Building a Community from UMW Domains
Martha Burtis and I have had a burst of energy in the past week developing on some ideas surrounding the Domain of One's Own project and I wanted to start to get some of it out there. It's amazing how one idea can lead to a discovery which can ignite a fire of development. I have so much to share about how far we've come in the past week at building a community around this project and there's still much more that feels possible based on the work we've done. I'm sure Martha will be writing a few posts of her own regarding some of it and I have no doubt that what we're doing is setting the stage for Domain of One's Own as a completely rethought learning platform for the web. I've written a few posts about the nuts and bolts framework of building the Domain of One's Own environment. At it's roots it's a LAMP web hosting environment running cPanel. One of the more powerful features for us has been the move to using Installatron which is an automated software installation plugin (if the names Simple Scripts or Fantastico are familiar to you imagine that but much nicer) that provides our faculty and students with a simple installer for a variety of open source software. We can monitor much of what gets installed and by whom on the server but in many ways this is a black box that requires a login as an admin to get at. Drawing more detailed analytics about how our users are taking advantage of the platform have been much more difficult and ultimately we wanted to find ways to expose the activity happening amongst our community in better ways. I'm really excited to start sharing with you some of the things we've done towards that end.The Domain of One's Own project consists of a few different use-cases, one of them being a curricular focus where a faculty member will wish to work with their students who would sign up to get their domains and the building of the site becomes a component of the course. We have new faculty member, Lance Gentry, in Marketing that heard about the project and wanted to use it with a cohort of students to help them understand the power of a professional portfolio as it relates to social media and marketing. As a resource Martha setup this directory of sites for him last week to so he'd have a quick way of seeing what his students had done and have quick access. Most of that directory is created manually but Martha did find a plugin called WP-Thumbnail that tied into Wordpress.com's free website thumbnail service to provide dynamic screenshots based on URLs. I thought it was a great looking site and resource for that faculty member and wondered if we'd be able to create something like that for all sites on the server. Once I started digging around I found that Installatron uses a SQLite database that had every install stored in it. Converting that information to a CSV was a breeze using SQLite Database Browser and I quickly saw it had a lot of powerful information in it including who had installed the software, what the software was, and the URL. I setup a custom post type called "Sites" in our main Wordpress install at http://umwdomains.com and created a taxonomy for it called "Software". I also setup custom fields to store the URL and the installation date. I also grabbed our user database from WHMCS which we use for signups and brought them all in as users to the Wordpress site so I could associate the Site posts with the various users. After I imported all the data in I immediately saw that we could get some great information using the power of Wordpress. Take for example the taxonomy page for Software, which now showed us a quick breakdown of all software installs by the numbers and through which we could get lists of all sites using a particular piece of software: We knew another type of taxonomy we'd want to check against was the course list, which would allow us to dynamically generate the same type of directory Martha had created for Gentry's course across any course using UMW Domains. I added the Courses taxonomy in there, populated with the courses we knew were using the project, and then Martha and I manually went through the list of sites we had in those courses and applied the taxonomy to them. We have relied heavily in the past on Types and Views (now called Toolset) which is a suite of plugins that allows us to customize the types of information that get stored in Wordpress and how to view it on the frontend. I used the Views plugin to put together a quick directory page that would paginate through every install making use of the dynamic thumbnails and the user's first and last name based on the Author of the site post. Martha added a filter to the top that would allow us to filter by course. And now all of a sudden we've built a dynamic directory of all installs on the server, sorted in order of most recent install and filterable by any criteria we want to create. You can view that directory here and see how this can quickly become a powerful way of discovering interesting things happening in Domain of One's Own. But this is just the start. In my next few posts I'll talk about how we built in the ability for this directory to update with all new installs, how we're using Feedwordpress to dynamically pull in and link back to all posts across all sites including categories and tags, how we've automated the creation of new courses in the system (which relates closely to the hub/spoke model Jim blogged about a few weeks ago, and some approaches we're considering to allowing users to become integrated into the community and control the content that gets shared across it. We're quickly putting together a community hub and finding Wordpress is the perfect platform to feed in all of the activity happening on the server across all the various domains and feature that work in a central place. I'm fired up by the possibilities this affords us.