I have recently posted about a WordPress education email list I joined and was pretty excited about. Well, less than two weeks later I am a bit confused by what exactly Automattic is thinking with this list. It’s moderated by Douglass Hanna, and he just sent out the following message to the list talking about creating an “Implementation Guide” for using WordPress in education. I’ll reproduce it below:
Thanks for coming up with such great discussions and contributing so
much to this list. As part of my role helping with WordPress for
Education, I’m creating an “Implementation Guide” that we will make
available to educators and administrators. The idea is to have a nice
downloadable/printable PDF that will explain WordPress, why it’s good
for education, and how to make it happen.
Here is the tentative (and still incomplete outline) for what we’re
going to include:
Welcome to WordPress for Education
Table of Contents
What is WordPress?
Who uses WordPress?
WordPress for Education Overview
How WordPress Can Be Used at Your School
WordPress on the Campus
WordPress in the Classroom
Getting Stated With WordPress
Where to Get Additional Information
I’d really love to hear your ideas and suggestions. You are the people
who have tried to convince administrators (hopefully successfully!)
that WordPress is the way to go and is a great option and then tried
to make it all happen. What would have been helpful to you initially?
(Keep in mind your suggestions don’t have to fit within the confines
on this document. We’re also going to have a web site at
edu.wordpress.com (under construction) that will have additional
Thanks so much.
Automattic | WordPress.com
Now, I don;t particularly have a problem with this, put I was hoping the list would be about sharing ideas and possibilities between people and a community, not building a brochure for Automattic. I mean, many people are already having this discussion in a distributed environment, why push for a captured email audience to so quickly do it for them. Maybe I am wrong, maybe that is exactly what they should do. Maybe I am way too deep into all this crap to have any perspective. I have no problem with them reaching out to the education community—that’s what they should do—but as a emans to push their product for the product’s sake, rather than the transformation a tool like WordPress affords is missing the boat for me, and that is how the message came off to me. I like WordPress only so far as it enables me to do something with teaching and learning in higher ed, and the space is important, and design is crucial, and flexibility is a necessity–I admit all this. But, the thing that has made this application special for me is the conversations about and around it between people who see it as a means to end, not the end in and of itself.
So, anyway, here was my response:
Not to be a stick in the mud, but this conversation has been going on
throughout the education/edtech blogosphere for a while. And WordPress
is usually just a touchstone. Is this list intended to be a space for
warehousing that information and then re-packaging it to push WordPress
as a product rather than a process for thinking through the
implications of the new state of publishing for education?
I mean WordPress is great and all, and many have used it to some great
advantage, but it seems like you are suggesting we participate in the
creation of an Automattic brochure devoid of the personal relations
that foster the community that has made WordPress what it is. All of
which kind of seems strange to me. The conversation is in progress,
why not follow and join it where it is happening if you are the
education evangelist for WordPress. That seems more relevant then
creating a pdf for a mass mailer?
I don’t know, just seems that once we formalize the discussion around
WordPress as product too much, the joy of thinking through
possibilities kind of evaporates.
So, I don’t know, I’m feeling off these days any way, but am I wrong? AM I WRONG?!
Am I missing something in the original message that indicates that contributions toward a guide for technical implementation are the only thing that can or will be allowed to happen on the list?
I have to admit I saw the message (and zipped right on by it) as merely an indicator that someone at Automattic was going to create a document that would be welcome based on things that could be gleaned from the list and elsewhere (a document I would like to see, incidentally)– but that it had nothing to do with dictating the direction of the list or its philosophy in total (though I suspect that in some cases they probably aren’t thinking about it as philosophically as you are– the list is ultimately to support their own product after all and some involved are likely not education people at all). And it makes perfect sense, from a technology perspective, to ask for help and suggestions from a list designed for the very audience they hope to serve.
Can discussions about such a document co-exist with the kind of discussion you were excited about? If so then you can keep on keepin’ on with what you want to see and facilitate the kinds of vital discussion that would be a good counterpart to some technical help… can’t you?
Yeah, you;re probably right, may have been knee jerk, at the same time it feels like the presence of Automattic in that list, which is quite young, seems to be about a developing sector of their market. No problem in and of itself, I grant you that.
I guess what struck me is the logic behind the push for recommendations. The application as product that can then be turned into a market, I know it’s the way of the world, and my reaction may seem naive, or even infantile–but why doesn’t WordPress take the time and effort to feature stuff happening in the community. Why not use the conversations as a means to exemplify the work. Rather than create a cheat-sheet for administrators, I just don;t think the questions are there, it is seeing itself as a product not a movement, and if you remember a year and half ago Matt himself called it “a movement.” Well, then support it! Push it! Help it happen in more imaginative ways, guide and promote, rather than culling and selling. Automattic charges some good money for their corporate support (which includes a number of higher ed institutions), and this list is way of seemingly harnessing the open source community to push the business end. i guess that’s how it goes, but it just seemed to soon and to transparent a frame that the list is made up of zombie-like product pushers (which I am guilty of myself at times), not imagining a space of difference. that’s it, it just didn’t seem unique or different, but rather a cold call. A way to make wWordPres the next enterprise application for education, which comes with its own questions about its future.
Anyway, I’m rambling because I never know how to answer your lucidity, I just don;t have that kind of precision and acumen in me, I’m far too emotionally attached to the whole thing. There is very little separation for me in all things.
You’re not wrong. I’m not sure the Automattic rep can really be considered an “education evangelist” for WordPress; from his posts on the list, he seems more like a PR guy moonlighting as a community manager. The fact that the community is education doesn’t seem to matter that much.
sorry, amigo. I think you overreacted on this one. The automattic folks are trying to do right by the community, not trying to get us to write their brochure for them. I’d bet that doug simply misunderstood the subtle difference in edu culture. He likely thought that since many of us are trying to roll out wordpress in an institutional setting that a community crafted WordPress WTF document might make that easier for us.
I didn’t take it as a sales thing, but as an attempt to get some community documentation going. I didn’t respond to the initial email because I don’t have to convince anyone that we should use wordpress (or moodle of drupal or…)
I think it depends on where your threshold is for this. Me I have a high commercial threshold – I feel sorry for the representatives of large multi-nationals on consumer programmes. I know you’ve seen Chris Sessums post – that’s a good example. Making ads from linking people’s content is wrong, wrong, wrong, because it gives the impression that author is endorsing that link. But plain old ads, I don’t have a problem with that – I understand the context and the relationship with ads. I guess in social spaces we are still working this through – eg your Netflix list – is that an ad for Netflix and the respective films (what’s Mr Klein like BTW, couldn’t stand I’m Not There) or is it part of your online identity and a discussion point? Bit of both I guess. I don’t know this list, or the company, but I’d be inclined to be lenient in my interpretation. They want to be part of the community, to have a good relationship, and want to show this by getting everyone’s input to reflect the community’s needs best?
Pitched in the wrong way but not a bad idea in my opinion.
I made the following response to the list before reading your post or I might have addressed some things differently.
I buy the idea of making this information available to help arguments for using WP in educational settings- in part because I’ve had to make these arguments. (Although I wonder a little if it strips those who are using pre-packaged arguments of a needed chance to research and really internalize why they want to do this and what it would take.) It does help to have the outside “expert” as a voice on your side and some people would be able to explain the educational side but would be unable to make the server architecture argument.
I think the idea of creating a pdf is a mistake in and off itself (at least as a main vehicle). PDFs kind of embody the opposite of what WPMU is good at, being that they’re (mostly) fixed and don’t leverage RSS or community very well (at all? I’m not sure since I didn’t go to the NMC Adobe- Collaboration in the Cloud thing).
If I was trying to prove how useful WPMU is in education I’d use WPMU as the vehicle. It’d be a lot like what Jim has done with with WMU blogs in certain aspects, in that your site would become an aggregation area for both examples of and instruction on how and why you’d use WPMU in an educational setting.
I’d probably have an “all-stars” page where I highlighted whole WPMU sites or particularly effective node blogs but I’d want a constant stream of new content flowing through as well. There’s some risk there. You aren’t fully in control of what might come in via the feeds but I think that’s a good thing.
Maybe you make a few one page PDFs every so often that encapsulate key chunks of knowledge or common argument rebuttals but they should not stick around for years- maybe you could have one of the wiki plugins used and then auto-generate a pdf off a certain page every so often (could be a downside to that with regard to formatting but it’d probably equal out in terms of participation and quality of information).
I can see value in this and I can see what Jim is worried about. You don’t want to become the company with a slick sales pitch. Let the community speak for you and provide you with examples and you’ll have something authentic and powerful- start making big PDF ad pitches and I think you’ll lose credibility. Besides if you are pitching to the higher ups the PDF would probably consist of two sections- cost and security.
Doing this would give you the chance to help improve the community in some interesting ways and provide a center for an ongoing conversation that will continue to grow and impact many more people than a PDF ever would. Make it a conversation not a sales pitch. It is a lot of work to do it this way but it’s also a different kind of work and work that’ll produce more benefits for a much broader range of people.
Maybe I’m viewing this with stars in my eyes and possibly different goals but that’d be my approach-
What caught my eye in Doug’s message, and made me sympathetic to your response, was the “Cost” segment in the document… Automattic is preparing to pitch a service as a vendor, not merely to suggest that WordPress is a good solution for colleges.
There’s nothing wrong with this, I guess… but what attracts some of us to WP for higher education is that it doesn’t have to work on the vendor-client model, and in fact works more effectively if people on each campus are forced to think through how to present the software to their community. This is true from the administrators, who are forced to answer questions like, who gets our support for this software and how? to instructional technologists who have to confront design, organizational, and presentational questions, to faculty members, who have to muck around in the admin panel of their own blog and are forced to really think about how they’re going to use it, to students, who feel they’re partaking in a unique experience.
That’s DIY. That’s edupunk. That’s objecting to the client services model of education. It’s also good pedagogy, and supportive of instructional technology as a field devoted to teaching and learning and not to mere information transfer.
Now there’s no reason to think that Automattic preparing a brochure for campuses would necessarily counteract any of that… but it does seem to be a step in that direction, towards preparing a package to sell. I don’t think we need to storm the castle with pitchforks, but expressing some concern about the matter seems reasonable.
If Automattic does this, fine; but they should do a systematic study of why certain colleges have been able to get WPMU installs popping while others have launched duds, and integrate a sense of the positive impact of the distributed nature of WP ownership into any pitch they prepare. The software works when it’s owned, customized, and administered by the community. This may seem a pitch for instructional technologists like me, and I admit to some self-interest in the matter… but I also think the data backs me up on how/why WPMU works, and how/why it doesn’t.
I will also say that IR at our campus required us to take out a support network agreement with Automattic as we rolled out this year, and we got access to a private forum… where the same guys who post in the public forums responded to our questions. They did it quickly, I’ll give them that… but we did have a dropped table problem that they could have helped us avoid, and they missed it– that was a pretty blatant screw up. I’m not quite sure what we’re getting for our money, other than our CIO’s (perhaps bogus) peace of mind.
I agree with you about the edublogs advertising, egregious and downright wrong. It is the worst kind of forced advertising, and changes the message on a student blog surreptitiously.
But, I’m not sure my Netflix queue is of the same ilk. I am sharing films I watch, Netflix is a smart company I gladly pa, and I have no issues with companies and people that do it well. Hell, netflix even gives me an RSS feed. My point in this conversation is that the marketing dude from Autmattic didn’t do it well, and Tom Woodward’s response frames that beautifully. His PR speak was insulting, and it is the world we are descending into with the Web 2.0 investor crunch.
Moreover, I would respect Automattic a bit more if they took the approach they always had nd let the community talk about what they do, but I understand we are entering different times, and this is where scale, capital, and cannibalization all take their tool. Here come the Zombies!
Also, Haven’t seen Mr. Stein yet, though I do love Losey so—hoping it makes me happier than I have felt these days. I kind of refuse to watch “I’m Not There” which is creating an issue in my house. I have my issues with the recent cult of Bob Dylan, but I’m no expert so I try not to talk about it too much 🙂
Exactly, he is a PR customer service guy as Tom noted when send me the link to his blog: http://www.serviceuntitled.com/
Corporate speak in the worst kind, make people feel important even though they aren’t, ya know that kinda thing. And I just think the approach reflects poorly on Auomattic, whereas the WP community in general is jumping. I feel deeply invested in wordpress.org, so geting a cold call email from Doug off-list (he sent the same form email off-list to a fellow traveler, so I know I am being thought of as a disgruntled customer)–it just seems smarmy and lame. I know Automattic has to make money, and I really want to see them succeed, but it’s not that you want to make some money, it’s how–and this is the wrong approach in my mind.
Man, I am glad you comment here—between you and Tom the level of clarity on the issues at stake with Auomattic postioning thmeselves as a vendor in educational settings, as well as the danger that potentially poses to teaching and learning, is absolutely key. And while I couldn’t articulate this nearly as well as you two have, I will run to the bank with what you are saying and deposit it for a withdrawal in the future. You’re exactly right, and what kills me is that people have already been doing this kind of promotion for their product and pushing their development, why turn it into a cold and alienating sales pitch where I begin to question the work I have done for nothing out, save joy and pleasure? Weird. I felt a bit creeped out by Matt Mullenweg’s keynote at NV 08, and I was seeing something like this as I heard him talk. But they had been very slick about their decisions, maybe this is just a rogue marketer who didn’t know his audience or maybe I am, unlike Walter, wrong and an asshole 🙂
Jim– as long as the list is open then you can be the change you want to see… that’s what you are best at! I hope that creation of technical information becomes one small part of what happens on the list.
responding to other comments:
I’m not averse to WP selling their services– WP is perfectly suited to the DIY crowd, but not all places have DIY time or people… they are a company and that activity subsidizes development that has made WP a useful platform, beyond what I think would have been accomplished were there not a parent company working hard.
I also think that a PDF is not a mistake– though ONLY a PDF might be a mistake. There are plenty of instances of WP to point to, I don’t see a great value (nor minimal value) in producing such a “document” in WP. The people who I could see handing this PDF off to as part of getting some buy-in would never follow a WP document or the feeds anyway!
I was going to reply to that thread but didn’t. I think what we should be asking for from Automattic is what we need. I could use a freaking manual or better help, some support for crying out loud. I mean the community was great and all, but the company needs to collate some of that knowledge better. Then maybe I’ll help build a guide for administrators–which by the way, I think is a necessary evil, both for Automattic and for the administrators. If Automattic is smart, it might see the death of the CMS with WPMu as a cool replacement, but it’s gonna need to be a little more thoughtful of its customer base. They need to understand that WPMu is a grass roots initiative most of the time. I could have used a glossy brochure quite frankly to sell the whole idea.
Anyway, I love, love open source, but my problem with it is that you have to be too willing to go under the hood without a manual to use it. There’s a kind of macho tone to it that can be kind of off-putting (just putting that out there). I also think the business speak is off-putting as well. So I think there needs to be a middle way. Jim, you’ve done a lot of documentation, for example, but it’s all here on this blog and not in some kind of central help wiki. We need to be a little less punky if this thing is going to go mainstream and that might mean shaking hands with the business-speak people.
The idea behind the list was that at every WordCamp I go to there are 2-3 folks who talk to me about how they’re using WP in an educational setting and they were all operating as islands – there was little to no collaboration or shared resources amoung that community of interest.
WordPress itself started with a mailing list, so it seemed like a good idea.
I have no interest in commercializing educational usage of WP, in fact part of the reason for the list is even though I’m not personally excited about the space (for a variety of reasons) I know a ton of smart people who are and didn’t want to hold them back.
Of course if you ever have questions about the intentions or plans of Automattic feel free to drop me an email.
I meant creepy in the best possible sense, believe you me.
I hope their response was only this:
“Calmer than you are.”
I’m finding this discussion interesting, as someone who co-founded an open source project that for its first year or so was solely aimed at education.
In my opinion, Automattic are trying to do right by the community. They’ve spotted a segment of WordPress’s userbase and want to provide resources to support it. They produced a WordPress document for that segment. This isn’t evil; it’s a good idea. By maintaining a space for this segment to talk, they can respond better to their ideas, and embrace anyone who would like to contribute back.
Open source is a conversation. It’s not free: there’s a cost to the user to run it (in server expertise, potentially support, any required customisations) and to the project itself (to write the software and provide resources to the community). Everyone involved needs to eat. This does mean that, where a product is supported by a company like Automattic, there needs to be some commercial interest for them, whether directly or indirectly.
It’s a massively popular project. If you are not contributing back in some way, you don’t really have a right to demand anything from them. If you’re part of the community and actually contributing back, either in terms of money or tangible submissions, it’s probably a slightly different story, but even then, the best way is to get involved with the actual development process. The educational community has a lot to offer: code submissions, themes, patches, constructive feedback through preset channels, assistance with documentation, translations and so on.
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Am I the only one who finds this bit by Matt a little odd and intriguing:
“part of the reason for the list is even though I’m not personally excited about the space (for a variety of reasons)”
It seems like a strange, small dig in an education oriented discussion.
And then there’s the question of why not be excited (or take trouble to say one isn’t) about a growing, active, significant group of users of his product? Or is he specifically talking about commercializing the space, which of course no one here appears to be wanting– in fact it’s quite the opposite.
It just seems like an odd inclusion given the growing presence of educators in the WP community, educators becoming more active at Wordcamps, etc.
I didn’t take Matt’s comment as a dig at all. Why should we expect everyone to be excited about education? There’s a large contingent of knit-bloggers, but I’d wager that Matt isn’t excited about knitting either. So what? He’s excited about community and enabling online content publishing. If we edu-folk are able to play with the same tools, that’s great.
What D’Arcy said. 🙂
Kudos to you, not only for joining the conversation here, but for even considering dealing with the maniacs in edtech. It’s a motley crew, but we know awesome software when we see it, and what you and your folks have designed enabled many of us to help individuals and institutions re-think the space of publishing in education on so many levels. And despite my nonsense here, the fact is we are using the work you have freely given away to help re-imagine the technology-enhanced future of education. I am extremely grateful for that and I guess sometimes it seems too good to be true, and folks start wondering…and in my case, often wrongly!
Thanks for shopping at the bava, we appreciate your patronage 🙂
The question isn’t about Matt’s interest in knitting or education, but about a large group’s use of WordPress. There is a difference, and it’s subtle,
but I’m sure you can understand it: disinterest in the field of education using X is different from interest in X itself. If I made a book binding machine and a large number of educators and institutions started using it, I could be interested even with no interest at all in education itself.
And I know you understand the idea of rhetoric. The rhetoric is the point of my question: going out of the way to say that one is unexcited about something in a context discussing use of that something– particularly when you are the founder and driving force in making that something in the first place– has rhetorical meaning. It has even different rhetorical meaning from expressing disinterest. There’s no need to say it, so saying it speaks to something happening in Matt’s head. I, personally, would be interested to know what that was.
But I’m certainly not demanding that he tell us!
That first paragraph sounds snarky, which wasn’t my intent, but is an artifact of cut and paste. What happened to the ability to edit comments after they were posted? Anyway, the “but I’m sure you can understand it” phrase should be struck from the first paragraph! It belonged down in the second where it sounded much less snarkish. I think.
I struck it from the record, because I love you 🙂 Don’t know why comment editing isn’t working, need to look into that. It is something every blog should have, and would save me a lot of bad face and grammar.
Luke, you mention Doug’s inclusion of Cost as a section in his outline of a document and state that it means, “Automattic is preparing to pitch a service as a vendor, not merely to suggest that WordPress is a good solution for colleges.” Matt’s disavowal of this aside, I read the inclusion of Cost as a section that would identify costs associated with using WordPress (hosting, technical staff, etc) vs. using a commercial system such as Blackboard, Angel, etc.
Jane– fair enough. I should have replaced “is” with “looks to me like it might be” or something of the like… the meaning certainly wasn’t clear in the original email, as I think has been established, especially for folks who are looking in from the outside. I didn’t mean to come off as dogging Automattic.
Jane said it perfectly. The cost section’s intent is to address the costs associated with WordPress. Even though it is free and open source, users do need hosting and will likely need someone with technical expertise to install and manage it. The cost section does not try to pitch Automattic services.
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Jim, you are wrong but it’s necesary protect with passion our right to think and learn in a free way….so you are wrong but in the good way
Why thanks, I needed that, especially after meeting Jane Wells at WordCampEd and seeing how passionate she is about these very issues of education and openness. I’m often wrong, but I agree with you, better to err on the side of open and free. And it looks like WordPrss is reamining just that 😉
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