An update on Williams Blogs. Chris Warren reports:

I talked with our Office of Career Counseling and our Alumni Office about setting up blogs on our new server. They were definitely interested. More importantly, it got the ball rolling on building a blogging policy. We’re still in the early discussion stage, but there are enough people with enough interest that I think we’ll get somewhere.

One of the big questions to be resolved is blog ownership / authorship. We aren’t establishing just a general blogging service here, we’re setting up Williams blogs: departments, offices, student groups, etc. That means that the college brand and identity will at least somewhat be tied to them. On the other hand, the blog authors aren’t there just to be a mouthpiece for the college. Sanctioning official blogs means giving up a certain amount of control, which is scary from an administrative perspective.

Interesting times. Once we hash out something I’ll post some kind of summary here (but don’t hold your breath).

Ridiculous. Does anyone in authority have even the faintest clue about the operation and culture of web life? To be clear, I do not think that this is Chris Warren’s fault. He can only provide good tools for people to use. He can’t make them use those tools.

But the whole concept of “official” Williams blogs is ridiculous because there is an unavoidable continuum of connectedness with Williams. The “brand and identity” of the College is associated with every Eph, near and far. Just because a blog sits on a Williams server or has the name “Williams College” on it or has Williams employees as authors does not provide it with meaningfully more or less status as an “official” blog. I worry that even Chris may not quite get this when he writes:

The difficulty arises when the blog authors aren’t directly a part of the institution. For example, the Office of Career Counseling wants to have blogs about a particular job sectors, with alumni from those sectors writing blog entries. The blogs are official Williams blogs and reflect that way on the college, but the authors are associated only by having gone there. We need either to limit what sorts of things the authors can say, or find a way to make it clear that the opinions expressed by the authors aren’t necessarily related to any opinion / position held by the college.

An important distinction here is that we’re talking about official college blogs. Anybody associated with the college is certainly welcome (encouraged, even) to blog on their own as an individual rather than as a representative of the college (and in such a case we would point them towards some independent hosting system).

It is ludicrous to talk about anyone (other than, perhaps Morty or Jim Kolesar) as being a “representative of the college” in a fashion that would impede or enhance their blogging or even their writing. Consider some concrete examples.

The Anthropology/Sociology Department maintains a lovely website and publishes a regular newsletter. Oh, no! The College does not have a “policy” for that! Quick! Stop everything! We need a policy about what is allowed and is not allowed on that website. We need rules about who is allowed and not allowed to contribute to that newsletter. Can alumni contribute? Can they write anything that they want to write? What happens if they wrote something, you know, bad? What happens if the Department insists on publishing that bad thing? Chaos!

Professor Marc Lynch writes an excellent blog. Although the blog itself is not hosted by a Williams computer, Marc uses a Williams computer in his office to update the blog; he uses Williams computers (I think) to host other files which are linked to from the blog; he blogs during the work day; he mentions the blog to his students, many of whom read it. Any promotions that he gets from the College will (correctly!) cite the blog as one of his most excellent contributions to his academic field. Where is the Williams “policy” on Lynch’s blogging? What is he allowed to say or not say?

Do I need to go on? WSO provides blogs for any Williams student or alum. Those blogs are hosted on Williams computers, their contents distributed via Williams-provided bandwidth. Where are the policies? Where are the standards? Stop everything! We need a committee meeting!

Enough with the rant. There is no need to make a distinction between the blogs that Chris is working to provide via Lyceum and any other blogging/writing that is associated with Williams — created on the College’s computers or hosted on its servers or written by its employees. No policy is needed. Just two rules.

1) Provide a link to a handy disclaimer just as we do at EphBlog (at the request of Jim Kolesar).

(I actually think that even this is a waste of time. There are no such disclaimers at the Anth/Soc website. Oh, no! Someone might think that anything written there is the official policy of Williams College. We wouldn’t want that!)

2) Trust the judgment of the people who work at Williams. You think that John Noble is so stupid that he would allow alumni to post ridiculous things at the OCC blogs? You worry that Dick Nesbitt would let inflammatory text remain on an Admissions blog? Get a grip! The senior folks at Williams have good judgment. You have no more reason to worry about what goes on at the OCC blogs than you have to worry about what gets written in the Anth/Soc newsletter.

There will, as always, be teething pains and even scandals. But that is part of the learning process. Just start slow. Set up one OCC blog and see how it works. Get some experience. At that point, you can, if you need to, promulgate some official rules. Odds are, however, that you won’t need to.

Guidelines on the best way to create a successful Williams Blogs program are available here.

We need progress, not blogress.

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