Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Calgon...manage my content!

The need for a sustainable content management strategy is finally coming to light within our small College community. As we're looking to overhaul our institutional site, we're seriously grappling with the importance of academic departmental web sites for prospective and current students. These sites are mostly self-supported efforts of the individual departments. Quality of design and freshness of content are all over the map, as they are determined by the level of success of various ad hoc efforts.

These web sites have a lot of data elements to manage. We recently performed a quick review of the types of data that each department was attempting to publish on its site. (You may download a copy of the overview table.) You can see at a glance that there's a lot of structured and repeatable information that most of these sites use. Unfortunately, the College's administrative database systems are not used in any way to develop this web content.

Unless you count some cutting and pasting.

My colleagues and I will be taking a hard look at what our options are in the next few weeks. We may find our answer in one of the commercial or open source enterprise-level CMS applications. There's a part of me that's really resistant to that idea of a full-fledged CMS. (As successful a product as it has been for us, this may be a byproduct of Blackboard fatigue.) While I know such environments have a lot to offer, I'm very cautious about potentially building an XXL-sized infrastructure to solve an L-sized issue. Some within our ranks would prefer we stick with a smaller, cheaper strategy built around Macromedia Contribute and its new multi-user server product. The "aesthetics of cheap" are in play here, for sure, but I'm most committed to getting the tool that fits-just-right. Does it exist?

(I just had an image flash though my mind of "Goldilocks and the Three CMS's." "This CMS is too big. And this CMS is too small. But this CMS is JUST RIGHT." I, humble reader, am playing the role of Goldilocks. A big, thirty-something, geeky Goldilocks.)

I've been investigating for a while, but I've not yet heard the argument that convinces me of the right way to go. We'll be talking to some fancy schmancy consultants about this issue in a few days, and we'll see how they shape my perception of what we need for a project of our scope.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

An insanely great resource for we who use Macs to do serious things

This is just a quick plug for something I consider to be a great step forward for the Macintosh platform. The erstwhile Mac OS X Labs Deployment Project has widened its scope to become MacEnterprise.org. (Doug Willen, from our academic computing team, has been heavily involved in the activities of the group.)

The past history of the relationship between Apple and enterprise customers has been cyclical, if not downright spotty. It's always been clear which channels were "hot" in Apple's eyes. All too frequently, the organizational uses of Macs felt neglected for consumer-oriented marketing and development. Now, that might sound like a criticism of Apple, Inc., but in reality the problem was also that the enterprise-oriented user segment wasn't organized to help Apple serve them well. From what I've seen by floating around the outskirts of the present effort, the MacEnterprise.org folks have made a serious commitment of their time and energy, and Apple has responded by nurturing their effort and being highly responsive to them. Kudos and godspeed to all involved.

It looks like the next big step is getting new participants from business, government, and NPO's outside of higher education. If you know of anybody who might be interested, spread the word.

A week from today, it looks like they'll be webcasting a session on the subject of Wireless Security with participation from people inside and outside of Apple. If that's your thing, check it out.

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Half-full or half-empty?

Reed College CTO (and all-around good guy) Marty Ringle is leading a current issues roundtable session at Educause a week from today. The abstract for the session titled "The Rising Cost of Distractions" reads:
Already stressed IT budgets face the rising costs of virus and worm defenses, increased network security, spam control, copyright infringement, privacy regulations, and other requirements. A survey of liberal arts colleges indicates that such items may be consuming 10-15% of central IT budgets. This roundtable shares ways colleges are dealing with these "overhead" costs along with financial, administrative, and user relations strategies.
I can't make my mind up about this...Given what we've been through in the last year and a half, should I be discouraged or relieved that our organizations are spending 10-15% of our budgets on security, legal regulations, and other nuissances? On the one hand, these expenditures contribute absolutely nothing to the core mission of a college other than letting it get back to do what it was trying to do. On the other hand, would we be deceiving ourselves to think that we didn't have to make such expenditures.

In otherwords, are we just paying the piper now for not having made better investments in preparation and prevention?

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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Swatties serve humble pie to Diebold

Congratulations to Nelson, Luke, the E.F.F., and copyleftists everywhere for their legal victory against Diebold this week.

Despite what E.F.F. staff attorney Wendy Seltzer hopes, it's not yet perfectly clear to me whether this decision will embolden universities and ISP's to stand up to DMCA takedown notices. It certainly raises the bar in some narrow ways, but the DMCA safe harbor provisions still is based on the idea that copyright disputes are between the holders of I.P. and those people they claim have misappropriated their works.

(Alert! Alert! I am not a lawyer.)

Let's hope that the decision discourages corporate lawyers from abusing copyright law like this in the first place. I recall Ken Crews saying that most copyright disputes were resolved at the "angry letter" phase; that copyright holders were reluctant to go as far as litigation. One reason for this was the fear that they just might lose. Now that somebody finally has lost, hopefully the message in the States is that you can't use copyright law to silence free speech and free press. (We have other ways of doing that.) (Sigh.)

If they haven't learned that lesson, then let's hope that they've learned not to challenge Swarthmore students to a battle of wits (or Chicken) when their principles are on the line. To quote a traditional Swarthmore sports cheer: "Fight, fight for the inner light! Kill little Quakers, kill!"

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