This morning I had a fun conversation with David Grogan, Ilene Chen, Stephen McDonald, and Hannah Reeves from the academic technology group at Tufts University. They had some questions about running a large scale WPMu installation at Tufts University, and below are some of their questions followed by my working answers. Figured I’d republish it here from Google Docs in the event anyone finds it useful, and special thanks to Hannah Reeves for organizing the session, it was a lot of fun, and it’s apparent Tufts has an excellent group that has much to bring to the experimentation with WPMu in education.
Set up and Performance
How long have you been running WPMu and what version are you currently running?
We have been running WPMu for almost three years now. We started with a smaller pilot for one department (English Linguistics and Speech) at http://elsblogs.org in January of 2007, and based on its success decided to offer a university-wide publishing platform for all departments, students, and staff at UMW Blogs (http://umwblogs.org), which launched in August of 2007.
What plug-ins are you using?
Oh wow, this is a big one, we have alomost 100 regular plugins installed, and then another 20 or 30mu-plugins. I won’t list them all here, but I will highlight the ones I think are essential, as well as point to Tom Woodward’s recent post about the plugins you should have (there is a little overlap here).
- Initial plug-ins at time of setup
- Akismet (free for educational institutions – with conditions)
- Akismet Credit (D’Arcy Norman’s quick plugin for adding credit to footer quickly and easily)
- Sitewide Tag Pages Plugin
- Anarchy Media Player (Download here)
- More privacy options
- Signup Terms of Service
- WP Supercache
- WPMu Feed
- WPMu Gravatars
- ADA Series
- Sitewide Multi-Widget (works in conjunction with Sitewide Tag Pages)
- WPMu Statistics
Can your users create their own themes from scratch? If so, how?
They sure could, themes are based on the open source code of WordPress, so anyone can create one who has working knowledge of PHP and CSS. We really haven’t had too many people design their own from scratch, but if they did we would need to test it before it went live. What we do a lot of, however, is use the Userthemes plugin listed above to get access to the theme files and hack existing themes. We have found this feature to be invaluable for the work we do.
Is your instance designed to be self-service? (e.g. can anyone at UMW log in and create new blogs or is there are request mechanism?)
Absolutely, anyone with a UMW email can get an account, and use it for whatever reason they like. I think this model has been the ral key to opur success. Because at it’s root UMW Blogs is an open, and easy-to-use publishing platform for all kinds of things. And we have allowed people to use it that way, and the results have been amazing in terms of realizing new uses and possibilities for the system. When you prescribe or define a technology too specifically, you often take out any innovative and re-imaginative teeth it might have had.
What does your hardware configuration look like?
UMW Blogs is externally hosted by Cast Iron Coding, which rules by the way, and we recently updated our server to the following specs (which work perfectly for more than 3600+ users and 3200 blogs).
SuperMicro H8SMU AMD Opteron QuadCore SingleProc Sata [1Proc]
AMD Opteron 1216HE [2.4GHz]
2 GB RAM
250 GB Hard Drive
100 MBPS network cards
Also, we give users about 150 MB of storage space, but rarely do they use that because we push external services like YouTube, blip.tv, Flickr, etc.
Have you noticed any system limitations regarding number of user accounts, # of blogs? Is so, what?
Not yet, as the numbers suggest above, we have a healthy community, but have not had real issues. We are currently using Multi-DB from WPMuDev, but are currently working on switching to Hyper-DB (which is what wordpress.com is run on) because we no longer have a premium account at WPMuDev.
Have you noticed any system performance issues? If so, what?
Well, we had a system performance with traffic at the beginning of the semester, after which we upgraded to the server specs laid out above. Right now it is running smoothly, but the real issues with performance is plugin related, so I would watch that far more closely than we do
Have you encountered any security issues that you have had to patch yourself? If so, what?
We actually upgrade to latest version very regularly. And so far so good, we have been pretty secure as things go. With that said, we do not have UMW Blogs linked into any other system, and the login and password is not connected through a single sign-on solution.
How many staff/partial FTEs are needed to support your instance?
As of right now, I do the majority of user support with the actuall system. But our division 5 and 1/2 FTEs, though I think most of the support has been relegated to me, and it has not burned all my time, but as UMW Blogs becomes bigger and bigger, and more “Systemic,” the time devoted to it becomes greater. But, in anticipation of the next question. WordPress has made any barriers to new users very easy because the interface is so slick and user-friendly. And the fact that it is open source, and has an insane community behind it makes our jobs as instructional technologists so much easier, cause we can integrate new features on the fly.
What do you see as the biggest barriers that new users have to overcome in using WP?
Well, I think that is WP’s strength, and why we used it, because it’s interface is so user-friendly we haven;t had to invest too much time at all in user training.
What do you wish you could do with the system that you haven’t been able to do?
I wish it dealt with pages better than it currently does, but this is an issue I have with WP more generally. I think pages and the actual transformation of the blog into a website could be a bit more seamless in terms of child/parent pages, page order, and static frontpage. It does it all right now, but I think if it were all managedin one place, and a bit more obvious, that would be a huge help.
I also wish aggregation and syndication was built into the core in a more sophisticated manner, but this can be accomplished relatiely well with FeedWordPress.
Are you automatically categorizing blogs by people, clubs, courses, etc.? If so how?
No, we aren’t categorizing blogs out of the box, we actually allow clubs and courses to add themselves to these aggregation blogs. For example, a new club can include the URL of their webspace (as long as it has a feed it can be hosted anywhere) on the clubs blog here: http://clubs.umwblogs.org
A model which is very similar to how we are using aggregating sites for various courses.
Have you attempted to integrate BuddyPress? If so, what’s your experience been?
We have integrated BuddyPress with UMW Blogs, and you can see the evidence of this in the blogs, members, and groups pages off the main UMW Blogs site. We haven;t pushed it at all, and we are still thinking about the profile pages, but for right now we are just seeing what faculty and students do with it, if anything. Over th next several months we will be experimenting more, but for right now it is acting more like a directory/profile sapce with limited activity. That said, we have been watching the work of Boone Gorges closely as he works on integrating forums and groups, and eventually thinking about groups as the organizing principle of a course blog, which is intriguing.