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July 19, 2004

UThink Update

As many of you know, the blog system the Greet Machine sits on is called UThink: Blogs at the University Libraries. This is a little (getting bigger everyday!) pet project of mine that I must say I'm kind of proud of. UThink uses Movable Type as its blogging software of choice, and this software was chosen mainly because 1) it is probably the most popular blogging software after Blogger, 2) we could easily modify the Perl code to hook it to our campus authentication system, and 3) it was free for educational institutions. Really, how could we lose?

Well, in May Six Apart, the makers of Movable Type (MT), decided to completely change their licensing with their new MT 3.0 and it really ticked me off. I felt like they used the old "bait and switch" tactic to get a huge user base and then begin charging for it. And their licensing fees were a little outrageous if truth be told. If I had known Six Apart was going in this direction it would have probably changed the direction of UThink. I say "probably" because I just don't know. Movable Type is by far the best blogging software out there that can do what we want it to do, namely connect to our University authentication system, and offer people unlimited blogs and blog authors. So, essentially I've been in a waiting game since May, wondering if we would be able to continue using MT for UThink or if we would have to start looking into something different.

Well, I am relieved to say that it looks like we will be able to stick with Movable Type. Just this morning I had a conference call with Judy Gordon and Anil Dash of Six Apart (yes, that Anil Dash) who made it clear to me that they are willing to do whatever it takes to retain our business. It seems that universities and colleges all over the country are using UThink as a reference and they are telling Six Apart they would like to do what we have already done. This includes the mighty UC-Berkeley ... at least that's what Anil and Judy told me. So, Anil said they would like to use UThink as their "flagship" university installation and they would like us to agree to share our code modifications with other institutions. He also said that UThink is probably the most advanced blogging system for a university our size, and that we are the first university that has "done it right" as far as he could see. As my surfer friends used to say back in high school: killer! I'm thrilled other institutions think so highly of what we have done and I'm thrilled we will be able to work something out to stay with Movable Type.

So, to make a long story short, sometime this summer UThink will be moving to MT 3.01. Of course, all the paperwork will have to be signed and licensing issues solved, but I am pretty confident this will be no problem and happen relatively quickly. I can't express enough how happy I am about this. It is such a monkey off my back and it looks like the beginning of what I hope will be a fruitful relationship with Six Apart. So, if Anil or Judy ever read this, thanks for everything, and you'll be hearing from us soon!

Posted by snackeru at July 19, 2004 4:37 PM | UThink

Comments

That is great news Shane! Glad to hear that you are getting credit for a job well done. Wonder what that girl in VA would think about that? Remember her? The one that made fun of you on her blog? HA! In your face sweetie!

Posted by: Cheesehead Craig at July 20, 2004 8:54 AM

Nice work - I think this system is great, seems to be running much more smoothly than could ever be expected. Also, I think your blog is one of the top three in the world :).

Posted by: Tim at July 22, 2004 12:45 PM

Tim, thanks for the comment. UThink is humming along and I really appreciate early adopters such as yourself giving it a workout. In the post above I mention that I hope to upgrade to MT 3.0 in the summer but now I don't think that will happen. It will happen probably sometime in the fall. You know how things go in academia, slow and painful. But I am happy to know that I have moved up in the rankings! One day I'll be number 1!

Posted by: Shane at July 22, 2004 1:55 PM

Shane, we're really excited we were able to keep UThink doing a great job of getting blogs to a new audience.

We definitely didn't communicate our intentions very well with the MT3 launch, and it's totally understandable that you'd have been pissed off, but I hope you can see that we want to do the right thing. It's work like yours that's gotten us where we are.

It's very generous of you to publicly credit us with getting things right, and it's exciting to see the creative and inspiring ideas coming out of the Uthink community.

Posted by: Anil Dash at July 23, 2004 1:51 AM

Shane, I'm delighted to hear that 6A is supporting what you've done here. I'm one of the people who's been telling them that yours is the model to follow, and I'm about to demo your site to our IT folks this week in an attempt to get them to do a campus-wide license for the software.

I do hope you'll be willing to share your customizations soon...being able to have an easy way for students and faculty to set up blogs would be *enormously* helpful.

(I'm also glad to hear that you'll be moving to 3.1, since my new courseware will be developed for that...)

Posted by: Liz Lawley at August 3, 2004 8:24 AM

Hi!
I'm one of the people that wrote Six Apart and told them they were crazy if they didn't make SURE you guys continued to use MT. I've been in touch with Shane on the code sharing issue with our little (5500 student) university.

We would need to get a MT site license, of course, but would love to follow in uThink's footsteps.

I might caution that you are in a bit of a race, however. If someone creates something similar for one of the truly "free" open source projects - both you and MT could come out on the short end of the stick. WordPress and b2evolution would be the ones I would be most worried about. If WordPress did multiple blogs with one installation I would probably be modifying their product for this purpose now. The promise it for their next major release (1.3).

Also, for your code to be useful to other schools, it is probably going to have to be "module-ized". For example, different institutions might have different ways to authenticate the log-in. We have PHP and ASP code that authenticates to our Lotus Notes LDAP system, for example.

If you don't already have one, perhaps you could create a development blog to get feedback on various issues that come up?

uThink is a great system. You guys should be proud!

Posted by: Darren Addy at August 20, 2004 3:49 PM

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