GA-MMA Group The Functioning of GA-MMA as a Virtual Community
  • GA-MMA Web Sites - GA-MMA Yahoo Group and GA-MMA Web Site
  • GA-MMA Group Charter - A discussion forum and resource swapping Yahoo Group for GAMMA members. To be a member of the group you should have created at least one CGI/3D computer model of a Gerry Anderson related subject and made it freely available over the Internet. Do you meet those criteria? If so... feel free to join.
  • GA-MMA by the Numbers - at October 2011, 70 members, a few join annually, moderated joining process, group members can show their location but few people complete the profiles. Number shown as "bouncing" (hence contact not up to date): 23... many are members who joined some time ago and they can still access the group and resources even without an up-to-date e-mail, address registered. Number shown as not receiving individual postings or summaries (hence only using the group when they decide to visit, seek resources or ask questions: 17.
  • GA-MMA Skills and Capabilities - there are many 3D/CGI modelling packages, and the group has a broad spread of experience with them. A few 3D model formats are used for moving models and drafts of models between members. It is obvious that a few individuals are willing to support other members by making conversions and translations when asked.
  • IPR and Copyright - as with many communities based on TV and film shows, the issue of copyright and intellectual property is important. The GA-MMA group has taken this seriously from the very beginning. Membership itself involve making one model openly and freely available for all to share. A recommended "fan produced material" paragraph is added to read me files. Original images and other media from the shows are discouraged from being posted on-line.
  • GA-MMA as a Community - observe joint projects between subset of members. Help given to anyone who asks in a very responsive way. Frequent provision of rare resources via uploading of scans, blueprints, etc. Work together on projects such as DVD intro sequences using models. Contributions to companies developing Gerry Anderson related products, e.g. Johnny Lightning Supercar toys colouring was improved with help of GA-MMA resources.

Virtual Ethnography

Initial Assumptions and Positions

I begin with a view that strong and important virtual communities can exist even amongst people who have never met one another. In contrast with the remarks mentioned by Bell (2001) and attributed to Tönnies (1887) on the positively described "Gemeinschaft" communities (closely knit village style societies of the past) and the negatively described (weakly knit and "shallow") "Gesellshaft" communities.

Hine (2000) notes that ethnography can be used to study "remote and exotic forms of life", and implies Internet communities are such forms. I do not see them as strange and foreign in this way. But he mentions the value of "understanding through participation and observation" and the value of seeking to "expose the emerging analysis to challenge through interaction". To address this I was originally considering a probing experiment with my selected virtual community, which would have involves me acting as a new member of that community and asking a couple of questions that range from an obvious noobie question everyone has seen before to a very technical question needing expert assistance and deep knowledge of resources that the community might hold. But, I had to question whether it is ever ethically valid to pose as another person when you are a already a member of a community. Put it another way in more everyday terms, is it ethical for management for example to go into a shop or access a service as a "secret shopper" to validate its service levels? I would answer yes... especially if the result can improve the offering. But care must be taken not to impose any additional work burden on the participants who might give their time and resources unfairly for a non-genuine enquiry or request. A question chosen to be answerable without additional effort should be sought as a test probe for this reason. However, after some useful discussion of ethical issues on the "Digital Cultures" course forum, and knowing I had seen such interactions alreday in the group message traffic that I could draw upon, I decided against this type of probe, and instead determined to only use publicly available message traffic.

Hine (2000) suggests that "the object of ethnographic enquiry can usefully be reshaped by concentrating on flow and connectivity rather than location and boundary as the organizing principle". So the study looked at interactions over time between members and how they responded and what they produced as additional resources within the community.

I consider that "Communities of Interest" and "Communities of Practice" provide a strong social binding and bonding force. But its definitely not the type of "community" that Bell (2001) thinks about when considering if being a car driver makes him part of a community. I would answer a definite "no" on that one where he says "maybe" to let him go on and make his points. So we need to define what I believe GA-MMA has that is different to the set of car drivers.

Study Questions to Address

So, given my position and given the guidance of the other virtual ethnography studies mentioned, I began the analysis with these questions in mind:

  • How does group respond to a new user? Is it a clique or open? Does it welcome new users? Does it consider itself a group of individuals or representing an area of interest?
  • How does the community respond to request for an asset, blueprint or image? Look at the message logs and what assets are pointed to as a result.
  • There has been continuity of connection between members of the community across changes of social networking platforms and methods. Is this an indication of a sense of community between members?
  • Staying in touch? How many people drop out? How many do not update their contact details (look at blocked or bouncing e-mail numbers as an indicator, though that does not indicate user cannot log in and explicitly see contents, messages and resources)?

GA-MMA Message Corpus

This analysis was performed on just short of 500 open access GA-MMA Yahoo group messages across a 12 year period (2000-2011). It excluded any message traffic between individuals or only accessible with a group member login.

Message History

The messages were extracted using an Internet available message board message extraction tool, followed by some post processing to remove common message board navigation phrases and message header words. The tool, technique and keywords and phrases removed are described at

Observations about GA-MMA Message Traffic

The "sense of community" seems in GA-MMA to go beyond common interest fan club membership or a group who happen to perform the same activity or use the same device. GA-MMA involves interactions which respond to people's queries and requests with real effort. But its not a task orientated community either as many work orientated on-line grouping are. It may set tasks up as "projects" between its members, but those themselves come and go as interests are developed. They are just one aspect of the longer term enduring relationships across the group.

What was striking also was that the specific focus of the group is not dominated by the particular "TV series" interests of the original founders, which tended to include "Supercar" and "Fireball XL5". But more broadly seems to reflect the later TV shows indicating the wider membership now in GA-MMA. A Wordle tag cloud on the text of the message traffic indicates that some of the most popular TV shows amongst the Gerry Anderson productions are most reflected in the message content. The top one being "Thunderbirds", easily the most popular of the Gerry Anderson series.

Group communication is at a low level, but does spread across the whole life of the group. It seems to go in fits and starts. We can see a particular peak of activity in August 2004. I wondered if that might relate to a new Gerry Anderson series being discussed. But on analysis of the message traffic, the cause 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. There was a very low number of messages in 2005, which it is more difficult to explain without speculation.

Bell (2011) states "communities are imagined and held together by shared cultural practice (rather than just face-to-face interaction". In this spirit, we can observe that the 3D/CGI modelling packages used by members of the community are very widespread indeed. Though common formats are use for model exchange, it seems that almost every major 3D modelling tool is in use across the community, and that has been one of the mainstays of the ways in which it has continue to cooperate as a community. Members frequently are asked by others for import and export of specific models or parts of models. The community seems to respond very promptly to such requests.

The sense of community for GA-MMA goes beyond the choice of a particular technology platform for communicating... indicating that the group adapts its communications over time while still retaining the aim and spirit of the community. The history of the GA-MMA group indicates it has had a number of curators of its assets, and has passed these on successfully when hosts, services or facilities become unavailable. The stability of the GA-MMA Yahoo Group for 12 years has helped give a single forum for discussions across the community. The GA-MMA Craft Index web area is a single resource to ensure an index of modellers and models is maintained, and the community knows how to have entries added to that, as frequently occurs.

Personal Anecdote on the "Sense" of Virtual Community

Close personal bonds can develop within virtual communities, and I have a personal experience of one such connection in GA-MMA. I "met" Shane Pickering who is from New Zealand via our interests in Flight Simulators and especially following my creation of the first Supercar flight sim vehicle. Shane was a graphic artists by profession and held a private pilot's licence. We flew some technically demanding simulated missions together, and improved the flight dynamics and instrumentation for the Supercar model.

We began to work together quite intensively on schematics for Supercar's internals trying to make them fit the elements of the TV programme for realism... and began work on a Supercar brochure and technical cutaway (Eagle Comic style).

After frequent, almost daily, exchanges for some time, suddenly I had no further contact with Shane... and it left me with a very uneasy feeling. Trying to contact him through mutual on-line friends,and via other e-mail routes led no where. After a while I tried to phone his graphic design office telephone number in New Zealand, which rang but no one answered. His e-mails did not bounce even a year afterwards (but they do now). After a while I had to deduce that he had probably had an accident and died. I wrote to his office address, as I had no home address, but there was no reply.

The uneasy feeling persists to this day, some 4 years later. I was planning a trip to New Zealand a couple of years ago and thought I would call at the office address to establish what might have happened, but the trip had to be cancelled. I observe that this on-line relationship within the GA-MMA community was very strongly held as important by me, and the sudden disappearance without explanation has left me without a feeling of "closure" on the matter.

GA-MMA member Badge GA-MMA History
December 1995 Bruce Brachman's Fireball XL5 model posted at for all to share.
January 1996 Gerry Anderson Craft Index Page created by Austin Tate at to collect together information on Gerry Anderson computer models.
January 1998 Austin Tate and others begin Take Two project to create a new multi-media storybook for Supercar, with a home page at
October 1998 Mateen Greenway, Mick Imrie, Don Showalter and Austin Tate cooperate to create Supercar and Black Rock Laboratory models and web site at to share the models and images.
January 1999 Robin and Pauline Day build a 3d model of Space City using Truespace 2 and Bryce 3d. They set up the Space City website at
June 1999 Bruce Brachman, Robin Day, Mick Imrie and Austin Tate begin co-operation on a project to create additional models for the virtual Space City environment.
June 1999 GAMMA formed by founder members involved in a number of cooperative projects. Initial web site created at
August 1999 Invitation to Gerry Anderson computer modellers represented on the Gerry Anderson Craft Index and others to participate in GA-MMA. All members who joined before the start of the 21st Century (1st January 2001 for the avoidance of doubt) are called charter members.
November 2000 GA-MMA Yahoo Group Forum and Resource Sharing Area Created.
January 2001 Century 21 Project added for revised versions of Gerry Andrerson Craft
January 2002 Site managed via http:///
January 2006 Site reverts to
August 2007 GAMMA Forum and GAMMA Wiki launched at
January 2006 Site reverts and
June 2008 GAMMA Forum and GAMMA Wiki closed.

Diary for Study
  • 14-Oct-2011 - GA-MMA - Gerry Anderson Model Makers' Alliance - considered as virtual community for MSc in e-Learning Digital Cultures course ethnography study.
  • 14-Oct-2011 - GA-MMA Community informed of potential study and asked if there were any concerns. No personal attribution will be made. All information used is publicly accessible.
  • 16-Oct-2011 - Initial information gathering, message history log for 12 years, observation is that contact is in fits and starts as something active comes up, observation is that members are responsive if a question us raised or a new member joins and makes an introduction or asks for advice. Look at resources area, and restricted access resources,...
  • 20-Oct-2011 - Consideration and write up of ethical issues versus checklist available on course web site.
  • 21-Oct-2011 - I addressed straight away, a potentially serious blocking technical issue which was how to obtain all the messages in a form I could process and analyse locally without individually reading and seeking the threads I feel I want to follow (e.g. on how new members are treated and supported, or otherwise) in the 500 or so postings available publicly. I have installed a message grabbing and archiving software and obtained the message traffic (deliberately without member login to ensure no members only or private messages are included).
  • 21-Oct-2011 - Download without password access of publicly available message traffic (497 messages) using Yahoo Group Archiver PERL scripts. Initial analysis to create initial Wordle keyword tag diagram of original unedited message stream. Reduced non-specialism content via superfluous line removal (see technique and list of phrases removed) to produce final Wordle keyword tag diagram.
  • 27-Oct-2011 - Reading through GA-MMA message corpus to identify elements where new members were introduced, and to look for specific request for assets. Note making. Hindered by amount of irrelevant and frequently repeated quoted text left in messages by correspondents. Mention this on Digital Cultures Course Forum as an issue with many e-mail exchanges.
  • 28-Oct-2011 - Initial write up of observations.
  • 29-Oct-2011 - Further reading on research ethics related to the study of on-line communities (Krotoski, 2010).
  • 30-Oct-2011 - Second pass over group messages corpus to seek any intersting or quirky observations. Personal anecdote refined.
  • 31-Oct-2011 - PDF archival copy created. GA-MMA Group mailing to describe study and give link. Blog and Twitter summaries to ensure work appears in "Lifestream".

Ethical Issues
Points to consider
  1. What ethical expectations are established by the venue?
    The postings can be seen by the public without login. But member details, contact addresses and shared resources cannot. The study will not identify any individual or describe any asset where that knowledge comes only from the group private information.
  2. Who are the subjects posters / authors / creators of the material and/or inter/actions under study?
    The members typically make their models and information about them accessible on-line in forums even beyond the group.
  3. What are the initial ethical expectations/assumptions of the authors/subjects being studied?
    Some aspects of the group's shared resources are considered private and this allows for assistance to be given to other members in ways in which a public sharing could not. This aspect of the group's work will only be describe in general ethnographic terms, with no individual or asset identified.
  4. What ethically significant risks does the research entail for the subject(s)?
    Only in respect of (3) and this study will not cover such aspects.

Notification to the community of intention to perform the study
The group has been e-mailed directly to mention that a study is being performed on the nature of the group as a "community" and asking if anyone has concerns that they get in touch with the author.

Ethical approach note
I considered ethical matters, and discussed acting as new member as a probe on how the community reacted. But after discussion on the EDC11 course forum, I decided against this on ethical groups of misleading a community I am already a member of and potentially making someone in the community spend real time to assist a fictional new member.

  • Bell, David (2001) Community and cyberculture, chapter 5 of An introduction to cybercultures. Abingdon: Routledge. pp92-112.
  • Hine, Christine (2000) The virtual objects of ethnography, chapter 3 of Virtual ethnography. London: Sage. pp41-66.
  • Krotoski, Aleks (2010), Introduction to the Special Issue: Research Ethics in Online Communities, International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, Issue 3.1, December 2010.
  • Tönnies, Ferdinand (1887) Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Translated in 1957 as "Community and Society". See

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