AWL NC motion on publications

Submitted by Janine on 2 June, 2004 - 10:25

Draft motion on publications for National Committee. June 2004.

The 12/06/04 National Committee meeting had a preliminary discussion on this motion, and remitted it for further debate at the next NC on 05/09/04.
A. Solidarity.
1. Solidarity is a cadre tool. It should help our members, sympathisers and readers to assimilate a Marxist culture, redefined and clarified in articles, discussion, reports and editorials, written in response to the events of our time. It will also need to contain some "educative", theoretical or historical material.
2. We continue to produce Solidarity as 20 pages, fortnightly (apart from summer and Xmas gaps).
3. To help us re-gear our work and create a new periphery for the AWL, we will do such things as:
a. Expand the "global justice" coverage
b. Introduce an "socialist education" feature for people new to Marxist ideas (one page)
c. Develop a network of industrial correspondents
d. Ensure more and regular reports of group activities
e. Organise training on writing for the paper

We should also:
4. Use the website as complement to the paper e.g. big news features should be highlighted; use "extracts" in the paper for some debates and longer articles. Solidarity "highlights" should be easy to find on the website
5. Improve the design of Solidarity and aim for a mini-relaunch in autumn 2004.

B. Workers' Liberty and pamphlets
1. We reconfirm our commitment to producing literature with more theoretical content and lasting value. It makes sense to produce such material in a less ephemeral format, but we do have limited resources.
Therefore we should:
2. Use fundraising to help us produce:
a. one existing WL work in progress. (There are two "works in progress": a book on Irish history including a critical discussion of the Marxist tradition on Ireland (SDF, Connolly, etc.), and one on the unknown Trotsky and the Trotsky of Isaac Deutscher.)
and b. the new Where we Stand pamphlet (commissioned, a draft promised this month).
3. Thereafter we should combine:
Producing more often a very cheap format WL with a nice cover (stapled 60 plus pages) These could be "position papers" , theoretically themed or less structured than that. As well as looking for cheap printing we could use the Risograph in the way we did for the "Workers' Representation" pamphlet.
Producing less often proper "book"/"journal" issues of WL.
4. As and when necessary or feasible or desirable produce special more "popular" A5 pamphlets such as the Tube pamphlet.

C. Website
1. Implement existing proposals as outlined in a separate document.
2. Use website as facility to run off "news bulletins" which comrades can use as instant leaflets to circulate at work, among friends and neighbours, etc.
3. Investigate electronic subscriptions (digest of Solidarity) maybe for small fee (example: Le monde diplomatique).

D. Bolshy
1. Organise a meeting of young comrades to discuss possibilities for organising a team round it, so that it can be produced as their publication (with help from the office), rather than by the office "substituting".

E. Bulletins
1. Industrial. As well as continue to produce Tubeworker, produce a local North London postal worker bulletin with one side "national" (and useable elsewhere). Investigate other editions, in London at least.
2. See point C2 above.
3. Establish a No Sweat printed news-sheet.

F. Circulation
1. Aim to make circulation of publications central to life of group. Ideas for doing this are:
a. Establish a routine where an article from paper (or other group publication) is used to inform or as the basis for a political report in every branch meeting.
b. Have a league table/report in activist bulletin of sales/numbers of sales
c. MT to be circulation manager and to report to each NC as part of EC report.

_______________________________________________________
The website.

There are currently about 1150 visits per day to our website. The count has doubled since autumn 2003. It is a larger number than those of people reading our printed literature each day or people having significant political conversations with our members each day.
In short, the website is the first point of contact with the AWL for many people.
Improving the website is not a cure-all. Although visits to our site have doubled since November 2003, the number of contacts received at the office from the site has not increased correspondingly.
The examples of the Northites (World Socialist Web Site) and Socialist Appeal show that it is possible to develop a very frequently-visited website at the same time as your political tendency disappears in the real world. There is probably a cause/effect relationship: the key organisers of the Northites and Socialist Appeal have given up on the bruising business of face-to-face organising and retreated to relating to the world through their computers.
All the evidence is that in politics one face-to-face conversation is worth a hundred website visits, because it involves so much more real attention and interaction. It would be destructive for us to think that website development can be a substitute for getting out onto the streets and the doorsteps and doing face-to-face politics. Also, the figure of 1150 website visits includes automatic visits by search-engine "crawlers", i.e., visits by machines rather than people. Still: if 1200 website visits per day are worth 6 serious face-to-face political conversations, they are worth a lot
Our website is important and needs development.
Since February 2002 the main part of the website has been set up not in conventional form but in the same sort of way as a weblog. That is, on the server (the computer where the website resides) it consists of a database of articles plus some software telling the server how to make webpages from those articles.
The advantage of this system is that it makes it much easier for a range of people to post new stuff onto the site. The disadvantage is that it makes signposting the site's full range of contents more difficult. (See note 1).
Our aims in reworking the website since then have been to maximise the advantages and minimise the disadvantages.
We want the website show fresh and timely content every time someone comes back to it, so that frequent web browsers will come to it when they want quick current comment or information, and our comrades and sympathisers will use it to keep up to date politically.
We want to be able to make the most of the website's openness to comment and debate, so that people coming new to it can see it carries debates; can see which the debates are; can join in if they want; and find the debates useful.
At the same time we want to make it easy for people searching for older or less ephemeral stuff to find that. For example, we want someone who picks an AWL leaflet and decides to check out the website to see what we're about to be able to get easily to basic information about where the AWL stands, what it does, etc. We want AWL members and sympathisers looking for resources (education programmes, leaflets, new members' and organisers' briefings, etc) to be able to find those easily.
The front page has been successively redesigned. The present structure allows for:
(a) The most recent articles to appear on the front page;
(b) In the left-hand column of the front page, a series of links to index pages for the main less-ephemeral material and to key website functions (Home, Index, About us, Publish, Search, Action, ESF, International, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, The Left, Marxism, Meetings, Resources, Unions, Solidarity, Workers' Liberty, Bolshy, Reviews, Links);
(c) A search facility (not very good, but a lot better than it was);
(d) A top-of-the-page "message" which can be updated or replaced by hand.
Main priorities for progress:
(a) Improve the left-hand links column to make things easier for people searching for older or less ephemeral stuff. Probably simply upgrading the appearance (having bold, visible buttons rather than weedy wording) will help a lot here.
(b) Include in the left-hand links column a "Debate" link which takes people to the articles most recently commented on.
(c) Ensure more regular posting of fresh content to the site, and regular updating of the top-of-the-page "message".
(d) Get more comrades to use the site, both passively (i.e. reading or downloading material) and actively (posting material, including short reports of meetings and activities, and much of the material which currently goes on e-lists). This involves both "educationals" in the branches, and technical improvements in the site.
(e) Posting up onto the site important missing material from our past publications.
(f) Creating a better "printable format" option on the site's page, to establish a facility whereby comrades can print off articles posted to the site as "instant leaflets" for use in workplaces, among friends, at meetings, etc.
The major technical element in this is transferring the site from the current (old, unsatisfactory) software which tells the server how to make pages from the database of articles into new (more satisfactory) software. Items (a), (b), and (f) above will be much easier when that is done (and therefore it does not make sense to use our scarce "techie" resources on trying to find bodges for them in the old software). In the meantime, however, we are held up.
Item (d) will probably be facilitated by the transfer. At present, users who forget their passwords find it difficult to retrieve them, apparently because of a bug in the software. After the transfer, also, we will be able to set up two different levels of user, so that AWL members can have password-protected access to parts of the site not available to outside users. This facility will not only be valuable in itself, but also usable as a lever to force AWL members to look at the site for information and thus come to use it more.
However, it is already about as easy as it could possibly be for people to post new stuff onto the site (so long as they do not forget their passwords). A lot here depends on face-to-face, human, political mobilisation in the branches rather than on technical improvements. Janine has made a good suggestion: an off-line "tutorial" in the use of the website which can be distributed and then used in any branch meeting with a laptop computer available.
On items (c) and (e) the limiting factor is numbers of comrades willing to take an active part in the website work. We have 15 comrades on the website-development e-list, but most are passive. We have four people willing to work regularly on the site: Martin (routine maintenance, index pages, etc.); Heenal (posting contents of the paper); Janine (posting content and some work on behind-the-scenes stuff); and Kester (techie stuff). Jim Bywater has done some techie stuff, and Cathy has done some posting of missing material from past publications onto the site. Vicki posts some current stuff. Janet has responsibility for the Australian section of the site.
Most lively sites depend on having a "webmaster" who attends to the site more or less regularly, maybe an hour a day or so, tending both content and
"backroom" stuff.
Short of finding someone willing to do that, we could make large improvements with two more comrades who will make work on the AWL website a significant personal priority, devoting, say, 3 or 4 hours a week to it.
(a) Someone with reasonable political and literary fluency who will look after the daily posting of new content (stuff from our e-lists, links to interesting news items, occasionally specially-written short comments) and monitor ongoing debates. This person needs no high technical skills. A comrade who has political and literary skills, but has poor organisational skills, is housebound for childcare reasons, or because of shift work has much of their time available for political work in the day when there are few collective activities accessible, would be suitable.
(b) Someone with technical skills who will work with Kester on the major technical problems and also attend to upgrading the cosmetics of the site.
What's been done already:
- Front page redesign (Kester) - cleaner, brighter.
- Index pages, 35 of them so far - technical facility set up by Kester, pages compiled and maintained by Martin.
- "Short URL" facility (so that e.g. you can go straight to the list of coming events at www.workersliberty.org/whatson) - technical facility set up by Kester, list compiled and maintained by Martin.
- Branch web pages - Hackney/Haringey maintained by Janine, Birmingham and North-East have the facility set up but haven't really got going.
- Upgraded the Australian WL home page so that it "fits" with the new site setup (Martin).
- Reworking the "old" (pre-February 2002) part of the site so that everything of value on it is linked to from the "new" part of the site, and obsolete material is removed or updated (Martin: some work still to do on this).
- Putting important archival material onto the site (Two Nations Two States- Cathy; WL 2/2 - Janine; Comrades and Sisters - Janine; Afghanistan material - Martin).
- Bringing all the AWL e-lists together on one server under our control (Nick).
- Greatly increased the frequency of updating on the site (on the whole: there have been blips, partly because the process depends heavily on comrades who have substantial real-world organisational responsibilities and have to give those priority above cyber-world ones).
- As a result of all this, the number of visits per day to the site has doubled since November 2003.
Recommendations:
- The office to organise individual discussions (face-to-face, not email!) with all comrades who have shown an interest in the website, to see if we can find new regular workers on the site.
- Existing website workers to press ahead with the transfer to new software. That done, prioritise:
(a) Improving the links to index pages (i.e. accessibility of key less-ephemeral material to casual visitors);
(b) Improving the cosmetics of the front page;
(c) Establishing a link from the front page to a "Debate" page showing the articles most recently commented on.
- Existing website workers to produce an "off-line" tutorial on the site. Office to contact branches to ask them to use it in order to encourage comrades to use the site more.

NOTE.
1. On a conventional website, whenever you post new stuff you have to decide a directory to put it in. In other words, you "file" it, and construct signposts to it, in the same operation as putting it up on the site. On our website, the next item to be posted will be (as of the time of writing) simply item no.2150 on the website. Each item has two "indexing tags", "Category" and "Topic", but these have their limits.

MEMO.

(A) Other planned improvements to the site stalled until the transfer to new software is complete

- Cycler on front page (selects one article title and short description from the most recent ones, i.e. ensures that a new article appears on every new visit even if nothing new has been posted).
- Speeded-up procedure for posting contents of paper (or pamphlets, magazines, etc) to the site.

(B) Planned improvements which can be done immediately as soon as there are comrades (with even limited technical competence or willingness to learn) available to do them.

- Coordinating AWL intervention on "outside" email discussion lists and web discussion forums
- Regular mailings to the awl-external e-list, flagging up new content on the site.
- Finish reworking the "old" (pre-February-2002) part of the site.
- Post important archival material onto the site. For example: WL 2/1; missing bits of WL 2/2; key articles from older back issues of Workers' Liberty; our 2001 broadsheet on the Socialist Alliance.
- Make local contact e-addresses of the form xxxxx@workersliberty.org (aliases) for every branch and fraction, and then compile a page on the website with them.
- Sort out the e-lists (some branches are still on yahoogroups, some lists do not function, etc.)

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