New Beginnings: The Evolution of FeldyForum and the Transition to Feldenkrais® Community Forum

In Members, News by MaryBeth Smith

From 1994 to 2019, Ralph Strauch hosted, initiated, and moderated lively online conversations about the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education. Our community pioneer in the digital world, Ralph’s motivation was simple and direct. He just wanted to find a way to get us talking to each other. The result, after a few iterations, was the Yahoo group known as Feldy Forum.

SOME HISTORY

Ralph was working at the Rand Corporation as a mathematician doing national security research when he began his training with Moshe Feldenkrais in Amherst. Through his position, he had access to Arpanet, the first network (and its technological innovations) that formed the foundations of the internet as we know it today. He was familiar with early word-processing software, so since he was working with the technology at Rand he saw the potential for helping the fledgling Feldenkrais community to communicate better. 

During the Amherst training, email was in a very primitive state, Ralph recalls. “At that time,there were no nationwide email systems, and not a single internet [as we now know it]. But little private networks were beginning to come online.  By the early 1990s, these small networks had become AOL, Compuserve, and others.”

What that meant was that the only people who could communicate were those who were on one of the existing systems. Ralph continues, “When AOL came on, [around 1991], we started encouraging practitioners to get online.” Ralph remembers the challenges of working with communications before the standard protocols we now take for granted were in place. He cites one example: “The earliest archived posts don’t even look like emails. There is no standard email heading with the return email address and all the other elements that are commonplace today.” Just imagine how challenging it would be to receive an email with no uniform way of knowing who had sent it, from what address, or when!  Email systems and their technology gradually evolved, and mailing lists emerged as a new tool. Eventually, enough email services came online and coordinated so that all emails had a standard heading.  

In the earliest days, Ralph used the new email technology to personally curate and distribute questions and answers on topics of interest. People would directly email items to Ralph, which he would then manually assemble into another email to send back out to the group. This body of correspondence was known as Feldigest the earliest incarnation of what would eventually become the FeldyForum on Yahoo Groups.

In those very early years of the World Wide Web, Ralph remembers that he received some push-back from FGNA Board members who weren’t so sure that this whole email thing was going to take off. But he saw the potential, and he persisted. 

Wasn’t that an awful lot of work? “Not really,” Ralph says. “The number of those participating was very small – probably fewer than a dozen. So there really wasn’t that much to deal with.” 

Eventually, as the tech sector and email systems evolved, smaller companies were gobbled up by bigger “fish” like Yahoo. Increasing centralization and standardization of email in general made it possible to create mailing lists that everyone could subscribe to, thereby streamlining the process. At that point, Ralph was able to stop assembling each collection of emails by hand, and sending out each round of communications by himself. 

In those very early years of the World Wide Web, Ralph remembers that he received some push-back from FGNA Board members who weren’t so sure that this whole email thing was going to take off. But he saw the potential, and he persisted. 

Love it or hate it (yes, there were some very vocal critics and detractors throughout its history),, Feldy Forum was an online destination to visit if you wanted to feel the heartbeat of the Feldenkrais community. It was a place to ask questions, to find collaborators and mentors (“Has anyone worked with {fill-in-the-blank- difficulty}?” “I have a new client who. . .”), and to share the challenges of being a Feldenkrais® practitioner. Some conversations occasionally included blatant ad hominem confrontations in the midst of heated arguments. Ralph’s policy was generally to let those flame-fests burn out on their own. He remembers only two instances of actually banning someone from participation in the FeldyForum. However, many of us experienced Ralph’s gentle (and sometimes pointed) corrections, nipping at our heels, herding our community back into civil online conversation.

Feldigest ran from 1994 to 1999. Beginning in 2000, the FeldyForum became a full-fledged discussion group on Yahoo. Ralph has maintained the archives from Feldigest and the FeldyForum, and encourages everyone to visit them to gain a deeper understanding about what the important topics of conversation were through the years.at various points in our history. Links to those archives appear at the end of this article.

In 2018, Ralph began to look in earnest for someone to take over the FeldyForum. He also recognized the need to update to more modern formatting and capabilities to stay current and relevant. Patricia Lewy  and Uwe Jaschke pick up the story from here. 

THE TRANSITION

Patricia Lewy:
The project of the Feldenkrais Community forum started with Ralph’s request for someone to take over the administration of the FeldyForum and to look for a new, maybe more modern platform to host it, since the future of Yahoo Groups suddenly seemed very uncertain, after it was acquired by Verizon.

Uwe {Jaschke]  rose to the task and I volunteered to help him with the project. No one else volunteered.

We spent quite some time testing different products/platforms/software until we decided to go with the actual software behind the Forum, which is called Discourse.

It was very difficult to find a solution that offered more modern characteristics, such as web based bulletin boards (discussion groups) and that would also offer a mailing-list feature, similar to the Yahoo Groups.

Things suddenly sped up at the end of October 2019, when Yahoo sent a termination notice for its web services, being mailing list only; and Ralph’s wishes to stop the FeldyForum administration very soon – by the end of the year.

So in a very short time, we had to set up a productive forum, inform the Feldyforum members how to activate their account with the new platform, and create small tutorials to help them to use the forum.

It was very difficult to find a platform that offered more modern characteristics. . .and also offer a mailing list feature. . .

Patricia Lewy

We also had to help people with any issue that arose during that process, which proved to be an enormous amount of work hours for both of us in November and December.

We wanted to wait until the FeldyForum members migrated to the new forum before advertising it on other places, since the activation and registration of an account are not the same processes; and also because our resources are limited and we wanted to get some additional help for that project.

We are still in the process of fine tuning the forum settings, so that it is as simple and intuitive as possible.

But after someone wrote something on the FPAW (Feldenkrais Practitioners Around the World) Facebook group, requests have started to surge again, giving us again more work with these new registrations.

But mostly, things seem to be running smoothly now.

What we need though are a few people that will volunteer with the administration/moderation of the forum.

:wink:

And also, people starting to use the forum for Feldenkrais discussions and not only to advertise their workshops

THE PRESENT AND FUTURE: HOW TO USE THE FELDENKRAIS COMMUNITY FORUM

Uwe Jaschke: 

To enable the smoothest transition from FF possible,the most important feature is the mailing list. After registration (mail to [email protected]) you are able to use the basic functionality, like post and read posts, with your standard mail software. As it is a closed forum you are only allowed to post and read when you have a login.

We decided to work with categories, which is new compared to FeldyForum, to make it easier for members to choose what information they want to receive. Those categories are:

  • Discussion: for all the Feldenkrais related posts
  • Announcement: for workshops, courses, trainings to come
  • Support: for questions on how to use the forum
  • Offtopic: Anything else

In the background we have a really good user-rights and groups management that allows us to fine tune the forum and, for example, have hidden areas for study groups.

But the most interesting feature of discourse is the Thrust-Level System, which is described at https://blog.discourse.org/2018/06/understanding-discourse-trust-levels/

This allows the community to take more and more responsibility and to take care of the forum itself, being less dependent on single persons.

As the community is the central element of the whole design of the project, the funding is done by donations in cooperation with a German non-profit organization called “Förderverein für Feldenkrais und somatisches Lernen e.V.”. They also provided the initial funding to launch the forum.

For Donations you can use the form at the bottom of their page –> https://www.feldenkrais-foerderverein.de/aktuelle-projekte.html

Furthermore, the software uses elements from social media, like “likes” to upvote a post and “flags” to inform moderators about inappropriate content. It allows personal/private conversations and, compared with the traditional social media platforms, has a really good search engine.

The discourse software also allows you to turn posts into wiki-pages, so people can create texts together; for example, lesson descriptions. It can also do much more with additional plugins. We had in mind to implement a translation system to be able to write and read in your mother tongue and use deepl.com to translate the posts, which would be a real revolution for the international exchange. But this would need quite some funding.

At the moment we struggle most with the (wo)men-power available doing all this in our free time. To grow we definitely need some more volunteers to help to guide new members through the first steps or that help with the moderation/administration until the community can handle this itself.

—–

The Feldigest and FeldyForum archives form a contemporary historical record of the Feldenkrais community. We are indebted to Ralph Strauch for his many years of service in this labor of love as one of our family historians. Thanks also to Patricia, Uwe, and others who use technology to continue this important work.

SOME CLOSING WORDS FROM RALPH

You can find the complete archive Feldyforum archive at 

<http://www.somatic.com/ffarchive/>

To access the archive you must log in with username “readff” and password “moshe” (without quotes). If you have any problem with the download, please contact me.

There’s an annual archive for each year from 2000 through 2018, and a separate archive for Feldigest, a manually collated and edited discussion forum that I ran from 1994 through 1999. The complete Feldigest archive is only 3.3mb, and skimming it will give you a sense of how people were adapting to the new digital age.

Archives since 2008 are in Apple Mail mbox format. They will import easily into Apple Mail and into many other email apps as well. Earlier archives are in Eudora mailbox folders. Both  formats are plain text files that can be read by any text processor, though they’re big files to plow through in that way.

Ralph Strauch

Ralph Strauch, a graduate of the Amherst training, is the founding curator and moderator of the Feldigest and FeldyForum Yahoo Group. A prolific writer on his Composing Experience blog (somatic.com), he is also well known for his book The Reality Illusion, and his recorded program, “Low Stress Computing.” Learn more about Ralph on the Somatic Options website.

Patricia Lewy

Patricia Lewy is a Zurich-based Feldenkrais® practitioner and Jeremy Krauss Approach teacher. With an academic background in agronomics and computer science, she completed her Feldenkrais training in 2006 with David Zemach-Bersin and Larry Goldfarb. She serves as an Admin of the Community Project: Feldenkrais Community. Find out more about Patricia’s work on her website.

Uwe Jaschke is a Feldenkrais Practitioner and movement enthusiast with a background as Engineer and Martial Artist. He serves as an Admin of the Community Project: Feldenkrais.Community ([FC]) He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the German Feldenkrais Guild. To donate to the ongoing development and maintenance of the Feldenkrais Community Forum,  click here.