Blogging at a BIG University

As the three people who regularly read this blog know, I work at Penn State. Those of who know Penn State know it is big. Somewhere in the 80,000 student range across all the campuses. There over 40,000 here at our University Park campus alone. We are starting to talk about giving blogs (as James Farmer would say). Clearly we’ve thought about why it would be a good thing and are now moving into the land of what we would do and how would we do it. Our IT people are very smart and understand scale in a way I do not, so I am not going to argue with them when they discuss things like server load and security. I am lucky enough to be a guiding member of the team, so I am taking my thoughts public … I usually stay away from large-scale work projects here, but I thought since this is a blog project what a better place to start than to solicit feedback from the blogosphere. So please help us think about this!

What follows are some general thoughts about where we are after a bunch of general conversations and one meeting … oh and a lot of this is my thinking along with one other colleague — in other words, this doesn’t represent Penn State’s position on any of this. Please feel free to leave comments or email me ideas. First the basic assumptions:

Blog installation/activation managed centrally (vs. local installations) a lot like to provide:

  • activation via an easy to use control panel
  • no access to underlying code
  • blogs are published into individuals’ personal web space via a static publishing model (a lot like MoveableType or remote Blogger publishing). At PSU we provide faculty, staff, and students with 1 GB of hosted web space.

Why would we do this? Well, for one reason we can maintain a single code base for all blogs … so when things need upgraded we don’t have to do 40,000 updates at once. It also facilitates integration, ensures security, professional look and feel can be maintained on blogs (esp. important if student blog being used like ePortfolio), and we absolutely don’t want to end up with scattered, disjointed collection of blogs, and have no way to fully leverage this service.

Some of the Features

  • Group blogs with multiple authors
  • RSS 2.0 with support for enclosures to allow for podcasting
  • Control Panel model
  • Allow individuals to create and post to multiple blogs
  • Access controls to enable public/private blogs as well as public/private posts on blogs
  • XMLRPC – if it can be secured
  • Tagging at some level — to be discussed further
  • Categories – critical feature for the creation of custom URLs and custom RSS feeds
  • Themes so end users can skin their blogs
  • Blog Rolls – manage a group of links in multiple link categories
  • Track backs
  • Allow local search on a per blog basis
  • Spam protection
  • Allow for comments
  • Comment controls — approval, edit, delete, etc.
  • Text formatting — do we use a WYSIWYG editor for posting?
  • Plug-in architecture?

So as we are going forward we have many questions and are in the early stages but are very excited about what is going on … we still have questions and are very open to suggestions. I would be curious to hear about others are doing at their schools to enable blogging in a quasi-controlled environment.

I Have Been Busy …

But at the end of the day that isn’t much of an excuse … who isn’t? But I am using it. Things have been nuts.

Either way, I was just running through my feeds this morning and I came across something I found sort of funny at Mac News World … Podcasting in 8 Easy Steps. What I find funny about it is that 8 steps is about 6 too many for mere mortals to really get into podcasting (granted they count things like “click the icon in the dock” as a step). I podcast in something like four steps and I think that is too many. My general process includes:

  1. Recording (in GarageBand)
  2. Editing (in GarageBand)
  3. Encoding (in GarageBand)
  4. Sharing (From my Blog)

What I am working towards is something that allows people to record, publish, and walk away. That is the solution we are building towards. we are writing a podcasting application that allows you to simple press record, pause/stop, enter a little meta data, and publish. That all happens as a background process via an XMLRPC hook. So, at the end of the day I am after two steps … Record and Publish. That will help the whole podcasting for edu thing a bit.

The same on the student end … I love the whole phone to blog thing that Odeo seems to be doing so well. But I am also interested in making a tool set available that students can use to record quick podcasts that publish into their personal webspaces — complete with the feed.

We are so close to solving both of those. I’ll be talking about what it all really does soon enough … for now, I am going to try and be less busy.