Threads

Some months back, when Meta first launched Threads and announced its plans to federate with Mastodon (and, one supposes, other Fediverse properties), we polled the membership of hcommons.social to gauge their feelings about whether we should be prepared to block, allow connections to the Threads server, or take a wait-and-see position. Based on the results of that poll, and given that there was no imminent threat of that federation actually coming to pass, we waited.

We are now starting to see. Though federation with Threads/Meta isn’t complete, we have taken pre-emptive action to block threads.net. In part this action is inspired by numerous Fediverse activists, including are0h, who are working tirelessly to make the Fediverse safe for its BIPOC users. We do not want to allow any kinds of connections that would make our most at-risk users less safe.

Additionally, we have presented the work of the Commons over the years as being “values-enacted,” and supporting the work of Meta in any way — even as seemingly innocuous a way as allowing their users to follow and send messages to ours — would put the lie to that position. There is direct evidence, as Erin Kissane has written about at length, that Facebook knowingly played a key role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. Facebook has also been a key contributor to radicalizing the far right in the United States (see here, here, and here, among many other potential references).

It’s not hyperbole to say that Meta has blood on its hands. And there is all but zero concern for user safety and moderation of hate speech on Facebook and other Meta properties. As a result, we do not feel that we can adequately protect members of our community from potential attacks from anti-LGBTQ+, anti-Black, anti-academic, or other extremists who can freely create accounts and sow hatred on Threads unless we block the server.

Waiting to take action after such an attack takes place requires at-risk individuals in our community to be willing to put themselves on the line in support of our desire to be neutral. And because of that, we do not believe that there is such a thing as neutrality in this situation. Moreover, our own server rules and our existing block list are a demonstration of our commitment to a harassment-free community, not a community that takes action once harassment has occurred.

As a result, we have made the decision to block threads.net. We understand that this may disappoint some of you, and that you may wish to seek another instance that will allow you to communicate more freely with your friends on that network. We completely understand that – we have Threads and Instagram users that we very much wish we could connect with as well. We’d be happy to help you with the process of migrating if you so choose.

But we’d also be happy to help your friends come join us instead. Just let us know.

An Update from the Commons about our Generative AI Use

In September, Mesh Research, including the entire Humanities Commons team, met for a one-week, in-person retreat at Michigan State University (more on our retreat to come!). 

At the retreat, we spent some time thinking and discussing our use of Generative AI (GAI). GAI tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney, and Bard are increasingly part of a multitude of tasks in our daily lives. We want to let you know how we are currently using generative AI (GAI) in our workflows and how we are thinking about it for the future. As the Commons is sponsored, hosted, and developed at Michigan State University, we’ve taken our initial guidance from the MSU Interim Guidance on Data Uses and Risks of Generative AI. Currently we are not using GAI in the creation of content (images or written) or user experience data collection. We do use GAI to assist in authoring code, using tools such as GitHub Copilot, though always interactively with a human developer. In the spirit of our value of experimentation, we are also starting to investigate the use of GAI, such as ChatGPT, for data analysis. 

Whenever possible, we will use tools or versions of tools that do not train on or learn from our usage. You can always count on us to have a human in the loop; any code or content generated by AI is reviewed by a member of the team before its use. We do not intend to use GAI to outsource our work, but to enhance it.

We will continue to discuss GAI in our meetings and revisit tools and techniques at least quarterly. When and if we do move forward with GAI in other parts of our operations, we are committed to letting you know here on the blog and in the newsletter. We’d also love to hear from you about ways you would like to see HC engage with GAI in the future!

Purpose, Values, Process, Goals

As we seek new members to join our network, we want to share with you more of the inner workings of Humanities Commons and how we understand our work as part of a collective movement. Today, our founder, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, tells of how we have come together as a team, united by a shared purpose and shared values. If these resonate with you, we encourage you to consider becoming a Humanities Commons Member.

Since early 2020, Humanities Commons has been working toward a sustainable future. Key to that future is the generous support we’ve received from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, and a range of other funders and donors, that has allowed us to build a flourishing team to support the network. But building that team has not been solely a matter of searches and onboarding; we’ve also put a lot of collective labor into ensuring that we’re working together in the most generative ways possible.

We began that work late last August by bringing our all-remote team (minus a few of our more recently hired colleagues) together in Lansing for a two-day retreat. Over the course of those two days, we began the process of getting to know one another, laying the groundwork for the ways we’d work together, and thinking as expansively as possible about our goals and expectations. We all left energized, if a bit daunted by how much work we had mapped out for ourselves and how vast the possibilities seemed. All of us took heart, though, in a sentence that Zoe Wake Hyde (our community development manager) shared with us: “We can’t do everything, but we can do anything!”

Figuring out which things would comprise our *anything* required a lot of collective thinking. During the retreat, we undertook a modified version of the HuMetricsHSS values framework exercise, starting to articulate what most matters to each of us in the work we do. We also began the process of developing a framework for the Commons’ purpose and goals, enabling us to shape our work around the vision of transformation in collective knowledge production that we hope to effect. 

But the retreat was only the start. Over the next several months, the team met for regular working sessions — twice a week, at first — to continue thinking together about who and how we wanted to be. Each of our working sessions was facilitated by a different member of the team, often using a Miro board to ensure that everyone’s thoughts were captured. By late 2022, we had collectively developed a statement of purpose and a statement of values for the network, which we circulated to our governing council and to our user advisory group for feedback.

Today, as part of our sustaining membership campaign, we’re posting these statements publicly, and we invite your thoughts about them. 

Our purpose is to cultivate open spaces for diverse communities to connect, create, share, and experiment. Together we work to transform global knowledge systems.

The values that guide our work are: Experimenting, Cultivating Community, Nurturing Trust, and Supporting Open Exchange of Knowledge

For a more in depth look, read our full statement of purpose and our full values statement, and we invite you to share feedback by commenting on this post or tagging @hello@hcommons.social on Mastodon.

These statements undergird our work as a team, but also our work with the Commons community. In the weeks ahead, as we bring more members into the community of organizations and institutions supporting our work, we’ll share more about how we plan to support that community, how we hope to facilitate self-governance within it, and more.

It’s been a long process leading to this point, but given that our goal is nothing short of transforming our global knowledge system, taking time for reflection, response, and revision is crucial. We very much look forward to hearing from you, and to thinking with you as we move into our next phase of development.

Support Humanities Commons as a Sustaining Member

If you know Humanities Commons well, you know that we are committed to a more just and equitable future of knowledge creation. We take our place alongside other incredible people and organisations working towards the same goal, knowing the only way to make true, transformational change is to leverage our collective power.

Right now, we are seeking new members to join our network and help shape the future of the Commons. Our members are critical to our success and keep us connected with the needs and priorities of our community. By becoming a member, you are not only supporting our existing work, but creating new possibilities by contributing your unique perspective.

Hang on, I have an account already – doesn’t that make me a member?

Yes! But also no! Individual users of the Commons are members of our community, but more often, we’ll refer to you as our users. In this context, we are talking about members of our network of participating organisations.

So, why should I become a member?

Humanities Commons’ purpose is to cultivate open spaces for diverse communities to connect, create, share, and experiment, in the service of transforming global knowledge systems together. If this ambition speaks to you, membership is a way to help us work towards that purpose. Member contributions enable us to build the necessary infrastructure for a vibrant knowledge commons, developing exciting new features for individual and organisational users. Member support also helps us to continue to offer our free Humanities Commons site, which benefits everyone invested in open humanities scholarship. In future, we also plan for membership to subsidise the participation of organisations who serve communities most marginalised in conventional knowledge systems.

Just as importantly, membership is, to us, a relationship we seek to foster with our allies and collaborators. These relationships are what will ultimately drive us forward. We seek to be in relation with those who are investing in academy-owned infrastructure designed for a more connected knowledge ecosystem. Who are working towards a future where there are viable alternatives to the closed, proprietary systems that dominate, where we are building the web we want, and where people are treated as more than consumers and commodities. Truly, these relationships are an opportunity for us to lean into our collective power and imagination to build the future we envision.

Ok, but what does it mean to be a member? 

Membership in our network is not simply transactional. Members will be asked to, as much or as little as they can, participate in our evolving governance structures, offer feedback on strategy and direction, advocate for the Commons in the spaces they occupy, and participate in other efforts such as promotional activities and user research. Our goal is to create many avenues for members to contribute in the ways that make the most sense to them, and are always open to new ideas. As our network grows, we expect to develop additional opportunities, including research and funding collaborations.

In addition, all members receive:

  • Recognition as a sustaining member on our website and other communication channels as appropriate (e.g. conference presentations)
  • Quarterly member updates
  • Opportunities to promote and collaborate on projects with other members
  • The right to nominate & vote for governing council members
  • The ability to contribute to our roadmap (i.e. contribute to specific projects that are of importance to your organisation)
  • Top priority to join a cohort of institutions establishing their own Commons instances with our support (launching January 2024)

Interested? Here’s how to sign up.

Membership is open to any organisation, department, research center, institution, or consortium who wishes to engage with our work.

Until June 30, 2023, we are offering a one-time option for members to join at US$5000 per year, with the possibility of signing on at that rate for up to 5 years. However, if you are interested in becoming a member, but have a different budget in mind, please reach out, as we’d love to talk through different options.

The first step is to set up a call with our community development manager, Zoe Wake Hyde, at calendly.com/zwhmsu and she will guide you from there!

Find more information about membership and a short FAQ here.

Statement on Events Affecting MSU Community

On February 13, our team and community were touched by the tragic events at Michigan State University. Three students – Arielle Anderson, Alexandria Verner, and Brian Fraser – lost their lives, five more were critically injured, and countless others were deeply impacted by the violence our community experienced. Our hearts go out to them and those closest to them in this unimaginably difficult time. 

MSU is the home institution of the Humanities Commons team, and many of us have long standing relationships with the university. Even those of us new to the team or working remotely have felt this tragedy keenly.

There are few words to offer in such circumstances. We are grieving. We are angry. It is difficult to go through the motions when the world seems so dark. We’re trying to figure out how to move forward. We’re grappling with the fact that this is now a part of our story.

We share this statement as a marker of what has affected our team and our community, and as an offer of solidarity and love to those for whom this resonates all too much.

Thank you to all those who have reached out in support. We are doing our best, and will find our feet again. In the meantime, we ask for grace, for ourselves and for all those who are hurting. 

CORE is transitioning to FAST metadata subject headings

Humanities CORE launched as a full-featured beta in May 2015 on MLA Commons. In 2016 it was released to the wider community with the launch of Humanities Commons. A white paper detailing the original project can be found in CORE if you’d like to know more about the history. In the six years since its launch we’ve made improvements to the interface and moved the server to a new home at Michigan State University. We’re now making a major improvement to the metadata associated with CORE deposits.

Subject categorization is a big part of findability. The original list of CORE subjects were derived from the MLA Bibliography subject headings, and focused entirely on the humanities. As the platform has grown and more scholars are doing interdisciplinary work collaborating with STEM and social science partners, we’re implementing FAST metadata subject headings:

FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology) is derived from the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), one of the library domain’s most widely used subject terminology schemas. The development of FAST has been a collaboration of OCLC Research and the Library of Congress.

FAST is the standard for many repositories, including those hosted by libraries and museums. It provides eight facets: chronological, corporate names, events, form/genre, geographic names, personal names, titles, and topics. These facets have millions of possible combinations but function a bit differently than our legacy subjects. Here’s a few examples:

  • “Medieval Spanish History” becomes “Spain” [geographic], “History” [topical], and “Middle Ages” [topical]
  • “18th-century English literature” becomes “English Literature” [topical] and “Eighteenth Century [topical]
  • “Compositional improvisation” becomes “Improvisation (Music)” [topical] and “Composition (Music)” [topical]
  • “Shakespeare” becomes “Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616” [personal]

[Note: While you will see the facet (topical, personal, etc.) when choosing subjects, once deposited only the subject itself will be displayed.] You can try searching for subjects and keywords using the SearchFAST website. More information about FAST can be found on the OCLC website.

What does this mean to the community?

When you deposit to CORE you’ll search for subject headings using the FAST facets. We’ve included all eight facets except chronological. This might seem tricky at first, but there are millions of combinations across all disciplines to choose from. Just start typing, and the page will begin to show you the subject headings available. Pick the ones that best fit what your deposit is about, and if there are more specific terms you’d like that are not part of FAST, put those in the tags field. You can pick up to ten subjects and ten tags for each deposit.

If you’ve already made a deposit, your subjects will be converted. We’ve gone through three rounds of review and cataloging with our Michigan State University Library metadata librarians, and had a final team review. As shown in the examples above, the specific terms may be slightly different from the original deposit, but should combine to convey the same concept. Some subject headings do not have good equivalents in FAST, and there are some terms that are so new they are not yet present. All of these subjects will move to tags. Examples:

  • “Art History” becomes “Art” [topical] and “History” [topical]
  • “Digital pedagogy” becomes “Education–Computer-assisted instruction” [topical], but the original subject heading will move to a tag for searchability
  • “Narratology” does not map to FAST and will be moved to a tag

Post-conversion, if you do see a subject that you don’t feel quite fits your deposit, let us know. Users who have subjects moved to tags will receive an email listing those deposits.

The benefits of FAST

FAST subject headings are a standardized vocabulary based on the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). It is one of the most widely used subject vocabularies in the world and has been translated into multiple languages. When you deposit to CORE your deposits are not just preserved but the metadata is indexed by Google, Google Scholar, SHARE, Altmetric, and BASE-OA, which fuels open-access initiatives such as the OA Button and OA DOI. Using recognized subjects that are both human and machine-readable improves findability and allows for easier translation.

FAST subject headings are an ever-growing list, and as new headings are added, our search will include them. As the Commons continues to grow, using FAST allows us to accept deposits across disciplines and facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration. Our goal is for CORE to provide a home for all scholars as they develop new projects, new fields, and new forms of knowledge.

WordPress 5.9 and Full Site Editing

The Commons is now on WordPress 5.9.2. This update brings Full Site Editing (FSE) to websites using block-based themes. For an overview of FSE and how it works check out the video below (the video was produced by WordPress.com, but the FSE component will be the same on the Commons):

Full Site Editing is currently in beta, but we’ve done some experimenting with it and wanted to roll this update out with a few themes for people to check out. You’ll see Twenty Twenty-Two and Blockbase in the themes directory. FSE will only work with these two new block-based themes. The new themes do not feature “live preview” and must be activated to use. FSE is very different from the current customization experience, but offers the opportunity to fully design a site from header to footer, including the use of different templates on different pages. We recommend watching the video above before trying them out.

WordPress 5.9 was released earlier this year. We’ve done extensive testing, but inevitably we won’t find everything. If you do experience issues or your website looks strange please let us know! WPBeginner.com has a good writeup of the features, and we recommend taking some time to review the article or the video embedded above before digging in.

As always you can reach us at hello[at]hcommons.org.

CORE Migration Winter 2022

The Humanities Commons CORE repository will be undergoing maintenance starting on Friday January 28, 2022, 9am EDT. We will be migrating content to a new server, and in order to ensure all content is transferred deposits will be suspended until that migration is complete. We will update everyone when depositing can resume.

During migration deposits will be available for searching and download. Links to your deposits will remain the same. 

If you have any questions, or encounter any issues with your deposits, please contact us at hello[at]hcommons.org.