Appropriate mediums for appropriate conversations

The administration of Whitman College, the school I went to for my freshman year, has decided to cut funding to its Varsity Alpine and Nordic ski teams. The community is in uproar about this decision; if you aren’t on one of the teams, then you have a friend who is. Andrew Spittle, the Web Manager at the Whitman Pioneer, saw the controversy as an excellent time to experiment with their new website. In a post published on the CoPress Blog today, he goes into detail about the different tools they used to get the word out (Twitter, list serv, Facebook, and banner ads), and reveals how effective each medium was for driving traffic to their stories.

Twitter wasn’t effective at all, as it only sent less than 1% of their overall numbers. In the comments, I mention that his assessment is almost there. Twitter is a really valuable tool, but that value only applies if you can reach your community on it. The Whitman campus isn’t there yet in terms of adoption, and might never be, but there is the possibility that it will become more effective for discussion in the near future. The Pioneer leading the charge, pardon the pun, by actively advertising discussion like this might be one way to increase the number of users, or that number might grow once the campus learns the value of Twitter via SMS for finding the best parties on Friday night. I wouldn’t discount entirely, it’s just a matter of engaging in conversation where your community is.

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The plot thickens

On my argument against College Publisher, and for an open source coalition of student newspapers, Brad Arendt of The Arbiter presents several good points about the advantages of using College Publisher.  Considering the time he took writing a well-detailed comment, I thought I would clarify on a several things I think he missed.

First, I think student newspapers should actively work on developing 1 or 2 alternatives to CP. This may not mean collaboratively building a CMS from scratch, rather it’s more likely to be facilitating a developer ecosystem specific to our needs around common platforms. For anyone familiar with WordPress, which I’ve helped implement for the Whitman Pioneer and most recently, Oregon Direct Action (which is a work in progress), it’s strength is an abundance of plugins and themes you can add to your install. A developer ecosystem is important for continued innovation and, as far as I can tell, CP doesn’t have one.

Cost is certainly an issue. Both CP and WordPress, Django, or Drupal are “free,” but the critical difference is that CP comes working out of the box for student newspapers and the others require a developer. One stated goal is to have an open source alternative that can be quickly up and running with full functionality. If the paper has resources to develop their platform beyond point, they would be able to do so with the support of other developers across the country. This platform would also be available to local papers, although that is not the intended market. Furthermore, I do see a business model in this, in a very Ubuntu and WordPress-esque fashion.

Quoting Brad,

There are some rather innovative and creative things which the CP4.0 system does offer. I would not say it limits creativity, rather it is the students you have on staff who know what to do with the tools that limits your creativity more than CP4.0. The Daily Pennsylvanian has done some very creative stuff in the LAMP environment, which is open source. The Daily Tar Heel has also figured out an interesting work around for blogs, granted done via WordPress but the 4.0 system and the students figured out how to “fit” it in.

Personally, I think arguing that College Publisher allows for innovation is completely erroneous. LAMP, which means Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, is an open source stack and doesn’t stand for anything specific. I don’t mean to discount your example, I’m just not sure how you mean to imply CP is innovative by allowing hacking outside the platform. Furthermore, any server environment should allow working with and around the software running on it. Allowing WordPress to be installed as a blogging platform is not a sellable strength of College Publisher

Brian also mentions that CP does provide backups of your site for the scenario in which it disappears.  Unfortunately, these, I imagine, are only backups of your data, not the content management system your data is living in. If your site were to go down, you would have to install and develop an alternative CMS, as well as port your database, before you have a live site.  You shouldn’t have to completely rebuild your website if College Publisher disappears.  When the web presence becomes the only presence, having your site suddenly not exist would have very real consequences.

Yo yo yo, I have a site

It’s danielbachhuber.com and will be powered off of WordPress. Developments will be made to it when I have time to do so check back often!  This includes photos, blog posts, and side projects. In the meantime, though, why don’t you check out the Whitman Pioneer? It’s a project I’m working on actively, and I would love any feedback you can give me!