Should PSU Host Blogs?

There’s been a good debate about whether or not PSU should support blogs. Who among you think this is important for PSU to invest in and support?

Blogs, or web logs, are used more and more for individuals and organizations to publish material to the web quickly and easily. Any individual can set up a blog and write until their heart's content. They can publish their thoughts to the world and with no editor, filter or moderation. If they have good ideas and can write effectively, others take notice. They may also establish a feed from your site. That means every time you post something on your blog, it is pulled to their attention.

Like so many new aspects of the web, water seeks its own level. If you are good, people take notice and your hit count increases. Some may get their 15 minutes of fame. For most, it simply brings the satisfaction of writing and publishing.

Some PSU classes use blogs. Students are required to set up a blog and post materials there as part of assignments. Some students who are less extroverted in the classroom can be more effective communicators in writing. (and vica versa)

Over the past year, PSU has been hosting a small blog server in a pilot study. Several departments have signed on to use them, along with a few individuals. The very blog you're reading now is sitting on that server. Yet we cannot continue to expand its use without investing in more equipment.

With that background, here is the issue. Should PSU host a blog site for individuals or not? Should we invest PSU resources in the hardware to host blogs in the PSU domain? It might cost around $7-8,000, plus someone’s time to maintain and upgrade it in the future. Or should we use and encourage blogs, but use any one of the many blog sites free and easy to anyone on the web. There are two camps of thought.

Camp One: PSU should not only support, but encourage blog use. We are an academic community where free exchange of ideas and thoughts is fundamental to our mission. By encouraging the use of blogs, we can bring more attention to PSU. In a Google Economy, this is muscle. It could also be a marketing boon. $7-8k in cost is nothing considering the larger cost of technologies on campus. PSU can and should invest in this rapidly expanding means of communication. It is core to what we do. Also, by hosting the blog site at PSU, we do not require students sign up for web services outside of our control.

Camp Two: PSU should encourage and support blog use for anyone interested, but why invest in hardware and support when blogs are a commodity readily and easily available on the web? Anyone can sign up for a free blog by establishing a username, password and verification of age. (www.blogstream.com, for an example) There is nothing overly personal or sensitive in that information. (If you don’t want to give your real birthdate, don’t.) There would be no cost to PSU and the same functionality would exist. Besides, given the rapid pace of change around web applications, we might want to wait this out and see if it’s a fad or a true wave of the future.

I’ve simplified the debate to this core issue. There are pros and cons to each. The crux question to you is whether or not you feel this is important to what we do at PSU? The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) engaged in this debate in their September 2006 meeting. Their recommendation was that PSU should support and host blogs.

It will be presented as a budget priority for next year. It will compete with other priorities for new funding.

What do you think? Do blogs matter to you and if so, should we host or post elsewhere? I’d love to hear from others in the campus community.
(ITS’ers and blog aficionados, let’s give others a chance to chime in first)

18 thoughts on “Should PSU Host Blogs?

  1. As PSU is an educational institution, it is consistent with our mission to $upport the contemporary media of information exchange. We need to allocate the financial resources to ITS so that they can assume stewardship of the hardware and systems required to sponsor blogs. It is inappropriate for us, as an institution, to abdicate the responsibility and control of blogs to the capricious hands of publically available technology.
    And as for the blogs themselves: ITS certainly has a critical role to play in encouraging their integration into PSU curriculum. I, personally, am not up to speed - yet. And I wouldn't mind a little bump-start to get me going. [where's the spell-check on this *&^% thing?]
    ~Ned

  2. I was in Camp 1 - based on value added model to psu but

    now i'm in
    Camp 2 - we couldn't keep up if this model is applied across campus. hell we can't keep up now.

    I don't blog, watch soap operas, listen to talk radio or watch Sienfeld all of which are popular aspects of our culture. If a professors wants to use blogging in a course let them use a blog situated on the web which will reflect the dynamic aspect of the current technology.

    Casey Bisson set me up to do this on my personal off campus website and before i got around to doing it this summer it had already changed. I was sitting there with my copy of MAC World and pc mag and the stuff already didn't quite match.

    Royce's model makes sense to me. With apologies to Evelyn i don't think her arguements hold water. If you want to be afraid of your personal life read the Consumer Reports article in the current issue. If I want your personal info i can get most of it with four clicks of my mouse and 10 bucks.

  3. Camp 2 definitly... why should the school put that money into something free. Instead of putting the 8 grand into blog hardware, spend the money on printers for every dorm, that way people do no thave to mob the HUB computer cluster to print out their papers. I'm not against blogs, blog all you want, but don't leech the school for money to do so.

  4. I believe im going to go with camp one on this. Blogs are fun, a lot of people have one, but i would rather see the seven or eight thousand dollars go somewhere else. I.E. you can spent five or six minutes waiting for a computer to log off/ log back into the system when you're in the HUB computer cluster. Blogs may not be a "fad" but as an educational institution, it seems going a little overboard to host what is essentially online journals when other venues exist to share infromation (i.e. websites) both on and off the PSU Servers.

  5. I teach Web Expressions and as part of the course students are expected to actively Blog. We currently use a server in the CS Department to host our Blog 'sites'. I feel Blogging is here to stay BUT I am leaning towards 'Camp 2' for the following reasons (some which have already been outlined:

    1. ITS, in my opinion, is already stretched heavily and I feel by NOT hosting a Blog site (with all behind the scenes administration, support, policy development, policy enforcement, etc) it would save valuable resources. There are numerous free blogging sites that are excellent...so why pay for what is free. also - by not hosting we probably would escape any liability (or most of it) should something 'illicit' show up on a student's Blog. I actually encouraged my students to try an external site with the hope they would feel more free to post and feel less like it was 'an assignment'...

    2. Students are already Blogging and some already have existing Blog sites established.....so why should we encourage them to relocate. Furthermore - those that Blog may wish to retain their Blog after graduation....so (unless ITS will supoprt it after the leave PSU) their site would get blown away.

    3. I'm not convinced that Blogs will continue to be as hot in their current form as they have been.....

    Now that I have said all this - I can still be swayed. I'm not entrenched with this opinion but it's basically my initial feeling on the subject.

  6. We actually don't _need_ a separate server for blogs as it is functioning nicely on pre-existing hardware. The only real cost is maintenance time. Time costs money...but the benefits of Google rank (read: free marketing) may very well outweigh those costs.

  7. Matt makes a good point, blogging is not system/resource intensive, so we don't need $$$ for equipment, but it does take time to manage. I'd be curious to see how many ITS man hours it took to set up and maintain the pilot blog server setup, maybe compare this data to how much people power it takes to maintain webmail.plymouth.edu (a resource I use much more often)...

    Maintaining blog space does make us competitve with other educational institutions, so it is a good selling tool...

    Of course, it is a bit ironic that we are debating blogs in a blog... :)

  8. I do not see the point creating a PSU blog site. Blogs just make it easier for someone to publish information on a website. Some can do that on their personal websites. Its not a blog, but who cares. From my own opinion, I hate blogs, people already spend too much time staring into a computer screen. Go out and talk to someone or write it down in a book. 8000 dollars could be spent in so many better ways, yets not waste it on "nice things to have." Lets get some printers in the dorms.

  9. $8000 is a white elephant. We DO NOT need additional hardware for blogs at this time. I setup and manage the pilot blog server and it does not need upgrading by any means. If we suddenly had 1000 people actively blogging, we may need to revisit this, but I'm sure we'd all be willing to find money for something 1000 people on campus were excited about.

    The initial setup was probably a 2 days. Much of this involved tying it into existing systems so only PSU people could create accounts. The actual WordPress install takes less than 15 minutes. As for maintenance long term... This is always an unknown. While the pilot has been going on, we have done very little work maintaining it. I'd estimate less than 10 hours in the 9 months we've had it. That number is lower than I would expect in production considering we have not done any patches or upgrades. If we quadruple that number we're talking like 50 hours for whole year (some of which could be done by student workers). I think I'll spend more than that amount of time still trying to convince people of this idea if it is shot down...

    I could expand on a litany of reasons why blogging is a no-brainer for us. I feel very strongly that having blogs can only benefit students, especially with the modest cost. However, Dwight has told us blog evangelists in IT to be quiet for the moment, so I'll only leave you with the facts about maintenance above.

  10. I am defiantly in camp one on this. I am a big fan of Blogs, I regularly use them as a resource for learning about current events. Blogs provide an opportunity for anyone to express themselves, and their ideas about the world.

    By creating a blogging community at PSU, we would be providing an opportunity for students to learn and use this cutting edge communication tool. Considering the costs works out to be about $2 per student, I think this is worth it.

    As far as the idea of having students use blogs from third party web sites, could not this same logic apply to our e-mail service? Why then, do we provide an e-mail account for every student attending the university?

    By creating a PSU blog server we could create a PSU Blogging Community, where students and faculty could discuss any number of topics in a forum that is open to all.

    We could, for instance, provide feedback on policy ideas... Kind of like we're doing right now. Isn't this useful? I am for it.

  11. I am defiantly in camp one on this. I am a big fan of Blogs, I regularly use them as a resource for learning about current events. Blogs provide an opportunity for anyone to express themselves, and their ideas about the world.

    By creating a blogging community at PSU, we would be providing an opportunity for students to learn and use this cutting edge communication tool. Considering the costs works out to be about $2 per student, I think this is worth it.

    As far as the idea of having students use blogs from third party web sites, could not this same logic apply to our e-mail service? Why then, do we provide an e-mail account for every student attending the university?

    By creating a PSU blog server we could create a PSU Blogging Community, where students and faculty could discuss any number of topics in a forum that is open to all.

    We could, for instance, provide instant feedback on policy ideas... Kind of like we're doing right now. This will increase the flow of information and ideas across campus, what a good thing.

  12. I'd lean toward Camp 2 - for now. What if we "adopted" a good blog site and tracked its use for a bit? If it catches on and if demand eventually increases enough to warrant it, we can consider taking on the additional cost. I'm actually all for hosting a site here - but I'm a stronger advocate for well-managed budgets. I don't think the need is strong enough to jump this to the top of the list of institutional priorities - especially because there are so many other very viable alternatives.

  13. Pingback: Should Universities Host Faculty or Student Blogs? (part 1: examples and fear) « MaisonBisson.com

  14. Hi Dwight,

    I just wanted to repond to your question of whether or not Plymouth should support blogs and I have to say YES with all capital letters. I have only just begun blogging this past month using an account on both Blogger.com and the psu-host blogs. Both of my blogs are for classes and have been incredibly useful to me. I think that if all students had the oppertunity to get our and play around on blogs they would find out how wonderful a tool they really are. I hope to hear more about Plymouth and blog usage in the future. Please keep me updated.

    Thank You,
    Nate Lord

  15. I wondered how much privacy I would surrender if I created an off-campus blog site, so I followed Dwight's link to http://www.blogstream.com and opened an account. After creating a display name and a password, I was asked to surrender the following information: an email address, and the date of my birth. I have an email address that does not include my real name, so I used that. I used my real birth date, but I could just as easily have given a false one. I was also asked to check two boxes: one certified that I agreed to Blogstream's terms of service, and a second one certifying that I am at least 13 years old.

    No way can I consider this an invasion of my privacy. I surrender far more information, and more sensitive information, every time I buy a book from Amazon or pay a check online. Anyone who considers the above too much information to share probably shouldn't be online.

    Regarding the cost of blogging hardware, Dwight says it MIGHT cost $7000-$8000 in hardware plus an unspecified amount of ITS worker hours. Zach says there will be no need for additional hardware, and the number of worker hours will be low. I have no way of knowing who is right in this dispute, but since Dwight is the CIO, I am inclined to favor his side of the argument. Perhaps Dwight could settle this dispute by providing us with firmer numbers.

    Right now I am leaning toward camp two. The factor most likely to sway my decision toward the other camp is the argument that Matt Batchelder makes: "Time costs money…but the benefits of Google rank (read: free marketing) may very well outweigh those costs." I don't like to throw money around, but I'm not against investing it in a good cause, and boosting PSU's Google rank seems like a very good one to me. Before we go to the expense of investing money and time in this cause, however, we need to know whether there is enough interest in blogging on campus to decide whether the investment would be worthwhile. This being the case, I agree with Stacey Curdie: let's encourage faculty and students to use off-campus blogging sites for the time being. If, after a year or two, there are a whole lot of PSU bloggers on these sites, then we will know that setting up our own PSU blogging site will be a good investment.

  16. I wondered how much privacy I would surrender if I created an off-campus blog site, so I took followed Dwight's link to http://www.blogstream.com and opened an account. After creating a display name and a password, I was asked to surrender the following information: an email address, and the date of my birth. I have an email address that does not include my name, so I used that. I used my real birth date, but I could just as easily have given a false one. I was also asked to check two boxes: one certified that I agreed to Blogstream's terms of service, and a second one certifying that I am at least 13 years old.

    No way can I consider this an invasion of my privacy. I surrender far more information, and more sensitive information, every time I buy a book from Amazon or pay a check online. Anyone who considers the above too much information to share probably shouldn't be online.

    Regarding the cost of blogging hardware, Dwight says it MIGHT cost $7000-$8000 in hardware plus an unspecified amount of ITS worker hours. Zach says there will be no need for additional hardware, and the number of worker hours will be low. I have no way of knowing who is right in this dispute, but since Dwight is the CIO, I am inclined to favor his side of the argument. Perhaps Dwight could settle this dispute by providing us with firmer numbers.

    Right now I am leaning pretty toward camp two. The factor most likely to sway my decision toward the other camp is the argument that Matt Batchelder makes: "Time costs money…but the benefits of Google rank (read: free marketing) may very well outweigh those costs." I don't like to throw money around, but I'm not against investing it in a good cause, and boosting PSU's Google rank seems like a very good one to me. Before we go to the expense of investing money and time in this cause, however, we need to know whether there is enough interest in blogging on campus to decide whether the investment would be worthwhile. Therefore, I am going to side with Stacey Curdie for the time being: let's encourage faculty and students to use off-campus blogging sites for the time being. If, after a year or two, there are a whole lot of PSU bloggers on these sites, then we will know that setting up our own blogging site will be a good investment.

  17. Follow Up:

    The Technical Advisory Group met in October and in light of the feedback here, the following is our approach...for now.

    • A proposal for expanded storage will be submitted to Allocations Committee
    • We will extend the pilot project for blogs, letting it grow naturally.
    • Coordinate blog policy with emerging effort in OPR to refine internal and external communication strategies
    • Sell idea as option for faculty, but refrain from broader campus promotion
    • Be clear that a blog today does not entitle blogger to blog perpetuity on PSU server
    • See where we are at in 6 months, one year and later.

    Thanks to all for your input.