UMW Blogs: a Diamond in the Rough

I don’t really know how to write this post. Saying goodbye is never easy, and sunsetting a duct-taped platform that gave life to thousands of voices for over 16 years is not trivial. Out of curiosity I peeked at the aggregate numbers for UMW Blogs when we first started tracking hits in 2010 (3 years after its launch in 2007) and it’s kind of mind-boggling:

UMW Blogs traffic since 2010

That’s well over 16 million users that started 20 million sessions and viewed 34 million pages that have been recorded. Not bad for a humble publishing platform for the UMW community that was born on a shared hosting account for $75 annually—let’s round-up to $90 with domain registration.  In many ways UMW Blogs embodied the anarchic spirit of fast, cheap, and out-of-control technology that flew in the face of over-engineered, locked-down, and expensive systems that were increasingly third-party solutions. Not only did the existing systems provide little to no agency for the broader community, but there was seemingly less than zero interest in serving the context of an educational institution—teaching and learning was an after-thought of these systems, if at all.

This is the primordial ooze from which UMW Blogs emerged in the Summer of 2007, almost exactly 16 years ago this week. It was not the product of any one person, but rather an amalgam of actors and factors conspiring to cultivate, capture, and broadcast the “life of the mind” at a small, public liberal arts college. The willingness to provide this online space to actively promote thoughtful, compelling, and authentic reflections from across the UMW community was a radical act of faith in the open web. And, I would argue, it did just that!

I’m not pretending UMW Blogs saved lives or changed the world, it didn’t. But I would argue that this modest experiment underscored that education is at its root a set of social relations that the web, at its best, amplifies and augments in ways existing systems at the time failed to imagine. While WordPress was the technology that made these connections accessible, it was the human will to learn through connections that underlines the true value of this platform.

There are literally thousands of examples of these connections, which will live on indefinitely given it’s been meticulously archived thanks to Shannon Hauser, Lauren Hanks, and Taylor Jadin.* But one example that struck me was a random blog called pchem that had only 3 posts in the Fall of 2011, one of which was the ubiquitous “Hello World!” The second was a post describing a diagram that illustrates the intermediate phases that occur in between graphite and diamond.

I have no idea what any of this means, but the student who wrote this post was digging in quite thoughtfully, and then one day several years later—October 26, 2014, to be precise—24,000 other people found this post for some reason. It was the single biggest day of traffic ever, and it was a post written by a student to help explain a complex chart about conditions under which diamonds are forged from graphite at a given combination of temperature and pressure. The chemical process by which something so beautiful and priceless is formed from the salt of the earth is worth reflecting on as UMW Blogs is gracefully retired. A diamond in the rough, for sure.


*Their amazing work to flatten thousands of sites and tens of thousands of posts to a HTML archive will provide an invaluable glimpse into higher-ed at the cross roads of the social web.

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4 Responses to UMW Blogs: a Diamond in the Rough

  1. Alan Levine says:

    Millions and millions of views! Kudos to the reclaim team for doing the preservation work and not taking the usual easy way out of dumping web content.

    I can almost grok that carbon phase diagram, just says to make diamon you need both a buttload of pressure but also temperature.

    Speaking of buttload, this reminds me of the other UMW student whose blog post with some info graphic on buttload vs shitload went nuts on reddit and shut down the server. That was probably in domains time, but those kind of experiences seem withered too as beautiful success markers.

    Keep them blogs afloat, yay!

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