I have begun an exciting project to launch a new Maru-a-Pula Alumni web site. The previous effort one year ago was based on a local developer in Botswana and ran aground over bugs and usability issues. I lobbied for and received the green light to implement a more alumni-centric solution than you typically find. The idea, planted in my head by Bill Fitzgerald, is that the first objective of an alumni web site is to build a strong connection between alumni and the school. What do alumni want the most from their old institution? Connections to former classmates, former teachers, and news of how the school has changed (or stayed the same). A good alumni web site builds a feeling of familiarity and comfort with the school.
Most current alumni web sites are designed and funded by development departments who want a tool to facilitate the running of an alumni office and bring more gifts into the school. We can provide alumni with a social network-based web site yet still meet the needs of a development department using software like Elgg. Maru-a-Pula is a good first test of this concept, as their alumni office is only one year old, their alumni are mostly out of touch and scattered throughout the world, and they have not up to this point had another strong vehicle for alumni to feel connected to the school.
I am feeling good about Elgg’s capabilities so far, though at some point I am sure I will have to modify the source code a little in order to get the specific features I want. Here’s the rundown so far:
Things Elgg does well
– Each alum gets his/her own blog (let’s call it Notes in keeping with alumni tradition)
– Any registered user can invite other users into the system (simple permitted user strategy)
– Alums can modify personal info, including career and education history
– Alums can decide how public to make personal info
– I can keep the site private to registered users (“walled garden” setting)
– Elgg “Communities” can be used to create featured content from “authorities” or allow alums to create their own ad-hoc networks.
– One search tool to find users by name or anyone by tags
– RSS feeds of featured and individual content
– Easy to choose one template you like and then modify it for your institution.
Things Elgg does less well
– Hard to permanently link the featured community of “authoritative” users. If you make everyone a member of that community, then they can post content there, too. However, it appears that any registered user can still view the community even if they are not a member. But then they lose the sidebar permanent link.
– The home page doesn’t offer much to the user, so I have redirected to the Alumni News community, but even this page doesn’t look so hot. I need a better landing page design.
– No way to make some (or any) profile fields required out of the box. Maybe this won’t be so hard in the code.
Do you know of any other Elgg-based alumni communities, whether school-sponsored or not?