There has been a lot of discussion about the future of WPMu with the coming merge of WPMu and WP, and I understand there are concerns and issues all around. I’m not in the business of selling WPMu, so my concerns aren’t so much caught up with the preservation of the WPMu name, but they are very much centered around the future of the multi-blogging functionality. In many ways the coming merge provides us with an opportunity to re-think some things about the WPMu architecture and the possibilities of what it might mean for individuals to manage their own WPMu sites.
I think the most exciting prospect of the merge is that WPMu will finally become as simple to install and maintain as a regular old WordPress install. And if that’s the case and the raison d’etre of the merge, then the whole push for a multi-user blogging system is not nearly as essential as a way to aggregate, visualize, and expose the work happening around a particular community within any given blog. If I were thinking the merger through I would be just as interested in the possibilities of robust and distributed syndication built into future core of WP— something that at least for me seems so much more important than giving everyone a blog on your blogging system. I don’t necessarily want people on our blogging system as much as I want them to easily set up their own site with RSS (and a WP site with the added bonus of many blogs in one install wouldn’t suck) . Why not start thinking about how to integrate plugins like FeedWordPress, Sitewide Tags Pages, BDP RSS (which it turns out still does work with WPMu 2.8x, despite my earlier post), etc. into the core and truly supporting the idea of a blog as an aggregation point for a wide range of sites. WordPress has pretty much perfected the ease of use for publishing, and that is why they rule, but working a more robust framework within the future releases for re-publishing and real-time web stuff would certainly be powerful in my mind, but this is quite selfish because it is what I’m really interested in beyond WP or WPMu. I want an elegant, feed-driven aggregation system that brings the work of an entire community into conversation with itself.
And what really gets me about this is that we are pretty close right now with UMW Blogs, I grab feeds from external blogs all the time that are related to UMW an pull them into our sitewide “tags” blog (the name tags here is confusing, it is simply a republishing of everything in the entire WPMu install) with FeedWordPress. For example, I stumbled across this post in the tags blog on UMW Blogs tonight, which was actually being pulled in from a WordPress.com blog of a student who graduated years ago, but regularly blogs about her work in historic preservation. This particular post was all about a book she read as an undergraduate in Historic Preservation, and how great a resource it is. A valuable post, especially since the professor who recommended that book, W. Brown Morton, retired last year. There is a kind of eternal echo in a system like this that students, faculty, and staff can continue to feed into a community of teaching and learning well beyond their matriculation period, or even their career.
I often think why we couldn’t just use UMW Blogs for aggregating clubs and organization news, course blogs, etc., but have everyone’s actual blog in their own space. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still see the value of something like WPMu for a simple solution for a quick blog without the updating and versioning headache, but I also see what we are doing as instructional technologists, scholars and students in higher ed right now is much bigger than a particular blogging system or software, I see my job as working with people to imagine the implications and possibilities of managing and maintaining their digital identity in a moment when we are truly in a deep transformation of information, identity, and scholarship. It’s key to keep this in mind well beyond the application, and when I think about WP or WPMu, I love it because the architecture has enabled me to grasp this more clearly than any other thing in my online experience. So how might working with people to wrap their heads around this space, and manage their own WP install (or whatever floats their boat) on their own space (the Gardner Campbell SysAdmin vision is very much at work here—see his “bags of gold” talk for a mind blowing discussion of this very thing) as a means to make that lesson of the digital archaeology of knowledge that much more apparent and powerful.
To this end, I have been experimenting with what the new merged WP might be like. For example, we have a few professors with mapped domains on UMW Blogs which basically host their personal/professional site, Jeff McClurken’s mcclurken.org is a good example of this, as is Steve Greenlaw’s hosting of his personal blog Pedablogy on UMW Blogs. So, with both of these domains I have created the logic of what a merged WordPress might look like for each of these professors. Steve Grenlaw would have his own domain stevegreenlaw.org on which he could create all his course blogs (as many as he wanted off of one domain and one WP install) and with built in aggregation, he could make it easy enough for students to get their own space wherever and share their feeds to create syndicated spaces for his course discussions, postings, etc. And, by extension, we could pull anything off of stevegreenlaw.org because as I see it he would share his course feeds with us. In fact, this is precisely what Zach Whalen is already doing with his own course sites that he hosts and designed himself with his Drupal kungfu, and it works beautifully.
But, here is the kicker, for anyone who can’t do what Zach does, we’ll host domains that professors purchase and, ideally, map all their domains onto one WP install that can manage many multi-blogging solutions from one install. The whole Russian Doll thing that WPMu can do with the Multi-Site Manager plugin. So you offer a Bluehost like setup for faculty, and if that is too much, allow them to map a domain, take control of their own course work, and encourage an aggregated course management model that pushes students to take control of their digital identity and spaces by extension. Giving students a space and voice on your domain or application is not the same as asking them to create, manage and maintain their own space. Moreover, it doesn’t feed into the idea of a digital trajectory that starts well before they come to college and will end well after they leave. This model extends the community, and brings in key resources like a recent graduate discussing an out-of-print historic preservation text book a retired professor assigned to be one of the best resources for an aspiring Preservation graduate student. This is what it is all about, right there, and it’s not gonna happen in silos and on someone else’s space, we need to provision, empower, and imagine the merge as a full powered move to many. many domains of one’s own.