Friday, November 16, 2007

The Future of the New Testament Gateway II

This is the second of two posts on the future of the New Testament Gateway (part one here), which I am using to summarise and reflect on my presentation at CARG (Computer Assisted Research Section) at the SBL Annual Meeting in San Diego. I had become so wrapped up in my Mark-Q Overlap posts that I neglected to blog about this other presentation too, and now I am filling that gap.

I began by defining what I mean by The New Testament Gateway, something that is not self-evident given the fact that I use the domain name for all my web materials (and some others too). I went on to ask who it was for, arguing that the internet has changed in the last decade, and that an elaborate public book-marking system is no longer important for scholars in the field, who know how to search for relevant scholarly material on the net. Next, I would like to explore the implications of this.

3. The New Testament Gateway as a teaching resource

If the future for gateway sites like this is for them to be targeted specially at students, there are some implications for the direction of the site. And here comes what may be the most risky part of my presentation: my plans to retire elements of The New Testament Gateway. I would like to retire (a) some major sections of the site and (b) some individual elements within existing sections in order to refine those sections for the focus on teaching. In using the word "retire", let me explain what I mean. I will not delete anything from the server, but will stop updating certain sections of the site. I will be letting them enjoy their retirement, in other words. There is no cull. Regular readers may know that I have already done this with other sister sites, like the All-in-One Biblical Resources Site, which I had to retire last year. It is still on the web, it is still getting used, but I can't any longer update it, for technical and time reasons. I have also previously retired other sections of the site. Notices, Featured Links, Logbook and Bookshelves were all retired in 2003, when I began this blog.

(a) Retiring Major Sections of the Site

Among the sections that I am retiring is the one on Scholars and Societies. This began as an attempt to find a central location for listing New Testament scholars, largely on the grounds that it was not always easy to hunt them out on the web, and also on the grounds that there were not that many of them on the web. These days, everyone has a web presence of some kind, even if just a faculty page, and it is very easy to find people. This part of the site takes a lot of upkeep for relatively little reward. The same sorts of considerations are true with respect to Journals, Art and Images and some of the General Resources.

There are also background and context sections that perform no reasonable function now on this site, and which are done elsewhere far, far better, and these include Early Church and Patristics, Ancient World (but keeping Maps) and Judaica.

One other major part of the site needs a major overhaul, the Jesus in Film pages. This is something of a speciality niche, but it is a very popular section of the site, so it needs a major update rather than retirement. I will be asking for help on this section, and may even consider loosing it off from the main site and giving it its own lease of life.

(b) Retiring Individual Elements in Site Sections

There are several superfluous pages on the site which can be retired. I have separate pages, for example, on the e-lists related to each subject area, which means that I have to keep not only the main e-lists page (which will stay), but also all these individual pages. There are other pages too that, while potentially useful , have never taken off, like course materials (e.g. Historical Jesus course materials). This act of trimming down the site will help it to be leaner, more focused, I hope stronger.

(c) Refining Existing Sections -- Articles

Those are the negative sides of the overhaul. The positive side to it will be the focus on providing a strong gateway site for students. When I began all the many pages on the site that list on-line articles, it was actually possible to be exhaustive, so any academic article that was available free-to-all online made it onto the section in question. However, there are now so many free-for-all articles available, and many of them will never be of interest to undergraduate students, so it is worth focusing attention on articles that are genuinely useful to undergraduates who are exploring the topics in question.

4. Not forgetting learners outside the academy

I realize that many of the users of The New Testament Gateway are people with no current direct involvement in the academy, and I would like to add a word of reassurance that I have not forgotten them and will not forget them. One of the things that this large group of users brings to the site is an interest in participating extra-murally in the academy, to explore a range of academic resources in their subject area of interest. My hope is that the needs of this group will be adequately served in the reworked site. I will continually to be interested to hear their input.

5. What about the Scholars? We use it too!

I would like to underline that just because the primary focus of the site is for teaching, that does not mean, I hope, that it will stop being useful to scholars too. Indeed, since New Testament scholars are almost all New Testament teachers, I hope that they will continue to stay familiar with the site and to recommend it to their students as well as outside enquirers. I hope too that they will continue to make suggestions, provide feedback and so on. It is worth adding that it should always be possible to find lots of material of interest to the scholar on the site. To take one important example, I get regular queries about Greek fonts and Greek texts, and one of the most valuable elements in the site, apparently, is the gateway I provide to the good materials here (Greek Fonts).

6. The Time Factor

When other people were talking about my site and other "megasites", they often talked about their concerns over my time. I always used to laugh it off a little and say that I enjoyed doing it and I didn't mind staying up late at night, if necessary, to keep it on the road. But their concerns were serious, and they were far more relevant than I realized. One of the things about an academic career is that there are ever more pressing demands on one's time, year on year. I look back and marvel at how much time I had to spend on the site a decade ago. To some extent I have attempted to alleviate this problem by getting very good at saying "No". I have turned down many, many interesting projects because I would rather focus on the New Testament Gateway in my spare time, and since I can't help thinking that there are other people who would be just as good, or better, on those other projects than I. Nevertheless, the time factor remains a major concern, all the mores so given the fact that I love writing and have to prioritize that.

There is a straightforward solution to this problem: get more people involved. But the question is one of logistics. How is it best to do it?

7. Bringing Others on Board

When I began to blog on these issues earlier this year (see The Future of the New Testament Gateway, 20 February), I mentioned that I was planning to open up the site to more team members, and even talked about adding some "Wiki functionality". The reaction to this was pretty interesting. A number of people really balked at the idea of opening up the site and argued, rather generously, that one of the reasons the people liked the site was because it had an author who was himself selecting, linking and annotating quality resources. I think the notion of "Wiki functionality" rather scares people, so I am dropping the term, but what I am bringing others on board to help with the running of the site, enthusiasts and experts who I know will make a big difference.

8. The Practical Side: How to Effect the Changes

Earlier in the year, I opened up a little consultation with a group of interested experts and we talked about a variety of ways of transforming the site, making it easier to update and adding some extra functionality. In the end, I decided on a very simple solution, and in August I revealed the New New Testament Gateway Prototype which you can see here for one major section of the site:

The Greek New Testament Gateway (Test)

I am using Blogger as my content management system, but publishing to the server. Blogger does everything I need in a very simple way, an easily adjustable template, RSS feed, comments and "email to" facilities, and, of course, easy-to-add team members. Migrating the existing site to the new format will take a little while, but not very long, and progress is already well under way. The aim is to give people something similar to what they have been used to, but with a leaner, simpler look, and a bit more functionality. In this way, I hope that we are on course for a successful second decade of the New Testament Gateway. Let's hope that I am still writing blog posts about it on its twentieth anniversary in 2017.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well alright. You had me scared there for a minute. Thanks for your labor of love.