A short one from me, for once! But I needed to get this out of my head, either for general discussion with you clever people, or later research / procrastination (delete as appropriate).
Watching Game of Thrones last night it struck me how many stories we keep track of, whether it be long form TV drama, soaps, movie franchises, comics, novels or games. I’m in the middle of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, and will no doubt pick up the latest from George RR Martin whenever he finishes it. Star Wars is 1/3 the way through a new trilogy, itself part of a wider set of stories in a universe where there are plenty of tales to tell. I’m sure many of you are in a similar situation, whatever genre you’re into or medium you prefer. You may also be a student of history, and have a deep understanding of the people and stories of a particular time.
Now for each of these fictional or historical universes, we understand those characters, their motivations and relationships, the rules that govern their worlds that don’t necessarily apply in ours. They’re stored in our brains and we switch back into them each time we pick up a book or switch on the TV.
A certain amount of our brain’s capacity relates to these social rules and relationships. Certainly, we see from Anthropology that there seems to be a correlation here: Dunbar’s Number suggests that the average size of a social group for different species of primate relates to the volume of their neocortex.
So here’s my hypothesis: that as language evolved, and we recounted stories of our exploits, tales of our ancestors, our brain capacity grew, even if we lived in small groups. Our stories became more fanciful, we invented fiction. And now we see a huge proportion of our lives are based around these other worlds and relationships that are not our own.
This prompts a number of questions:
- As a species are we continuing to expand our neocortex because of the diverse and complex stories we consume?
- As individuals do we sacrifice real-world relationships for fictional ones, or does this help us expand our capacity?
- Does the exposure to more points of view and a different set of rules help us to empathise with others and adapt to situations outside our usual experience?
One of the exciting principles of MyFC was that it would allow ordinary fans to get involved in the decision-making at a football club, in a way that had never been achieved before, the theory being that the crowd could make a better decision than experts.
In recent weeks, for example, we’ve been voting on:
- Season Ticket and Matchday ticket pricing
- Home and Away kits for 09/10 season
- 09/10 Season kit supplier
as well as some of the internal Society governance and club management issues.
Firefighting leads to disengagement
The voting process is far from smooth: there’s a constant balancing act between transparency and privacy, between “authority figures” recommending an option or a free vote.
There are also situations where the members approval is sought in order to authorise a Club officer to undertake an activity, usually a forgone conclusion because we don’t have much choice in the short term but to accept the recommendation. These kinds of votes cause the most division and the Board of MyFC really should have learned long ago that long term planning was needed as well as the short-term fire fighting.
This is where the Working Groups come in, allowing a group of ordinary members to tackle an issue, break it down into to manageable tasks, and make well reasoned recommendations to the members, with open-ended votes. They’re still in early stages, but already we’ve seen progress from the active groups.
For example, the Financials Working Group came back with a procedure for arranging and publishing the Society and Club accounts, something that had previously been bogged down by lack of ownership and inertia. This will add clarity to discussion and allow decisions to be made with full awareness of the implications for the Society and Club.
These are the groups that are currently in progress or being considered, all initiated and given the go-ahead by ordinary members of the Society, and approved by the Society Board. Links require MyFC login.
Aim: Strengthen the flow of financial information and prepare forecasts and draft budgets for the Club and Society (full aims)
Status: In progress, Private, Open Forum
Last weekly review: 15/4/09
Marketing & Advertising WG
Aim: Focus marketing and advertising campaigns for Club and MyFC Society (full aims)
Status: In progress, Group Area, Original thread
First weekly review: due 27th April
Aims: Facilitiate surveys to members on behalf of Society and WGs
Status: Forum Discussion
Live Streaming WG
Aims: Investigate options for providing cost-effective live streaming of TV footage to overseas members
Status: Forum Discussion
Calendar & Planning WG
Aims: Establish timelines for activity leading up to important deadlines and improve Calendar functionality
Status: Forum Discussion
Get stuck in!
Weekly reports allow the wider membership to keep a casual eye on the situation, meaning they can get on with working on areas that interest them. Other members may stick to discussions or just engaging in casual chat. Nothing wrong with this, as it still contributes to the fabric of the Society. Governance and communication are likely to be ongoing issues: the need to keep all types of member involved and informed.
This framework can take MyFootballClub from an unfocused mob to a more constructive, forward looking organisation. Providing the Society’s Board, the Website Operator and the Club management cooperate with the recommendations of the members, finally MyFootballClub can get to grips with the fundamental problems and start owning Ebbsfleet United.
When MyFC started recruiting members before taking over Ebbsfleet United, one of the rules was that the first year of membership would commence when the club was formally taken over. Which means that on February 19th 2009, over 20,000 memberships will expire. Some have renewed their subscriptions already, but there is great uncertainty as to how many will actually commit on or before the deadline. This is a problem because the clubs budget depends on the funds that these renewals will bring in – the CEO hinted as much on a recent BBC TV Inside Out report.
So whilst there are various issues that the Society is dealing with (not least how to deal with dissenting views, and others that I’ve commented on previously) the Operator has a new campaign to get people to commit. They have asked all members to signal their renewal intentions, and whether they will be purchasing gift memberships for christmas, perhaps donating a little more to the club kind sir?
I’m not sure at how this information can be considered representative, as it doesn’t seem to take into account the thousands who really don’t care any more. I said on the forums after the first couple of days: “by the end of next week the figures you have will be pretty much all your going to get”, and sure enough, for the last few days, there has been little increase in the number of respondents, which is now at about the same level as recent Society vote turnouts. I.e. everyone who was ever going to respond has done so, so their response should in no way be extrapolated to the rest of the 28,000 people who haven’t replied.
This report from Forrester Research could be far more useful, not just at estimating likely renewals but as a guide to work out how better to engage the different “kinds” of community participants.
It suggests that users of social websites like MyFC can be categorised by the extent to which they participate online and can be described by the following activity profiles:
- Creators – write articles, create social content, upload images etc
- Critics – respond to articles and forum posts, add to Wikis etc
- Collectors – organise content for themselves and others
- Joiners – join social networks and maintain their online identity / profile
- Spectators – read articles, watch videos etc but otherwise do not contribute.
- Inactives – neither create nor consume social content.
Clearly these categories are not all discrete as some participants may be both creators and critics, for example.
They also report significant differences in patterns of activity between different age groups, gender groups and nationalities. This is demonstrated with the profiling tool.
A quick glance to me suggests that things may not be as bad as some of the more skeptical members make out, and reinforces my belief that the “Target” survey does not truly reflect likely member participation. This data seems to suggest that a website where 40-65% of the membership are either inactive or only spectators is not unusual.
My hope is that the Society Board and the Operator will at least consider this research along with their own demographic data, and use it to make better estimates about the renewals strategy and website development.