GA-MMA Virtual Ethnography

My ethnographic study was of the GA-MMA group… the Gerry Anderson Model Makers’ Alliance. The study is at:

Please leave any comments here.

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11 Responses to GA-MMA Virtual Ethnography

  1. Carol Collins says:

    Wow Austin…so much info in here and so systematic. I loved the stuff about flying simulated missions together. I attended a talk a year or so ago about simulation in medicine and the speaker discussed using the accuracy of flight simulation as a monitor for the probability of accuracy in clinical simulation. Any thoughts on simulation and accuracy to RL?

  2. Austin Tate says:

    Thanks Carol. The accuracy of flight and racing sims can be truly astonishing… even for the consumer versions. Tiny details of the aerodynamic shape and propulsion performance can make enormous differences which a very real to life.

    I have had two recent experiences of this which are uncannily realistic…

    a) I designed a replica of Thrust SSC, the first land speed record car to go Supersonic on Black Rock Desert in Nevada. I found that it JUST went at Mach 1.02 or so and then had a tendency to fly! On the real thing, sensibly, the driver Andy Green callled off going faster when he just got over Mach 1.

    b) On Sony’s GranTurismo 5, they have just released an indoor carting track and typical carts that you would use when you go to one of these tracks. I had a go on the rreal racing kart circuit with other software related folks from across Scotland a few months back. It was fun. But I could not believe how realistically the simuAed GT5 kart handled and how it slipped and sounded just like on the real track.

    Similations for emergeny responders are used all the time.. and some involve medical triage exercises. The screams and visual signs of injury and trauma can be scarily realistic and are very disturbing.

  3. Siân Bayne says:

    I really enjoyed delving into the world of GA-MMA – thanks Austin (I confess I didn’t even know who Gerry Anderson was before reading this!). I thought the mix of facts, figures and anecdote made for a really enjoyable read – I wanted to know more by the end. For example, extracting the figures for public postings from Yahoo was neat, but then I wondered what those figures revealed, if anything, about patterns of interest in the group – what was going on in August 2004 for example? And why was 2005 so dead?

    I can see you had good ethical reasons for not making the private content public, but I’d have loved to have seen a bit of qualitative data on this – some examples of exchanges and a sense of how this community ‘writes’ itself into existence!

    I also wasn’t sure how, by the end of this, you’d answer your question about group responses to newbie and expert questions – or what that might tell us about how the group builds boundaries between outsiders and insiders?

    Anyway, I have many more questions stimulated by this, which is a good thing – it’s a rich glimpse into a strange new world for me!

  4. Austin Tate says:

    I went back over the message logs… as I thought August 2004 might have been a trigger like a new Gerry Anderson series .. but no. It was one or two detailed requests for assistance and blueprints with subject header “Re: looking for Schematics of Thunderbirds and vehicles… ” which led to a flurry of helpful inputs, postings and file uploads of new resources by various members.

    More difficult to say why 2005 had almost no traffic… evidence for a negative is much more tricky without speculation eh?

    I added some notes on this on the study web site.

  5. Grace Elliott says:

    So thorough Austin, and lots of information. Good call on the new member issue. A group that has managed to stay connected for 12 years has to have a sense of community. And your personal anecdote shows the strong bonds that can develop in virtual communities.
    I have a friend who is a fan of Gerry Anderson and he collects Supercar and Thunderbirds memorabilia. He’s passed his enthusiasm on to his son and if they don’t already own one of those models, I bet they’d like to.

  6. Jeremy Keith Knox says:

    I liked the specificity of this group Austin, and your site is an absorbing read! I found the entry criteria (creating a CGI/3D computer model of a Gerry Anderson related subject) really interesting, as it seems (to me as an outsider) so specific. It appears to make the initiation into the GA-MMA group very exclusive, and it got me thinking about this idea of the boundary between community and non-community, but also the hierarchical relationships that exist within them (as I think is mentioned in your comments). This got me thinking about whether communities of interest form around the shared (?) notion of an ‘ideal’ member; the expert that everybody aspires to be. To what extent is there a normative force going on in communities (even if slight)?

    I really like your combination of quantitative analysis and personal experience as well. I’m certainly drawn to the idea of individual stories about connecting with people (within communities), particularly over time, and yours seemed very potent indeed. As always Austin, thought provoking stuff, thanks!

  7. Austin Tate says:

    Thanks Jeremy. Yes there is a definite inside track. To make it explicit… you must be a modeller, you must have modelled a Gerry Anderson TV series related model specifically, and you must be willing to share with such a model with others. There were also “founders” who joined in first year – a bit of exclusivity no one can gain afterwards. The cut off date was amusingly set as those who joined GA-MMA prior to the start of the “21st Century” in which most of the Gerry Anderson series are set and the name of his marketing organisation. Though having said that is the membership and status criteria, much of the site and its resources is available to all as a non-logged in viewer. But a private resource sharing area is maintained to support model makers with exchange of items where copyright would not allow open publication and sharing.

  8. A fascinating and very detailed piece Austin! I really enjoyed the insights you’ve shared with us. Thanks also for the link to the message extraction tool, I’m sure i will find a use for it in my professional life. It’s interesting to see the spikes in communication that occur when a user needs something; for me, that is a real sign of there being a community spirit. Your personal anecdote is very poignant. No doubt if you have made such connections within the group then many others must also have done so. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Neil David Buchanan says:

    Hi Austin, as some of the others have noted, this was a new topic for me and I must admit I had an old-fashioned notion of Airfix models – quickly dashed as I read further. For me, the Wordle was truly helpful. I think Wordles are often used as little more than decoration but in your case the dominance of “Thunderbirds” really leapt out and helped me grasp what this was about. I wonder how you created it? I was told to create one for a project and found that they are easy to manipulate! This seems to tie in with the recurring theme of the role of the ethnographer as participant/observer and all of our choices from topic selection to representation of inscription reflect back on us.

    Your inclusion of the personal story established just how much of a community this is. To lose a friend induces real emotions and the fact that you tried to hard to contact him further emphasises the “realness” of this group.

    I wonder if the role of image in these works would enhance the effect. When I was reading yours, I wanted to see the models and I felt the same when reading about Buffy et al. The hyper links were good but we don’t always read in a connected environment. Thanks for sharing this.

  10. Austin Tate says:

    Many thanks for those comments and really good suggestions.

    I added a composite image of the “GA Craft Index” we maintain in GA-MMA… its easily found, being the top hit on relevant key words in Google, and openly accessible. Each thumbnail whe clicked brings up an image contrtibuted as openly accessible for every model. These are all hosted together so the craft index continues to work even as personal web sites comes and go. You can see some of the models via teh craft index itself at

  11. Austin Tate says:

    Neil raises a very valid point about the use of diagrams for suggestive “analysis”… such as in the Wordle diagram. He is quite right that these are easily manipulated. In fact some preprocessing of the text corpus used is needed or the diagram could be dominated by a work such as “Subject” “To”, “Message”, “Next”, “Previous”, etc. Wordle itself offers a facility to choose the native language of the diagram, and leave in or remove (the default) common words in that chosen language. But I considrered it important that anyone who was interested could understand the process I used and the actual phrases I removed. So that is documented in a link I provided which described the process I used. I consider this to be part of the ethics of doing research of this kind, and to be open about any “manipulation” which takes place. The idea being that anyone could take the same corpus and repeat the process using a different set of assumptions if they wished to do so.


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