Selling Warwick Blogs to Warwick
Selling blogs to Warwick, that's a part of my job. Or at least I should say that part of the still significant task of selling blogs to the University, the whole University, is up to me and the small team of people that I work with. I am the Arts Faculty E-learning Advisor, one of four such advisors, each assigned to a different faculty. I am also one of the people who convinced IT Services and Elab to build Warwick Blogs. Why did I do that? Partly because I want to use it for my PhD, and partly because I wish I could have had it when I was an undergraduate here ten years ago.
If you are reading this entry then almost certainly you have already bought into Warwick Blogs, you have been converted. Maybe you are even addicted to it. But you have probably bought into just one specific idea of what Warwick Blogs is about, one that is quite different to the many ideas that I am trying to sell people. That in itself is OK, but you have to realise this:
Warwick Blogs is a powerful and sophisticated tool. We tell people that it is just a clever kind of notebook or journal, but in fact it is far much more than that. It's potential is huge. It's applications numerous. That's why the team who visited us from Oxford University this week were in awe at what we have done.
There is a need to be open minded about blogs. For all of those people who have done so much to make it their own, to define what it seemed to be to anyone looking at its old homepage, think of the potential uses and the users who might interpret things quite differently. Think of the researcher for whom it might be a useful writing tool, or the international student showing his funders back home what he is part of.
At the moment the system has been occupied by a small percentage of those potential users, using it for a small fraction of its potential capabilities. That's good for them, but we are here to support the whole University in using IT to improve what they do. And this is a big and diverse place. Cultural change in such an environment will always be difficult, and must be handled with great sensitivity. As one of the people who has to sell Warwick Blogs to Warwick, I have a simple message to our current bloggers:
Selling new working/studying practices is really hard. Convincing people to adopt new IT practices is also really hard. Getting people from a diversity of social/academic/national cultures to adopt change at the same time is more than just difficult. The combination of these things makes for a very difficult job, and ensures that selling Warwick Blogs beyond its early adopters is quite a challenge.
I'm the guy who has to do this, and I am telling you that we are facing a big challenge! If the system needs altering to help us to meet that challenge, then it has to be altered. Trust me, I work on this every day. I'm out there talking to people every day.
As a user of Warwick Blogs, you can either help us with this, help us to reach a wider range of people with a wider range of users, or you can decide that you would rather keep the system to yourself, to people just like you. What would be the right thing to do? Here's a little exercise to help you understand (perhaps you could answer it on your blog):
- think about why you use Warwick Blogs, list the things that you get out of it;
- consider how those values are dependent upon the ways in which you like to do things, and upon your working, studying and social practices;
- consider how lucky you are that the University has developed a system to help you do those things;
- now try to consider people with different values and different practices – if you can't come up with lots of examples, then you really are narrow minded!
- consider if your view of what Warwick Blogs should be like will also provide a system that is attractive to them;
- consider if this will lead to an un-feasibly complex system;
- now think about the difficult task that eLab has in pleasing as wide a population as possible.
Hard isn't it!
I think that the changes to the Warwick Blogs home page are about making it more neutral. I am saying that this is essential if we are to sell it to a wider range of people, which we must do.
The old home page presented a view of what Warwick Blogs is being used for now, rather than what it could be used for. Unfortunately, potential users look at the content on the home page and think "that's not for me, that's not what i want my activities associated with". And they turn away. Yes, the changes are a marketing move. The home page was intended as a marketing tool. And as such, it has to represent a wide range of possible uses.