Converting to Blog as CMS

I’ve decided to take the plunge and convert our program web pages to a blog format. A problem had arisen with the old static pages: the program directors were not keeping them up-to-date. The previous staff who had built the old static pages had since left, and the new directors were not as invested in content containers they had not themselves developed. I wanted a solution that would encourage program directors to regularly post new content. I narrowed my options to blog and CMS software, namely Nucleus and Drupal. However, given the successful experiment with our new Library web site, I was inclined to go with the blog software. Ironically and not completely by coincidence, the good folks at Nucleus call their product “Nucleus CMS,” suggesting that they do want to market their product in this direction.

I recognize that I have given up some CMS functionality, as Drupal is a fully-featured CMS whereas Nucleus is just blog software (although very good in its own right!). However, several factors pushed my in the direction of the blog. First, Nucleus is simpler, easier to use, and allows us to maintain all programs on a common platform. I trust that one significant obstacle to publishing before was the need to use Dreamweaver. Second, the blog format inherently encourages regular publication of material, especially because the latest article is always up first. I hope that this will encourage the directors to put new content up regularly. Finally, syndication features will allow me to maintain visibility of recent items on our home page, much as we currently post community announcements and calendar events there. This is key, because I don’t think that the program directors would feel sufficient motivation to regularly post new material if it were not easily visible to everyone. I am interested to see whether people will benefit from the new searchability of the program web sites. Another benefit is the availability of new skins, because so many people are developing blog skins. This enabled me to find an attractive skin that is compatible with our school identity package.

I have maintained the distinction between public and private content on these sites. I want to make the operation of each program visible to the public, so that everyone can see the vibrant nature of the work that occurs there. However, I also want to allow the program directors to take advantage of the private space, where we can post the full identities of students and post copyrighted material under educational fair-use provisions. All of the sites maintain some public and some private content. I manage this by running PERL scripts to send authenticated HTTP requests (via LWP) to our private server, rewriting links, and then returning the content to the browser for the public user to see.

I have converted three programs so far: library, college counseling, and technology. Health, multicultural programs, outdoor education, the learning center, and community service learning have all expressed interest, so that’s everyone! Actually, it leaves out Athletics, but I will convert them last, because much of their content is already databased through PERL scripts.

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