Posts Tagged ‘WordPress’

Dude, I Just Colleagued My Dean

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010
CC licensed photo by

CC licensed photo by

What role should social networking play within online academic environments? Should faculty members, administrators, and students be able to friend one another on campus-wide blogging platforms? Is the term “friend,” used as either a noun or a verb, insufficiently serious for the august members of the academy? Or is friending so firmly established that any other term will sound hopelessly contrived?

These are not idle questions. As Project Director of The CUNY Academic Commons, an academic social network that connects the twenty-three campuses of The City University of New York system, I am trying to gauge the comfort-level of my local scholarly community with these issues. Our site uses uses BuddyPress, a set of plugins for WordPress Multi-User, to enable a social network that includes friend-based connections between members. So far, at least, we haven’t altered the default language of friending on BuddyPress, but that doesn’t mean we won’t or shouldn’t.

When we first unveiled the Commons to the CUNY community at the December 2009 CUNY IT Conference, one audience member expressed discomfort with the idea of friending colleagues. This prospective member of our site found the “friend” terminology a bit inappropriate to the academic sphere; more than that, though, he felt uncomfortable with the intimacy that friendship implied. He didn’t want to “friend” his Provost or receive a friendship request from a grad student working in his office. He just wanted to work with them.

So, one question I have is whether some term besides “friend” would be more appropriate for a work environment, even an informal one that includes social ventures like CUNY Pie. Would everyone be happier if we were colleaguing one another on our academic networks?

Of course, friending — the bi-directional, mutually affirmed confirmation of a relationship — is not the only model for connection in a social network. Twitter utilizes an asymmetrical “follow” system in which one user can follow, or subscribe to, the updates of one another without both members agreeing to a shared relationship. Similarly, sites like Flickr and Delicious allow users to add others to their networks without requiring a mutual decision by both members. LinkedIn, meanwhile, allows members to mark one another as colleagues, co-workers, or classmates. goes both ways: in addition to designating others on the site as colleagues, members can “follow” the work of other scholars.

On the Commons, we’ve been so busy developing the site that we haven’t really initiated this discussion among our users. Some conversation began over on Boone Gorges’s blog, where Boone and I began to hash out these issues in a post that really had little to do with the conversation that followed (+1 to me for hijacking the comment thread).

Obviously, individual academic communities may have different answers to these questions, but I figure that as long as we have some of the best minds in the Digital Humanities and Emerging Media gathered together in one place this weekend, we might as well take a crack at them, too.

So: will you be my friend colleague some-other-term-that-expresses-a-vague-and-perhaps-specious-connection? I hope so, because a request is already on its way.

Applying open source methodology and economics to academia

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

I’d like to explore the potential parallel between academic knowledge production and open-source software development. Here’s my thought: while things are economically dire for universities (the de facto centers of scholarship), they are pretty good in open source communities (Linux, WordPress, Drupal and the like are more widely used all the time and supported by ever-growing communities). So maybe there’s something that scholars can learn from the open-source folks. Two possible lenses:

1) Economics – The open source economy is, arguably, a gift economy when viewed from the inside. But externally, the open source movement is largely dependent on the commercial world: companies like Google and Sun officially steward open source projects, and more broadly, many (most?) contributors to FOSS projects are only able to do so because of their gainful employment in the regular economy. To some extent, the academy already works like this: scholars can only create contribute to the scholarly economy because they are supported by their employers (universities) who enlist them for income-generating service (mainly teaching, but also financially attractive research, etc.). Are there other parts of the commercial economy where scholars can be parasitic? Or, in the way that a company like Automattic provides paid support to commercial users of WordPress in order to finance the continued development of the software, are there ways that scholars could independently charge to “support” (speaking gigs, consulting, etc) the ideas that they give away for free?

2) Process – Much of the pushback from open publishing models centers on the importance of peer review: good review costs money, and the closed model of an academic journal provides necessary funds. Take away pay walls, the argument goes, and you can’t have good review. In successful open source projects, code has to meet an extremely high standard of quality, yet many (most?) contributors are not paid for their contributions. What are the ad hoc models of review, hierarchy, and encouragement that emerge in open source communities? How might the structures that emerge out of open source communities – ideas like ‘commit access’ and ‘version control’, the notion of fluid and complex rather than fixed and linear hierarchies, and so on – play a role in the development of a new kind of peer review?


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