All 120 entries tagged Blogging

Blogging about blogging. Specifically the BlogBuilder system that I've built for Warwick

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November 17, 2004

Other University blogging systems

Browsing around the other day I managed to end up at a blog on the domain wsu.edu and it got me to thinking about what other universities host blogs.

A quick search of my memory and the web brought up these:

Middlebury College, Vermont, have an MT install that has around 200 or so blogs. Not sure what support there is for this project.

Washington State University has a blogging system, not sure what software it is though. Pleasingly they do provide a home page for the system which lists the most recent entries and provides a few stats:

  • Journals – 124
  • Posts – 358
  • Articles – 40
  • Comments – 118
  • Trackbacks – 211

The system is run by their Center for Teaching Learning, and Technology. There is more information about their blog project here.

Harvard University have one of the oldest blogging systems out there as it was created by one of the old men of blogging, Dave Winer. It is very difficult to see how active the Harvard blogs are, however, judging by this page there are anything from 2 – 20 blogs updated a day out of a total of 623 blogs. Harvard are running Manilla.

University of Minnesota are also one of the early entrants into the university blogging fray. They are running a custom version of MT again, but much more customised than Middlebury. They also provide some stats:

  • Total number of blogs: 771
  • Blog authors: 1333
  • Blog entries: 9977
  • Comments to all blogs: 5350

Unlike the other systems covered so far, they provide a list of latest entries and an A-Z directory of blogs. The system is run by their Libraries, under the watchful eye of Shane Nackerud.

The University of Waterloo have used blogs in a slightly different way. They have installed a custom version of MT also, but have used it to create a very small set of highly controlled publicity type blogs. There are 6 blogs written by different students that are updated relatively often, at least once a week that provide insights into life at the University. A good publicity tool I think, unsurprising when it is run by their communications office.

And then there's us…I'm sure there are other systems out there that I've missed or that are just keeping quiet or private. But I would love to find out if there are more, and perhaps contact some of them to share ideas/experiences.


November 07, 2004

2000 blogs

Looks like we finally hit 2000 blogs! Yay for us!

I had always hoped that we might hit 1000 by Xmas, but looks like we are more likely to hit 2500 by that time. As I've said in my previous entries, it is important to think more about activity than just sheer numbers…but still, numbers are nice.

Another bit of great timing is the we also overtook uThink, the University of Minnesota blog system in terms of number of entries today with 8647 entries as of right now.

I'm just looking forward to Xmas and the new year to see just how the use of Warwick Blogs evolves and hopefully grows.


November 01, 2004

Usage of image galleries

I just had a look at image upload stats for BlogBuilder and had a nice surprise. So far there have been 8500 images uploaded by our users.

Around 600 different users have uploaded images so far. Obviously we are aware of some of the problems with image upload and the difficulty of managing galleries, but with this information in hand now, we can confidently say that image upload/galleries are well worth spending some time on as it is a feature people really like to use.

What would probably come along at the same time as gallery improvements would be the ability to upload other files, such as office documents, powerpoints, pdf's, etc…


October 28, 2004

My comments/comment tracking

Just about to start work on the "My comments" feature which people have been after for a while.

Basically this is going to be a screen where you can keep track of everywhere that you've commented and it'll highlight entries where there have been comments since your last comment.

This will initially be a private screen just available to the user (any user…even if you don't have a blog yourself) but there will eventually be an option to make some of that info available on your own blog so that people can see where you've commented if you so wish.

The second stage to this is the feature where you can say that you want to keep an eye on an entry and get emails when there are new comments. Advantage of this is that it will help you keep track of places where you are interested in the comments, but don't actually want to comment yourself.


October 19, 2004

Some Warwick Blogs statistics

Took a look at some stats from Blogbuilder today and tried to generate up some graphs showing how we are progressing. Bearing in mind that the graphs are crap (I hate Excel), you should be able to get an idea of progress.

All the graphs show data from the 10th September 2004 to the 18th October 2004. Roughly 2 weeks before the start of term and 3/4 weeks into term.

This is really the most important graph. What really counts is the number of entries we are getting. Yes, it is nice to have lots of blogs registered, but if only 1 in 100 people are blogging…
I think it is heading in generally the right direction, but the real test is how it looks around Xmas.

The number of comments is not only a good indicator of how many entries you have, but also how many people are reading and taking an interest in all those entries. Again, it is pretty good, on average there is a comment on every entry. But there are lots of entries with 10 or more comments and lots of entries with no comments. It would be interesting to look at how many people keep blogging, even if they have no comments…

It is good to note that there is still a steady influx of new blogs even though we are quite a way into term now. We hit 1500 blogs today and are still getting 30/40 new blogs per day.

Unfortunately the work to get Blogbuilder to generate these kinds of stats automatically is rather a long way down the priority list right now.


October 15, 2004

BlogBuilder e–learning requirements

Had a good meeting with the ELA's on Wednesday. They all got together to gang up on me and get me to build some of their e-learning requirements for blogbuilder.

So, what did we talk about?

  • Default permissions for categories
  • Automatically creating categories in peoples blogs
  • Making blog prompts send confirmation emails
  • Making people more aware of what creating a public entry really means
  • Squeezing people into blog collections, even if they are not strictly in that department, perhaps using a secondary department
  • Customising the home page

Those were the main topics, however, I forced them to agree to a top 3 things they wanted:

  1. Changing the wording on the "create entry" link on the drop down. There could be two options now, one that says University only entry and one which is World viewable entry The permissions that this would create are obvious, and that is the point. The wording more strongly suggests the implications of different kinds of permissions. There could well be a tooltip explaining the implications of fully public entries even further.
  2. Blog prompts should send confirmation emails to the blog owners hopefully this will mean better responses to blog prompts. The email will include all the text of the prompt and also a very clear link that you can click that will create an entry linked to the prompt.
  3. Module categories Although we are not sure how it would work just now, we agreed the need to create categories in peoples blogs based on what modules they are doing. However, it would not work to just show a category for all modules because there would be too many. Some kind of screen where students get to choose which modules they want to show categories for would be good.

October 10, 2004

Labeling who is in a photo

The gallery functionality still has a fair bit of work to do on it, and once some of the more basic features are finished/tweaked, there could be some really cool stuff we could do.

Because a lot of the photos that people are uploading are going to be of other people at Warwick and places/events around Warwick. Wouldn't it be nice if we could mark up photos with a bit more metadata?

It is usually quite difficult to get people to put even a title or description against a photo, but if we make it fun and easy, it might be worth a go.

An example application might be if you could put in a list of names of people in a photo, in theory you could then really easily search the database, across multiple blogs and galleries and find all photos that featured yourself or a friend. This has been done before a fair bit and can be seen in action here, here and here

That last one is a neat one, showing how you can do a photo six-degrees type thing. That links shows links from Libby Miller (a researcher in Bristol) to Frank Sinatra.

If lots of people were uploading photos and putting names and places against them, you could search for photos of you and your best friend at Top Banana for instance. Even though you never knew the photo was taken (you were too drunk to notice), you may well come across a great photo.

I guess a question I have to ask is…will people abuse it? Unfortunately in the last couple of weeks, we have seen a handful of people try to do some rather silly things with Warwick Blogs. Would people upload photos of their pet snake and label it as being their personal tutor? How could that be prevented?

Of course, if you really want a neat gallery system, check out Flickr, they have some really cool stuff.

Who knows if we'll get a chance to try this out (there are a hell of a lot of features way higher on the priority list than this), but if we did, I think it could be a lot of fun.


September 28, 2004

So far, so good.

So, term has begun. Apart from a few little hiccups here and there, the first few days into term has been successful for Warwick Blogs.

In terms of numbers of new blogs/entries/comments, the last few days have been great. As of right now, today has seen:

  • New blogs: 78
  • New entries: 108
  • New comments: 98

Obviously everyone is still just trying out blogs and finding their feet. Some people will love and continue to blog (we hope), and others will lose interest (if they had any in the first place).

People have obivously requested blogs for personal use…ranting seems to be a favoured type of entry :)
There have been a couple of blogs registered for societies and for modules. As we get into term a little further, and as the first few weeks madness eases a little (yes I was a Fresher here once…7 years ago…it does calm down…a bit), I hope to find people using blogs more both socially and academically.

I fully hope to see Top Banana photos in people's galleries, entries telling the world (or a select group) all about their night of drinking and people writing about their latest seminar or their thoughts about the final year project. Quite what the ratio of those kinds of entries is going to be like, who knows.

I guess we'll just wait and see…

As ever, if you want to give us some feedback (and we love feedback), please visit our blog feedback forum (you have to be logged in) and let us know what you think about Warwick Blogs, and yes, we can take constructive criticism :)


September 26, 2004

Harvard and Minnesota celebrate blogging milestones

Harvard weblogs have been running for around 2 years now I think and have had great success. There was recently an entry celebrating how far they have come. Harvard now have 581 blogs. They have every right to celebrate, they were the first University to really embrace the concept of academic blogging on a large scale. Dave Winer was the man behind Harvard blogs and the man behind popular blogging/cms software Manila. This is the very same software that powers Harvard blogs.

Minnesota's UThink project has been live since April and have also had great success, rapidly clocking up 583 blogs according to their recent celebratory entry. Shane Nackerud has been the driving force behind getting Minnesota's blog system up and running. He has put together a MovableType system run by the Minnesota Libraries.

So, then we come along. Having looked at the success of those two projects, we have been hoping to provide an even better system, making blogging even more engaging and easy to use. We've not hit the 583 blog mark just yet to overtake them, but I don't doubt we will. However, that is not the real measure of success.

How will we measure success? Number of entries, number of comments, number of blogs, number of page views? Number of students who say they enjoyed using their blog? Number of academics who say that it improved their teaching or their communication with their students? Number of people who like our funky fridge magnets? I'm really not sure yet. The experiment really begins this week and into the coming term and year.

Hopefully we will get plenty of feedback from people, letting us know what they love and what they hate, and given that we can refine Warwick Blogs into an integral part of the Warwick community. Big dreams, too big? Maybe.


September 02, 2004

BlogBuilder interoperability and extensibility

We have spent quite a while building blogbuilder from scratch to create what we hope is a good, feature packed blog system.

It was important to create it from scratch to overcome some of the problems of other blog packages out there. Such as:

  1. Scalability – most systems were designed to run a single blog, not a whole system of blogs
  2. Integration – we knew that we would want to closely integrate our blogs with our single sign on system
  3. Platform – most blog systems out there are php or perl based. There are a few Java based ones, but they are pretty basic
  4. Extensibility – from the word go we had a whole bunch of features which were quite rare or even unique in the blog world. So, we knew that we couldn't just buy something and install it…there was always going to be development work to do, so we may as well do it properly, rather than relying on someone elses code.
  5. Community – because most systems out there are designed for a single blog instance living in isolation, there is not really the concept of built in community and aggregation. Yes you can submit your blog to search engines and blog aggregators, but those are not controlled by us. We wanted to feel that you and your blog were not isolated. Community and peer support is an important factor in encouraging people to take up blogging and keep at it. To this end, we will shortly be making live our new blog directory which will aggregate together entries/blogs in groups based on departments/modules/etc…

Another objective is to encourage interactions between blogbuilder and other systems we have at Warwick. I've just created a web service which publishes basic information about blogs in an easy to understand XML format. Another system can easily request a list of blogs that someone owns and use that information in whatever way they deem fit.

For instance, the Skills people are going to be creating learning objects that when students have finished automatically helps the user create an entry in their blog with results from the learning object inserted for them.

Other interoperability we hope to do is with the library. It would be really nice if instead of just querying Amazon as we do at the moment, the book review system could link with the library.

I hope that by trying to make the system as usable and open as possible (within reason), people will come up with new ways of using blogbuilder that we have not even thought of yet.


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