, the complaint/suggestion department is open.  Let's hear about problems, struggles, wishes, etc.
Replies (28): Threaded | Chronological
on August 17, 2011 7:37am
I agree - communities do not seem to have caught on.  The Massachusetts ACDA community only has 25 members, so it doesn't reach the vast majority of our membership.  The other issue is that we have a volunteer who updates our website...but I'm not sure that he is willing to create a new "choralnet" page for us...and I'm not sure that it would get much use.  I personally don't think our existing website gets much traffic either, but my guess is that it's getting a whole lot more traffic than the MassACDA community.
I also created a community for music literacy.  It has 71 members, but the only things that have ever been posted have been posted by me - I haven't even gotten a reply to anything, so that's been kind of frustrating...
on August 17, 2011 8:30am
Some thoughts:
1) There are 84 communities on ChoralNet, many with multiple editors.  Yet only 39 people are subscribed to this forum, which was supposed to be a meeting place where the people in charge of communities could brainstorm how communities could be improved.
2) To this point in time, people have had to register on ChoralNet to use it.  Within six months, all ACDA members will automatically be registered on ChoralNet.  We may wish to go so far as to automatically register them into communities if the leadership wants that.  This year will see the foundation laid for the eventual merger of the ACDA and ChoralNet sites.
3) At first, the default setting for members of communities was not that they would receive all forum posts.  That has been changed.  Are you all aware that editors can go to the Members page, click "Show editor buttons" and see exactly what the email settings are for the members of their community?
4) The other communication issue is that, for all we know, mail from ChoralNet is going into a spam folder at the member's end since some systems automatically screen out mail from mass communications systems.  In those cases, those people must specify that ChoralNet mail is legitimate.  Might be that many people don't even know they are missing forum posts and ChoralNet email.
on August 17, 2011 9:01am
Hi Jim,
I've had mostly good experiences with ChoralNet Communities.  I am the editor/owner of the Chamber Choir/Vocal Ensemble Community which has 130 members as of a few minutes ago and the owner of Friends of Joyful Noise (choirs for those with special needs, unique situations, special ed resources, etc.) which has 17 members.
I created the Chamber Choir group right around the time communities were created.  I do blog semi-regularly and have gotten a few comments.  Several member have posted on our forum.  As per your suggestion when we had lunch in Chicago, Jim, I sent out something to the whole community and that generated some posts.  Last night, I also sent out  a call for fall repertoire to the group and then posted my rep in our forums, hoping that would do something.  It goes in cycles.
Friends of Joyful Noise was started in February 2011 (I think maybe a little before) to stir some interest in the special needs chorus consisting of those with developmental disabilites and other challenges, Joy Noise, and their performance in Chicago. Surprisingly, that community has been fairly active.  People were inspired to start choruses based on the Joyful Noise model and this is the place to share news and ask questions of Allison Fromm (founder of JN). There are two new choruses--Expressions of Joy in New Mexico which began in June--and Encore Joyful Noise in northern Illinois which will start in October--as well as plans for another in Wisconsin.  There will be an Honors Choir (they're calling it something different than 'Honors' but that's what it is)for special populations at the Eastern ACDA conference in Feburary and we are certain to get postings and questions about that.  Alice Parker's secretary is a member of FOJN if that impresses you!
When I see a posting in the regular forums pertaining to either group, I often suggest to the poster to join our community.  I tag threads or auditions.  What I would like to see is the occassional reminder to join a community if you have a particular need/interest to the whole site--now being a moderator and knowing what goes on behind the scenes, I am not sure how that would be done or what category it would be put in--or if it would be considered "self promotion".
Jim and Mike, you are both invited to join both of my communities.  The FOJN will make you feel good!
Anyway, that's my two and a half cents. 
on August 18, 2011 6:25am
Dear James,

I agree, I am the Editor of the Gregorian Chant Community - on facebook, this community has thousands of members, but here on choralnet only 22 members.. very odd. .. I would think a number of choral directors in ACDA would have an interest in this area.  It leads me to believe that people don't even know this or other communities exist.  I just think this is a forum that could be educational and inspirational.

Thank you for helping us develop this!
on August 18, 2011 8:18am
As you remember - at the national board meeting in chicago, I was very impressed and thought they would catch on like wildfire - and they haven't. 
I have created tne NWACDA and CWU Music Education communities.  The methods classes I teach at CWU are usually about 20 students - and for the past two I have created an assignment where they are required to sign up for Choralnet - create at least a couple sentences to describe who they are in their profile (I'm continually amazed at how few people have anything in their profile, but that's another issue!)  and then join the CWU community - find at least 2 taggable items and tag them for the CWU Music Ed community - then write a paragraph on why they tagged the particular items.  Don't know how much it helps - but I feel all university choral music ed folks should consdier something simiilar.  This is a wonderful resource - and vital that we cultivate it.
As far as why communities haven't caught on - the careful (and I think prudent and valid) attention to prviacy on the WORLD WIDE web is a negative factor.  I am program chair for ACDANW - and to communicate - rather than choralnet communities, I've chosen to create 3 "secret" groups on FB.  ("secret" just means that the members - and ONLY the invited members - are the sole people to see postings.  Noone can even find the group by searching. It's not "secret content - see the following comments . . . ) 
Why FB over Choralnet?  Well - first, there is the privacy issue.  I created the group to serve as communication between, say, the Honor choir coordinators - much of what they post would just be more email to clog up people's mailboxes who aren't directly involved but on the board.  Also - with this focussed group some thiings can be electronically discussed - and there's no need to involve the whole baord until the 5 of us come to a consensus. 
Second - discussions on Choralnet communites are clunky.  FB can be immediate if people are online.  Choralnet goes through a moderator (which, again - I applaud - it keeps a whole bunch of spam and unwanted email away from the members - very important).  But the fact is, I post something and it is a few minutes to a few days before it might be approved (I plead guilt - most of you are quicker to approve stuff than me - because so few postings come through - sometimes I don't check the email account for them but every second day or so.)  It's difficult to get a discussion going when in takes hours to days to have posts approved.  (I should say again - you and Philip and Allen do a very good job of approving pretty quickly - but it's not, nor can it be under these guidelines - as fast as FB).
Don't know what the solution is to that problem, but hearty thanks for seeking input and your continuing efforts to mold our profession! 
Gary Weidenaar
on August 18, 2011 9:27am
Gary writes:
> Why FB over Choralnet?  Well - first, there is the privacy issue. 
We have the ability to create and operate private ChoralNet communities.  I have been running one (International Choral Exchange Program steering committee) since last fall.  It was the first, but was intended to be a prototype for such things as the national Exec committee and other boards which needed to have controlled membership.
> Second - discussions on Choralnet communites are clunky. 
Agreed.  That is what we, as community editors, need to discuss and get fixed.  Community editors have to approve what goes on their forums.  ChoralNet moderators approve what goes onto the regular ChoralNet forums.  All good for safety and avoiding spamming.  Here's a suggestion - only Allen and Martin can say how difficult it would be to implement:
What about a ChoralNet Chat function for communties?  In other words, you can see who is online in your community and send them an instant message.
Or how about a checkbox next to every name on the community membership list whereby you could select certain people and mail a single message to all of them?
Other ideas welcome.
on August 18, 2011 10:20am
The answer about the technical difficulty is: doable. The selective email would be pretty easy, the chat thing moderate.
But I think the main obstacle to communities is (in addition to moderation delays) asynchonicity: the typical ChoralNet user only visits the site once a day, and since they're all at different times. People don't browse the site all day like they do Facebook. So I'm not sure a chat would be practical. Anyway, other people on ChoralNet are colleagues, not friends, so it's not clear what you'd chat about. If I've got a question, I want to hear from an expert who knows the answer, not whatever handful of people happen to be online at the same time. (We could create a chat room feature for scheduled meetings if you think the ACDA people will use it.)
I think we're still quite dependent on email. The few communities which have really taken off have done so, in my analysis, because the members keep getting emails from the community and they get motivated to reply, i.e. they're not reading the site online. For example, I am writing this because I got an email with your message and clicked on the link to reply. A lot of the traffic we get elsewhere on the website comes, I believe, from people clicking on links in the ChoralNet Daily.
While we want to attract cool hip 20-somethings to ChoralNet, the reality is that most of our users are middle-aged fuddy-duddies stuck in the 20th century. I just heard this morning from someone who tried to suspend their subscriptions by sending a message to "listproc". So we need to do a lot of hand-holding if we want modern features to be used.
Maybe we're approaching from the wrong angle. Rather than think of technical tools and then trying to get people to use them, maybe we should develop the sales pitch first. "What's in it for me?" What will choral musicians be able to accomplish with our tools that they can't accomplish otherwise? Inane little Facebook chats and cute cat videos aren't it.
Much as we like the moderation system, maybe it's time to cut it back for more immediacy. Maybe we should create a new class of "trusted users" who can post without moderation, whether on Communities or in the regular Forums. Just brainstorming.
on August 18, 2011 5:33pm
Allen writes:
>While we want to attract cool hip 20-somethings to ChoralNet, the reality is that most of our users are middle-aged fuddy-duddies stuck in the 20th century.
My immediate response:  Is this because ChoralNet is geared towards that audience?  In other words, are young people frustrated with what ChoralNet has to offer and finding work arounds?  Or is it because the majority of choral directors are baby-boomers?  Surely that cannot be the case any longer.
>Maybe we're approaching from the wrong angle. Rather than think of technical tools and then trying to get people to use them, maybe we should develop the sales pitch first.  [snip] What will choral musicians be able to accomplish with our tools that they can't accomplish otherwise? Inane little Facebook chats and cute cat videos aren't it.
Completely agree.  How do we find out what people want?  1) We listen when they talk.  2) We ask questions and then ... (see #1).  I see this group as being key in both processes.  Don't assume, ask!  Then bring back here and let's decide what is doable and functional and jettison the rest.
on August 19, 2011 10:17am
You fellas are so funny--yes, we are going to be dependent on email, or a variation of it for quite a while.  And yes, I would also say most active, informed, current choral directors/conductors are Baby Boomers (guilty!).  Time marches on and we have to change with it--but not the color of my hair, gosh darn it!
I don't think young choral conductors are frustrated with ChoralNet per say but they are not sure what it is.  My own kid--and yes, he is a ChoralNet member, I made him join when he got his first church job last year--doesn't want to appear stupid by posting anything here.  A student of mine who came back to our community and has a very nice church job/teaching job is also overwhelmed by it.  I keep telling her by joining, she can ask any question she wants, have the archieves to consult and have someone other than MOI to hold her hand when the church ladies get to her.  Both have had struggles and there has been much tea and sympathy flowing at my kitchen table.  Gary says he makes a class of his students join and tag items for his music ed communities.  I think it's a great idea.  Someone else makes their students post a question--and some even SAY they have been required to post a question--John H. usually has a field day with that! It may be, as the kiddos get older, they may realize they don't need to appear to know everything.  They may be able to focus on what they need to know and won't be afraid to ask. Early in our careers, we are overwhemed and that may be the whole issue. We don't know what to ask until we need to ask it.  Rep is one thing.  Classroom management is another but there are other things we need to understand and it's not until we need to know the FIRST TIME we realize it.
I know this is a HUGE thing to say--but not allowing someone to post anonymously may also be a problem.  With Google, my name pops up with ChoralNet--I don't care because I don't post anything in the public forums to get me in trouble--but perhaps that's a concern.  Could there be a way of posting where the Moderators would know who you are but you could request to have your identity hidden?  It would only be allowed for certain kinds of postings, such as job issues or personnel issues?  Or would it be more trouble than it would be worth? Sorry Allen!
Anyway, my coffee has been duly consumed and it's time to go.  See you later.
on August 19, 2011 11:54am
Sorry for what? This suggestion of a special forum for sensitive issues, in which authors could have their identities protected for discussing sensitive issues, came up when we were first creating the current site a couple of years ago, but the idea fell through the cracks for various reasons. It's not so much a technical challenge as a practical one: would users trust us if we had a checkbox saying "keep my identity private for this message"? Would we allow privacy for the responders as well? How would moderators decide whether privacy was warranted? And would this really lead to a significant increase in activity?
on August 19, 2011 3:04pm
I don't know if it would increase activity but the subject did come up with one of the "chicks" I'm mentoring.  I didn't know it had been discussed before......and it is a sentitive issue when we have people "pretending" to be other people to promo their own stuff.
As far as trust is concerned--those of us who are long time Choral-List-Talk-Net folks would probably truth you.  Those who are not would have to come to trust. And it just might be more trouble than it's worth.
ChoralNet and its various incarnations is important to our profession, the question is--how to stay current?  After reading postings--and I try to, every day--I feel more informed and like I've taken a master class, especially if I can't get to a conference. It's beome a habit--and a good one--to sign on and have coffee in the morning.
My communities are doing okay and the more ideas I get from y'all, the better they get.  I'm still plugging away.
on August 18, 2011 11:17am
I like the idea of ChoralNet Chat.  I HATE IMing but wouldn't mind a Chat feature for ChoralNet for my communities.  Since I want my communities to succeed--both a little bit special interest I must admit--I check several times a day for moderation---I'm online anyway, why not?  I don't like the idea of my people waiting. The longest anyone has waited for me to approve something for one of my communities is two days and that was because I had to be away from my laptop. I have had a good deal of hand holding by the "Powers that Be" for any difficulties I encountered and which I am grateful for.  Things are running smoother for my groups because of Allen and you.
The checkbox next to a every name on a community membership list is also a good idea.  I can think of several uses for that and my chamber choir community right now.
I think  featuring a ChoralNet Community once a week--or every so often--in the daily ChoralBlog might be an idea.  Sometimes, I think those guys are really "reaching" for  topics---though that Alabama choir director thing this morning had me spitting out my coffee!  You have Tim Sharp et al doing ChoralBlog once a week which I really love. But there are days when ChoralBlog doesn't change.  If you feature one ChoralNet Community a week, that might cut down on it happening too often because it will already be queued up. It might be good to get people aware, not just of an individual community, but of ChoralNet Communities as a whole.  I read ChoralBlog before I ever log on in the morning!
Thanks for all you do, Jim. ChoralNet is very important to me and I am happy to see it evolve.
on August 18, 2011 12:04pm
Featuring a community on ChoralBlog is a great idea.
on August 22, 2011 9:00am
Wow!  This morning such as thing as a "Featured Community" IS on the ChoralBlog!  I'm glad I suggested this----I've been thinking about it, especially when the ChoralBlog stays the same for a few days. Hope it generates some more buzz for the Communities.
Thank you for doing it!
on August 18, 2011 10:10am
I see little chance or reason to expect Choral Communities to replace websites.  Our websites are now our primary means of communication and are used for everything we do from online registrations, application forms, as well as news and announcements.  In addition the public visibility of these website are a great promotion for the choral arts and serve as an open resource for all.  I have tried to encourage some of the small states in our Division to use Choral Communities rather than construct their own website but none have done so.  The website is easier and more accessible.
I do see Choral Communities as a vehicle for specialized discussion groups but then there are other sources for that too, Yahoo, Google, Facebook to name the most obvious.  VT has used Yahoo groups for several years to great advantage for communicating but they also have an active website.
We are all getting overloaded with electronic media and I am finding the old-fashioned telephone call to be the most effective means for limited discussion and in spite of the cost printed media is becoming more effective then electronic media because of the overload issue.   For ChoralNet Communities to catch on they will need to offer something unique, effective, and convenient so as to replace rather than add on to our already overloaded electronic media.
Afraid this is not constructive, I don't have suggestions, I'm just already overwhelmed with all the time spent in front of this computer screen!
Bob Eaton
on August 18, 2011 5:50pm
Sorry Robert, but the industry research refutes your statement.  Type in "website dead" into any browser and read any of the thousands of articles written about this topic.  I quote only one:
It seems that more and more Apps are replacing websites in a time when more and more applications are moving to the web.
Mobile computing and social networking is what is being used by anyone under the age of 30.  The reason Facebook and others have captured the attention of everyone is that they are completely mobile-friendly.  Short tweets beat completely typed out sentences.  Texting beats email every time.  And within two years - by the Dallas national ACDA conference - the vast majority of choral directors will be using their mobile devices for communication and obtaining information rather than sitting in front of laptops or, God forbid, in a cybercafe, if those even exist anymore.  So, downloadable information will need to be in fast, friendly formats.  Communication will have to be done easily via mobile.
Actually, I don't even use my touch-screen keyboard on my HTC Incredible.  I hit the microphone and talk.  It types for me.  This entire message was sent via phone.  I also did all the moderating for this discussion today with my phone.
Is there a place for telephone conversations?  Goodness, yes.  Print media?  Not so convinced.  Especially with environmental concerns.  I carry about 300+ pages of documents on this phone along with seven hours of music.  How much paper would that take and how big a briefcase?  Like it or not, the technology is changing how we operate.  My next phone will likely be a tablet.  Just plug the earpiece in when moving from office to home and make and take calls.  I do it now with my phone but am tired of having two separate devices - the lines are blurring between what I use them for anyway.
on August 23, 2011 6:00am
My communities have been mildly successful.  Not terribly.  I have not taken the time to blog much but I do use them when I'm trying to communicate directly with those interested in these areas.  My question, though, relates to the website being dead verses social media.  I agree social media, instant messaging, tweets are the way to go.  But I see Choralnet and the communities as a website with a social connection, not social media.  I do not get instant commuications so are we spending time and energy trying to build a 'website" community when we see in James' post that websites are not the efficient way to go.  I can say that my choir's website gets tons of traffic, though.  Probably mostly teachers in the area and parents.  You can see when our visits go up - around concerts or auditions/major events.  I do hope they are not totally dying.  I'm not sure how we will replace it but I am a baby-boomer!
Thanks to all for these talks!
on August 23, 2011 7:41am
Thanks for the input Robyn.  I'm not sure I intended to mean that websites were "dying" but that they were no longer the static, one-way communications devices they used to be.  Communities were supposed to be a hybrid designed to do what websites have traditionally done, but with the added features of social networking appropriate to our profession.  Tim Sharp's ChoralBlog today has some very interesting and pertinent data in regard to what we've been talking about. Tim's blog is saying that ACDA must do many different forms of communication to reach all constituents.
The truth of the matter is that technology is used differently by different generations, all of which make up the choral profession.  For instance, we could have everybody's email address and mass-mail them - but it would be no more effective in reaching them than a column in the Choral Journal or an article on a website.   You would still have to rely on them opening the email and reading it.  We had people complain at the SDACDA summer conference that they could not find the SDACDA community.  My questions to them did not make them any happier:  Did you do a search on SDACDA?  Have you ever bookmarked anything in your browser?  Others complained that they had no time to learn how to deal with "new" software.  This from people who have no problem daily uploading photos to Facebook and tagging people in them.
All of which leads back to my original question: What things can/should be done to make communities more effective?  I do know that very soon [relative term, I know] all ACDA members will automatically be registered on ChoralNet.  That doesn't make those people change the way they use technology. 
on August 23, 2011 8:39am
One possible community enhancement would be to enable cross-connection with the community's other online presences. For example, if an ACDA chapter had an active Facebook page, it would be nice to be able to embed the organization's Facebook feed right on their main community page. I have the necessary HTML in order to include AZACDA's Facebook feed, but I don't think I have the ability to enter that HTML, correct? Other "feeds" could be supported as well.
As for your SD people who complained that they couldn't find your community, I think that additional navigational/browsing options on the main Communties page might help (besides the default, which is in order of members/activity). Perhaps the US Map that Pamela mentioned? And I've already suggested to Allen that a "My Communities" menu be added to the Communties page, in order to more easily navigate between the communities you've already joined.
on August 23, 2011 9:32am
Thank you for that clarification.  I understand better what your point was.  I see David made a suggestion about including Facebook feeds.  That might be very good.  And to your point about getting all ACDA members registered with ChoralNet - perhaps that best thing to do is keep jugging away until that happens and then revisit.  Until then, use all opportunities we can reach folks which include ChoralNet, FB, etc... 
Thanks for asking.  I feel like we haven't come up with the magic answer yet but I will enjoy reading others' thoughts as they post.
on August 23, 2011 9:45am
Color me skeptical that more power-user features like Facebook embedding will solve the problem of lack of participation.
on August 23, 2011 4:02pm
Solve the problem? No, surely not. But increase the cross-connectional attributes of Choralnet Communities, so that content is shared and "connected" with social media platforms and at least some users will be more likely to make us of what's offered here, IMO. I've got an Arizona ACDA meeting coming up in early September and will try to gather some input there, as I think this will be a long-term problem-solving process, rather than only a brief brainstorming session.
on August 19, 2011 11:23am
Oklahoma decided (last year) to switch to a community for our website presence.  As with any internet site, it's just a mater of trainng your clientel  to (somewhat) regularly check the site.  Messages to members can help remind them.  The problem there, though, is that you don't have to be a member to view and download information you have on the community and thus not everyone registers as a member.
It would also help greatly to enable the addition of Word documents to the Community Library...especially those that you can "fill-in" (whatever you call them).
on August 18, 2011 1:07pm
This is what I would like to see changed:
  • Ability to change order of pages and subpages
  • Hide subpages/scroll over to see them
  • Message a group of members not the whole community
  • US Map of ACDA Community links/Websites
  • Ability to sort library and tagged items
on August 19, 2011 9:12am
I think we should be patient about the ACDA communities until we have all ACDA members enrolled in ChoralNet, especially if we can automatically join ACDA members to the corresponding communities for their State and Region. Once ACDA leaders have a built-in way to reach all their members (or at least all the ones whose emails we know), they might find the ChoralNet communities way more appealing.
on August 19, 2011 11:46am
I agree with that, especially given what I've experienced with my state chapter, and my position as their long-time "webmaster." Our new state leadership wanted to make some much-needed changes to our array of communications channels, and although I suggested that they dump a website altogether and go with the existing Community on ChoralNet, they opted for a "new-and-improved" website instead. If the state ACDA communities had already been populated with the entire state's membership, then I'm pretty sure I could have sold them on using the Community *as* their website.
Other things that might attract the attention of state leadership would be the capability of online forms, such as voting and online event registration. Yet another would be a state choral events calendar (yes, I know about Google Calendar, but it sucks).
on August 23, 2011 5:31pm
Is is possible to send a short survey (google form) to current ChoralNet users? I think the best way to make something better is to get as much input as you can, find out what they want and make it happen. The list I came up with for changes was when I was editing my community, but i'm not the user, i'm the editor, and I know what is on the community because I put it there. We need those who are not tech savy to give their input.....that is if they can fill out the survey with out any problems!?!?!
I also agree it will be better when all acda members are automatically choralnet members - There will be one less step in getting people to take the time to get signed up. In South Dakota we have 170 some members in ACDA and only 70 in the community - and some of them don't even live in South Dakota! 
on August 20, 2011 6:42pm
As the R & S chair for colleges & universities, I started a community for the collegiate directors in the ACDA Eastern Division.  I would agree that it has not caught on.  I feel that most people ask their questions or express their concerns on ChoralNet and this serves their purposes.  Many of us feel that we spend too much time communicating or reading from the computer screen as it is.  Let's keep it simple - not add another level of work in cyberspace.   Personally, I do not feel deprived of ways to reach out for more information or connection in the choral world.   My thoughts for now.    Thanks for the discussion!  Peggy Dettwiler
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