Well, we are actually in the third week of classes here at UMW, amazing how fast it is going, especially since we are literally crushed with activity and uptake of UMW Blogs. It has been a banner semester with almost 50 courses and over 35 different professors using the system is some fashion or another this semester alone. It’s amazing that we’re three weeks in and I am still jam packed with visiting courses and giving an overview of the system. It’s fun to see things light up like this, and at the same time a little tough because what was once a system I could in some ways maintain and “control” has gotten out of my hands. The RSS feed moves so furiously that I can’t even begin to catch up, and I’m feeling a bit estranged from the joy of the whole experiment, reading widely and commenting often. I know I’ll find my pace once things slow down for me, but I’m on edge just thinking about how much I’m missing already. I know you can’t consume it all, but damn it if you don’t make the Herculean effort necessary to keep the community solid.
BuddyPress running on UMW Blogs but we are still treating it very much experimental, using it mainly using it predominantly for blog and member directories—though not preventing anyone from toying around with the profiles, messaging, groups, etc. We haven’t entirely themed the BuddyPress integration yet, but you can get a sense of Martha’s brilliant styling here. And if you haven’t seen the site re-design on the frontpage, you should really take a look, Martha is amazing.
What struck me this evening when I checked in on the first two weeks stats for UMW Blogs is what an insane amount of traffic the site has gotten since August 24th. Over 51,000 visits, almost 36,000 of them unique, and more than 150,000 page views! Now, these numbers are particularly startling given that we have just over 3500 users, all of whom are definitely not active. What these figures suggest to me is that UMW Blogs is getting an immense amount of traffic from people who are not part of our community. Unlike last year, more than 74% of our traffic is from search sites and referring sites. What we have here is an open ecosystem of thinking, teaching and learning that people are accessing regularly, and en masse, through web searches and referral links. That’s wild! And while numbers lie, and I understand all that, what this tells me is that while UMW Blogs is becoming a dreaded system, it does offer some basic amenities that are key to our institution: a quick and easy place to publish media and create dynamic sites; a culture for sharing what we do and opening up the dialogue beyond the university walls; a fairly sophisticated syndication engine for aggregating together relevant content that keeps getting easier.
So rather than losing energy and getting demoralized with the tidal wave of work and projects, it is time to double up efforts and come up with a grant that spans several institutions and invests some serious time, energy, and money in working through the possibilities of fine-tuning the syndication bus. I know it can be done, and I truly believe we are pretty close to having a proto-type that may prevent many invested universities from simply capitulating to Google Wave and the other applications that are basically doing just this. What’s important about this is that we avoid surrendering all thought, innovation, content, and control over the places that we design to mega-corporations that are in many ways alienating us from the spaces we need to be hacking. And I say this knowing full well Google is amazing at what they do, and the Google LMS is not far off. That being the case, I still firmly believe it is the people and ideas that are working through these issues at their respective institutions and individually that need to be framing the possibilities and imaginatively dialoging about the implications. What we need maybe even more than convenience is a critical perspective on the ways in which so much of our online spaces, data, and possibilities are being determined for us.
I’m unbelievably happy with what’s happened here at UMW, but there are still holes we need to figure out, and we need to start imagining that aggregation engine that doesn’t become about any one system, but rather pulls together and relates data from a plurality of services and sites using a few basic standards. So, this is my wake-up call that there is much work to still be done, and the framing of a possible grant needs to be rolled out here soon to keep things relevant and interesting as real-time RSS begins to heatup.