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September 23, 2004

UThink update

For those of you that don't know, or think I think about stadiums all day long, in "real life" I am the Web Services Coordinator at the University of Minnesota Libraries. I manage the site in the previous link, and I also manage the UThink project through which the libraries supplies blogs to the U of M community. Anyone with an active U of M Internet ID and password can create a blog (or blogs) through the system and begin sharing his or her thoughts with the world. UThink is without a doubt my baby. If I'm not thinking about stadiums, I am probably thinking about how I can expand the functionality of the UThink system. More on that later.

Today was a special day in the history of UThink. We've been running UThink since April 12, and since that time 581 blogs have been created with over 1,000 users. The inspiration for UThink was undoubtedly Blogs at Harvard Law, a system created by blogging guru Dave Winer that has been running for about two years. Blogs at Harvard Law also has 581 blogs. That means the next blog created will make us the largest academic blogging site in America, if not the world. I've thought about cheating and just creating another one myself, but that wouldn't be right. When I was selling this idea to my superiors I made the bold claim that one day we would host over 500 blogs and probably be the largest academic blogging site in America. This really wasn't that bold of a claim given that the U of M has about 65,000 potential bloggers. However, I had no idea that it would happen so fast.

So, some words of thanks are in order. Obviously there have been a lot of blogs created, but I have some special thanks for the early adopters, those people who created blogs without really knowing what UThink was all about. Without these people UThink wouldn't have taken off like it did:

There are so many more, and if I've forgotten anyone I apologize. I truly could go on and on. When they look at the history of UThink, though, scholars of the future will look at these blogs. Again, they have made UThink what it is today.

What about the future then? What do we have in store for users of UThink? First of all we are right now in the midst of planning for an upgrade to Movable Type 3.1. MT 3 has more blogging features, a better comment management feature, a better, faster interface, and a ton of other goodies. We are hoping to have this completed by March if not sooner. We are also going to look into how UThink can better help build community on campus. Tying the system to x.500 was a good start, but hopefully we can take community building to another level. If anyone has any ideas regarding this I am all ears. And given the dominance of class blogs we also hope to make it easier to create blogs specifically for classes. This includes easier ways to tie students to a single blog, as well as templates that make better sense in a classroom setting. And yes, this will probably include a way to make password protected posts. We also hope to make better use of all the MT Plugins available to users of Movable Type. MT is extremely powerful and you would be surprised at what it allows authors to do, especially through all the plugins developed by the MT community. For example, the plug-in MultiBlog "provides the user with the ability to include templated content from other blogs in their MovableType installation." In other words, an author could include blog content from all sorts of blogs in his or her own site. Obviously, this could be very handy for classes that want to use blogging as an assignment alternative.

Anyway, I've rambled on enough. Onward and upward with UThink.

Posted by snackeru at September 23, 2004 9:24 PM | UThink

Comments

sweet, another list! i have some questions about uthink that you would probably be the best person to ask.

do you know if there is a way to change the Uthink blog system so instead of postings dissapearing after a certain number of days, you can just have like a set number of postings on each page? like other blog sites use like xanga, livejournal and blogspot.

also is there a way to change the comment boxes so that when someone leaves a website/email with their comment others reading the comments can click on something to email that person or visit their website?

also, what is the trackback option for?

thanks for the help, and making uthink!

Posted by: .david. at September 23, 2004 1:27 AM

This is terrific, Shane. I'll bookmark this one entry instead of all those individual ones.

In other news, I have to miss Johan's 20th win, since I'll be at the Gillian Welch concert tomorrow. I hope he strikes out 20 batters, just for the elegance of a 20/20 game. :-)

Great talking to you yesterday.

- Kurtis

Posted by: kurtis at September 23, 2004 8:35 AM

David--

Thanks for the comment. The answer is yes to all of your questions (except the third one which will take a little more explaining).

To change your blog to show a certain number of posts rather than days go into your Main Index Template and alter this line:

to say:

Or whatever number you want to set it to. However, you do know that you can also increase the number of days to display by going into the Weblog Config -> Preferences section, right? It is set to 7 days by default. Some people have set it to 100 or even 200. That makes for a very long home page, but if that's what you want, then I say go for it.

Your second question actually alerted me to a problem within the MT configuration for UThink. This is what it is supposed to do by default, so I appreciate you brining this problem to my attention. I think you'll notice that now all of your comments include clickable links for the comment authors.

Finally, trackbacks. Trackbacks are a way to alert another blog author that you have linked to his or her post. Or, on the flip side, trackbacks can alert you to the fact that someone has linked to your post. The way to make it work is both blog authors have to have trackback functionality turned on. If you would like to accept trackbacks you have to click on the "Allow pings" checkbox on the New Entry page. You can also automatically turn on trackbacks for every post inside the Weblog Config -> Preferences section. In addition, within the Preferences page you can set your blog to automatically look at the links in any of your own new posts to see if your site needs to send some trackbacks to any other blog. Trackbacks are cool when people decide to use them. However, not everyone decides to use them. If you start using them it is a great way of bringing traffic back to your site. To see any example of trackbacks, check out this post:

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/snackeru/greet/2004/09/14/new_u2.html

At the bottom of the post click the trackback link and you'll see two trackbacks for this post and it will give you the option of linking to the other sites.

Lastly, I just wanted to say thanks again to you David for being an early adopter. You the man!

Shane

Posted by: Shane at September 23, 2004 9:22 AM

One idea: if class blogs proliferate, maybe there could be a portal similar to WebCT. The student would log in with his x.500 and see a list of all his class blogs.

#2: It would be nice if I could add an author who didn't have an x.500. My co-author isn't a student here, so I post his entries for him.

Congrats again on UThink. I never considered that it could be the biggest academic blogging system in the country!

Posted by: Carl at September 23, 2004 1:03 PM

Hey thanks! Its good to see that my blog made a list that I didn't create myself. It would be a shame to leave off Broken Wing, since it has been described as "moronic" and "asslicker supreme," and one reader said "I have to go before I am unable to wipe [off] whatever film is left on me after visiting this site." Seriously, UThink is great, and I really appreciate how easy it is to post my pointless moronic thoughts. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Tim at September 24, 2004 3:21 PM

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