Third Party or Institutional Provision of Blogs?
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 24 January 2007
Scott Wilson (a blogging pioneer at CETIS) reviewed his blog using a matrix developed by Lilia Efimova on the personal versus business dimensions to blogging. Lilia has developed a matrix which aims to characterise personal and business use of blogs. She subsequently cited the experiences of Alex Barnett, a blogger at Microsoft, who moved his blog from his work environment to his own server.
What are the implications of this discussion within the higher/further education sector? I’ve suggested previously that an approach to overcoming organisational inertia and conservatism is to seek forgiveness (if things subsequently go wrong) rather than waiting for permission. And setting up a blog on a remote service (such as WordPress, Blogger, etc.) enables this to be done by anyone, with little technical expertise required. The aim of this approach might be to demonstrate the benefits and to be able to justify the effort. Once this has been done there would often be an assumption that the service could be moved to an institutionally hosted service, which can provide a managed, supported environment, with an expectation that the service will be more sustainable.
But are such assumptions valid? Let’s look at the counter-arguments.
Dangers of losing citation rankings; broken links, etc.: If you’ve established a mature, sustainable blog, moving the content to another location would probably mean having to start from scratch in building up citation ranking in tools such as Technorati.
In the top 300,000 blogs!
Technical complexities in migration.: How easy is it to export the contents of a blog and import into a new system? Will links continue to work? Will embedded object continue to work?
Staff and students who are at the institution for a short period: Mature students and short term visitors to an institution may have little to gain from setting up a blog on an institutional server (unless the blog is intended for use directly related to the work or study activity). This might also apply to staff appointed on short term contracts. We can see parallels here with decisions regarding the selection of an institutional or a third party (such as GMail) email address.
Losing one’s community: Established bloggers who make use of a community-focussed blogging or social networking environment, may not wish to lose their community.
Losing functionality: Established bloggers may not wish to lose functionality they find useful in their blogging environment (although they may wish to migrate if the institution provides a blogging environment with richer functionality).
Policies on content: This is the area which relates directly to my introduction to this posting. Will there be problems if blog postings cover both professional and personal interests? What will happen if a posting does not comply with the party line? What will happen if criticisms are made of the organisation (the university administration, the IT services department, the Library, etc)? What will happen if blog posting include swear words?
A minority of users are likely to follow the example described above and host their own server (although this may be the preferred option such for bloggers with the expertise to manage their own server, such as Phil Wilson, a colleague of mine at Bath University). However the option for most users will be whether to use an institutional blogging service or a third party service. I don’t think there is a best solution. Rather I feel this is an area in which we’ll have to observe patterns of usage, and ensure that we can be flexible if an institutional blogging is not used to the extent envisaged. This may be due to a reluctance to engage in blogging activities, but equally it could be be a result of decisions by bloggers to have the flexibility which may be provided by a neutral service provider.