April 2005 Archives
April 28, 2005
Many users of UThink probably don't realize this, but we are using an older version of Movable Type (the software that runs this site). Currently, we are using MT 2.661 and while it has served us well there is a new version of Movable Type that we think will work a lot better. Well, it took us a while, but we have finally purchased a license to Movable Type 3.16. Movable Type 3.16 will provide the same functionality you've grown accustomed to through UThink, but it offers a whole lot more:
- Faster rebuilds
- A new blogging interface that is more usable and standards compliant
- New comment and trackback management features that make it easier to find and delete problematic comments/pings.
- Improved spam control
- Scheduled, or "future" postings
- Subcategories for hierarchical categorization of posts
- Added support for Creative Commons 2.0 licenses
- Dynamic page capabilities powered by PHP
... and much, much more. For a list of many of the changes coming in the upgrade to UThink please see the MT Changelog.
Now the question is "when?" When will this upgrade take place? Unfortunately I don't have a definitive date as of yet, but we are working on putting an upgrade schedule together. It will probably happen sometime this summer. There are a lot of things that have to happen before we flip the switch, of course, including importing over 1,200 blogs into the new system. That is not a trivial task.
Stay tuned to this page for more details! We are excited to finally begin the process of upgrading to MT 3.16!
April 12, 2005
Happy birthday to UThink!
Today is UThink's first birthday! A year ago today I unleashed the beast that is UThink upon an unsuspecting public. With no advertising and only word of mouth to help it grow, UThink is now one of the largest, if not the largest, academic blogging site in America. I'd like to say thanks to everyone that has given UThink a try, especially those bloggers that have consistently fed their UThink blogs with content. It is because of you that UThink is as successful as it is today. I'd love to mention all of you by name, but (fortunately!) there are just too many good blogs and bloggers out in UThink land to list! Anyway, thanks from the bottom of my heart for helping to make UThink a success. You all know who you are.
As of today UThink has 1,231 individual blogs, 2,200 registered blog authors, 17,654 individual entries, and 12,486 comments to those entries. However, you might be wondering what all of these statistics actually mean. How many blogs are still active? Who is using UThink and why? How many blogs are created per day? How many posts are entered into the system per day? As you might imagine, there is a lot of fascinating data coming out of this project.
First of all, it would be silly to think that just because UThink has 1,231 blogs that they are all currently active. An active blog is defined as a blog that has been updated at least once in a two month period. Using this measure as a guideline, UThink has about 400 active blogs and a blog abadonment rate of about 65%. Some of you may be stunned by this data, but it shouldn't be that surprising given that about 66% of blogs are abandoned in the "blogosphere" at large. UThink, it seems, is no exception.
There are many reasons why people blog on UThink, but for the most part the blogs on UThink can all be categorized into one of four blog types. My own analysis suggests that 57% of the blogs on UThink are personal in nature meaning they discuss a blogger's life in general or opinions on various topics. 5% are research based meaning the blogs track a research topic or they are used to keep track of research citations. 23% of the blogs are class based meaning they are created for a particular course by an instructor or the students themselves as part of a class assignment. The blog abandonment rate can partially be explained by these class blogs, many of which are no longer updated after the course ends. And finally, 13% of the blogs are work related meaning they are created for a specific department or by a blogger to keep track of work related matters.
In terms of who is using UThink, the statistics are somewhat surprising. Although undergraduates make up the bulk of the 2,200 users (about 60% by my estimation) blogging on UThink by undergraduates is done mainly in a classroom setting. Most of the undergraduates on UThink are attached to class-based blogs, and many of them (maybe most of them!) have never created an entry on the UThink system. There are undergraduates who have personal-type blogs on UThink, but the majority of personal blogs on the system are authored by graduate students and University staff. Graduate students make up 22% of the users, and faculty and staff make up 16% of the users.
Blog creation has been fun to watch. Again, I unveiled the UThink system a year ago today, and on that first day about 30 blogs were created. By the end of April 2004, there were 100 blogs on the system. By June we had 280 blogs, and by August we had 450 blogs. During the fall semester we saw a big jump in the number of blogs with the number climbing to 725 by November, and by January 2005 we had over 900 blogs. And of course today there are about 1,231 blogs. This factors out to about 3 blogs created per day.
Analysis of blog entries on the system demonstrates that the content mirrors somewhat the types of blogs being created. In looking at 10 days worth of posts last November (about 600 entries) I found that 50% of the posts were personal in nature, 34% were class related, 5% were research related, and 11% were work related. Over the course of the entire project, UThink has received about 48 posts per day. However, as the project gets older this number is increasing. During the month of March 2005 UThink saw about 68 posts per day.
Overall I am thrilled with the success of the project so far, especially considering that we really haven't advertised its existence. It has been fun just watching UThink become what it is supposed to become. I must admit that I am surprised that graduate students are the dominant bloggers on the system given the sheer number of undergraduates at the University. It seems that undergraduates are sticking with tools like Xanga or Livejournal for their personal blogging needs probably because of issues like the lack of anonymity on UThink, or because they simply don't know about UThink. A side effect of graduate student dominance on the system though is that UThink is much more "academic" than I would have expected. Blogs on the system have more of an academic tone than I thought they would have. This, of course, is wonderful and it provides UThink a solid niche in the ever expanding blogging market.
Most of all, though, I have been the happiest just with the great content that undergrads, grad students, faculty and staff at the University have fed into UThink. It is already a great resource for what people at the University think about the issues in the world at large and closer to home. I encourage everyone to continue to share your opinion through UThink about community issues, and take part in the intellectual and academic freedom promised to University faculty, staff, and students by the Board of Regents. The more people that participate in UThink, the better this tool will become as a resource for intellectual freedom on campus.
Finally, as UThink continues to grow there will be some changes in the next year as we work to improve the system. For one thing, we'd like to either upgrade or change the software running UThink to give bloggers on the system the most up to date blogging software available. We will also be looking closer at issues like community building (organizing blogs by major, department, etc.), private posts and/or blogs, guest blogging from people outside the University, better integration between UThink and services like MyU or other library services, and expansion of UThink to all the coordinate campuses of the University of Minnesota.
Having said that, please take a moment to think about what kinds of things you'd like to see changed in UThink. Is there anything you wish UThink could do? Is there anything you are hoping the next version of UThink will be able to do in terms of class blogging or blogging for research? If you have any ideas or issues you'd like us to tackle in terms of the future of UThink please feel free to share them in the comments below. I'd love to hear from the users of UThink about what you think would make UThink a better blogging tool.
In closing, I'd just like to say, again, Happy Birthday to UThink! It has been a really fun first year of blogging, meeting new people, and watching the system grow. Stay tuned as we continue to work on UThink and make it better for everyone at the University. Thank you to everyone that has helped make UThink a success!