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The Executive Officer’s Column

Wired for 2003 and the Horizon Beyond

Sociological news and ASA-related information delivery to ASA members has been a long-time commitment of the association. Staff has worked to keep pace with technology that permits more efficient and cost-effective information dissemination. Having had a presence on the World Wide Web since the mid-1990s, ASA entered this electronic “cyber sea” at a time when many scientific societies’ communications programs were just getting firmly anchored in this revolutionary medium. Organized on the principle of pull technology (i.e., website visitors “pull” information by selecting webpages of interest), ASA’s communications also capitalized on push technology (i.e., using Listserv lists to selectively distribute news tailored to special interests and governance functions). But the new medium’s capabilities and sophistication seemed to shift moment-to-moment, like the wind, and keeping a steady course has been a challenge.

In this 24/7 age of constant technological change, the ability to deliver efficiently timely information tailored to specialized needs and to distribute news and ASA information inexpensively has quickly evolved into yesterday’s achievement. Keeping membership better informed of programs and activities was the website’s primary purpose, but members expect and deserve more direct services. To meet these needs, ASA is instituting more useful two-way information flows between ASA and its members and between ASA and the universe of people (e.g., the press, the public, potential members) who are interested in sociology. Ever changing and increasingly sophisticated website and web-browser software is changing our course toward fewer paper- and postage-dominated transactions.

Setting Sail for an Electronic Adventure

In the past several months, ASA has embarked on an ambitious voyage to build more interactive website functions that allow members to conduct business with ASA more efficiently. Many of you have already taken advantage of the ability to join ASA, update your membership record, or renew your 2003 ASA membership directly on the website, speeding your transactions with the membership office, saving you time and postage, and saving ASA administrative costs. Using the familiar push technology, ASA began the 2003 renewal process with e-mail broadcasts to a relatively small number of members to announce the availability of the Online Membership site. During the following weeks, broadcast e-mails were sent to 2002 members as well as members from 2001 who had not renewed for 2002. Overall, the Online Membership site has been relatively trouble free, though there were occasional problems during this new “electronic adventure” (such as an untimely deactivation of the e-mail web link), but the problems were identified and resolved fairly quickly.

Electronic Paper Submission

In late 2002, ASA initiated a new strategy for online electronic paper submission for the 2003 Annual Meeting. Using a well-established company that specializes in services for academic and scholarly organizations (e.g., online convention management, indexing, archiving, and managed website hosting), ASA is customizing online systems for the Annual Meeting: paper submission, session organizing (to review submissions and create sessions), session scheduling, full-text searchable program and abstracts. The online paper submission system component was activated December 19.

First Online Elections

With Council’s approval, members will be offered the option of casting their 2003 annual ASA ballot electronically. When the ballot is mailed in spring 2003, all candidates’ biographical information and personal statements will be online, and members will have the option of mailing their ballot or voting electronically. The ASA election, which includes ASA-wide offices and standing committees, 43 Section elections, and bylaws and other referenda, is one of the most complicated among professional associations. Final customized programming and thorough testing are scheduled for early 2003. Our vendor, who has worked with ASA many years, has successfully launched similar systems for other associations, and we will build on their successes.

Purchasing Publications

Currently, ASA members can purchase subscriptions to ASA journals completely online. But we aim to streamline the purchase of all ASA publications through a similar electronic commerce feature later in 2003, so that users do not have to fill out a form online, print the form, and fax/mail it to ASA.

Electronic Publishing

ASA needs to bring its journals onboard the electronic revolution as well to help satisfy the changing needs of scholars, students, academic libraries, and the public. Council will consider a proposal at its mid-year meeting to make the full text of all ASA’s self-published journals accessible online, allow online subscriptions, and document delivery. ASA’s aim is to make the intellectual content of our journals widely available and electronically searchable as well as to preserve the financial stability of the journals themselves, traditionally supported by individual and institutional print subscriptions. ASA also has two previous publications, originally print published, on our website in portable document format (PDF). By the end of 2003, we hope to have published our first entirely electronic monograph.

ASA Website

Recent enhancements to the ASA website include new topical material and technical reformatting of pages to allow more material to be accommodated while maintaining readability. We have focused attention on more frequent updating of the homepage, and several ASA Sections have chosen to relocate their website material on the ASA servers. These include International Migration, Political Economy of the World System, Racial and Ethnic Minorities, Sex and Gender, Collective Behavior/Social Movements, Sociology of Sexualities, and Sociology of Religion. Some of the more significant feature additions include: Undergraduate Honors Program, Department Resources Group, links to national media citations of Contexts magazine, links to scholarly publication outlets for sociologists, Contexts gift subscription, and reinstatement of the online directory of member e-mail addresses.

Centennial Website

Just over the next horizon is a centennial webpage devoted to documenting ASA’s first 100 years in 2005. ASA will be developing material for these webpages, possibly featuring an updated L.J. Rhoades’ A History of the ASA, the current text of which is posted on the website, background information and photos and presidential addresses of all ASA past presidents, information on past ASA officers, the first ASA membership roster, the first issue of Footnotes, basic information about all past Annual Meetings, and many other materials gathered from the profession. This will be the leading website celebrating ASA’s centennial year.

Steady as She Goes

Guiding ASA in many of these enhancements is a generous group of ASA members who comprise the 11-member volunteer ASA Web Users Group. ASA taps this group to obtain a typical member’s perspective on website usability and functionality. This group is providing unsolicited and structured feedback (including beta testing) to help ensure useful and smooth development of website enhancements. Members of the group have differing levels of technical expertise and web sophistication in order to tap the range of web-savviness and comfort levels among our members and the general public. The group consists of Earl Babbie, Joan Biddle, Lee Clarke, Karen Frederick, Eszter Hargittai, Ross Koppel, Clarence Lo, James Morrison, Kathy Rowell, Ted Wagenaar, and Barry Wellman. We appreciate the time and energy these members are donating to us as the ASA navigates these new and exciting “electronic waters.”

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer