In the seven years I have been at UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies we’ve done a fair bit of experimentation. Most of that has been centered around commodity web hosting, domains, and one-click install open source applications. That method has paid off for us beautifully, so much so that the experimentation we did early on resulted in a successful blogging platform, a cutting-edge university website run on WordPress, and even an extensible framework for a course like ds106. Our experimentation has resulted in grassroots projects that have become official platforms that the campus interfaces with on a daily basis. None of this happened because it was forced on people, but rather because people found the various services we provided useful. This, for me, is the ultimate sign of success for an outfit like ours.
The other, uglier side of the early experimentation is that it can be messy. Early on there was the exciting and chaotic proliferation of sites, domains, and web hosting accounts as we were exploring. That momentum slowly began to shift as we built more scalable models like UMW Blogs and umw.edu on WordPress. Turns out folks around campus were more than willing to stop using their externally hosted sites and return to the fold once they had an easy, powerful publishing platform like WordPress to work with.
So for the last week or two Tim Owens, Andy Rush, and I have been trying to clean up the vestiges of the web hosting and domain diaspora that has been languishing for several years now. The Domain of One’s Own pilot provided us a perfect occasion to transfer all the various domains and web hosting files from the disparate accounts to our own dedicated server for the project so that we can consolidate and manage all these files. What’s more, we can give any individual and/or department their own web hosting access because that is what this pilot is all about. After we consolidate all the web hosting accounts and domains to the Domain of One’s Own server we’ll have saved the university anywhere from $1000-$2000 per year in ongoing domain and hosting costs which means the cost of the pilot is closer to $8000 or $9000 this year—now that’s an innovative bargain!
What’s interesting is that the diaspora of sites has slowly consolidated to the point where we can both manage and archive all of the legacy work we have done over the last seven years while getting rid of the chafe and making sure the sites don’t become overgrown with web kipple, or even worse just disappear. It feels really good to be working through this process this Summer to make sure the work students and faculty have done on a wide range of sites over a long period of time is archived, consolidated, and available for the foreseeable future. I may even get the pre-cursor to UMW blogs, ELS Blogs, back up and running over the next week or two—which would be awesome, not to mention it would fix a lot of broken links from a large number of bava posts from 2007.
Are you getting the library at all involved with this? Put another way, is there any institution-level, long-term preservation strategy or discussion? (Not meaning to call you out if not, more wondering whether we’re the only ones not doing enough in this way.)
I think that the Domain of One’s Own gives us a place to put all of this archival work and to at the same time start to figure out what our long-term archival plan is. Part of me wants to focus on working with the library to educate students about personal archiving. Taking control of this stuff and leaving a copy with us, if they like, and take the rest. Most of this departmental and one-off course stuff from the past can be centrally archived in some idea of a digital repository we haven’t dreamt up yet, but that raises big questions about create and keep a searchable, archivable version of UMW Blogs—which might be an interesting place to think about individual work versus course/community work. So this is the best kind of calling out in my mind, and something we need to get on top of. This post is a promising first step.
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