Rolling Your Own

This past week I watched as older versions of WordPress were compromised. I was instantly concerned about my own installation as a few years ago my blog got hacked and someone embedded a whole bunch of pop ups to porn sites — not exactly the kind of thing one likes to have attached to his name. In the most recent instance I was safe as I’ve learned to always upgrade my personal version of WordPress that I run here, but it got me seriously thinking again about why I feel the need to pretend to be a sys admin when all I really want to be is an author. That thought always leads me down a second path related to why would I want to press people at my Institution to do the same when we should be spending our time on teaching and learning.

These are different, yet related issues. I’ve convinced myself over the years that it is better to have total control of my online space than to hand most of it over to a company that would do it for me. I’ve blogged on my own domain since 2004 and its always just felt right, but it has not been without major headaches at times. I do it so I can manage my own plugins and use (and hack) my own themes. Now with that said, I am growing tired of dealing with any of it and the realization that this stuff is just not that secure is catching up with me.

I bang around with all sorts of tools and I end up liking a lot of them a heck of a lot better than I do my self-hosted WordPress install. I’m thinking of Tumblr,, and most recently TypePad as examples of places I think I would much rather be leaning on. The problem is that I can’t help but worry about the overall staying power of these spaces. I want a space attached to my online identity that I control, so getting content out is just as important as elegantly getting it in. The big question is can I control my online identity (perhaps at my own domain) while leaning on someone else’s infrastructure completely. Right now I don’t run the servers that this site is hosted on and I don’t write the software, but I do for some odd reason feel compelled to manage it all. If I were starting all over again today I wouldn’t. I might pay for my domain and map a TypePad blog to it, but that’s about it.

So if I follow this down the path towards the second part of my thoughts I need to ask if PSU should be playing in this game as well. The answer to that may be different than my own personal conclusions — at the University we actually have system administrators who know what they are doing, we do run our own infrastructure, and we do have lots of smart people whose job it is to keep things secure. But still I must ask why not outsource it all and focus on the teaching and learning? We use MoveableType here at Penn State for lots of reasons, but one is the static publishing model into our personal webspace infrastructure. Could we envision a scenario where our students write at TypePad and publish their static files here? Other than the realities of authentication, infrastructure, and Institutional identity I can’t see why not — and I bet all of that is solvable. At the end of the day we want our students to have same goal I do — to be authors.

With all that said, let’s be honest — rolling our own is always more fun. I’m just not sure I need to be having my fun in that way anymore. Confusing to say the least … If I can get peace of mind at TypePad or then I may be on my way. If I can’t you can forget it. I wonder what would happen if we asked our students and faculty the same question? I wonder how they would respond …

2 thoughts on “Rolling Your Own

  1. Not only should you roll your own, you should sm….

    It’s all about tradeoffs- you want total freedom to use anything, customize to the nth degree, then you take on the responsibility of running it clean. You want someone to work at nipping the baddies? Give up some freedom.

    Having the choice is good, but let’s be realistic on what it entails. I cannot think of anything easier to update then my hosted WordPress (except on my NMC sites, where I have the wrong unix owner of our web director, another story).

  2. I feel your pain. I am, first and foremost a curriculum developer, writing content and developing learning environments for face to face education. Over the years I’ve tried to stay on the curl of the wave with media production, web development and online learning tools. But the creator in me is feeling the fatigue of doing it all.

    In all honesty, I think the answer lies not in stream-lining the technical demands of what we do but in our fighting for creative teams to remain an essential part of our planning and budgets… not just a luxury of the past. If Pixar can invest that way to entertain us, how much more should we be investing to educate ourselves.

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