cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Kevin Gilmour

Apparently there is a strain of Technology Fatigue swirling around

I do not have a cure. Maybe try a nap? I do not deny the feeling and I waft it myself. You can either mire in a stupor or change things up and find something that excites you (c.f. Curly’s Law). It’s not limited to technology; if you are not continually retooling your approach, then the heavy feeling is imminent.

Over the last few months, I have started to realize that my designs for a number of WordPress based projects have been focused on the singular need, not the longer term iteration.

What?

I worked on a project in 2012 with Nancy White to create a ds106ish blog aggregating course site for an Engineering Design course at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

Project Community 2012

For me, I got to break some new bits of my own development chops to create a “class sized syndication bus“.

It was a bit of a flying the plane as we build it experience, and Nancy and I were happily surprised when they approached us to redo the course in 2013. My idea was to separate/archive out the 2012 course content as its own site, in a sub domain, at http://2012.projectcommunity.info. Because it’s run on Hippiehosting, I was able to easily clone the WordPress site into the new domain, shut off Feed WordPress, and modified the theme to have a note that it’s an archive. Then there was a fair bit of manual cleaning of the main site (deleting posts, changing menus, etc).

Enough to get it done.

Now they have asked me to set things up so the 2014 class is ready in August.

Ok.

And then it hits me I have been doing this wrong. I’ve been thinking in the one site mindset. I am putting on my multisite goggles– this is the feature that was the WPMU add on that was rolled into the core code. More than creating a site, you create a network of sites, all running off of a single install of WordPress.

Typically this is what’s done to offer distinct WordPress.com-like hosted blogs, going o large scale like UMWBlogs, UBC Blogs, UCalgary Blogs, Blogs@Baruch. But it need not be just for hosting blogs; this is the set up we have at ds106 where the same WordPress runs the Assignment Bank, inSPIRE, the Daily Create, etc.

An advantage is that you have one set of themes, plugins, etc. You can set things up to give access to users to multiple sites, rather than multiple accounts on multiple sites.

My design flaw has been putting stuff on the main site that was time constrained; thus making it a later manual archive step. A newer approach would be something like having general info about the project, and using the widgets to pull in info from the sub site blogs, and start by having the 2014 course in its own site from the get go, e.g. 2014.projectcommunity.info — it comes archived.

I’ve run into a few challenges not related to the approach — I am already using subdomains for the 2012 and 2013 courses, and you cannot modify a stand alone site into a directory based structure (well there might be end arounds).

But I am starting to think this is a better setup for sites where there might be repeated iterations (e.g. courses, workshops) or sites where there might be very different sub sites like ds106 that really need their own theme or separate functionality.

It’s a lot easier when you start in multisite. I just did this for someone who is running some workshops where participants need to comment on a multi-pronged collection of documents and data sets; the main site on the network is just a menu, and the subsite is just for the current workshop, but it could be duplicated for other clients of my client (it is only partly done so that’s why I am writing about it vaguely).

I saw a similar need when talking to Brian Lamb about a course site he was working on. What happens when the instructor wants to replicate the content for a different set of students? Sure in some cases, its appropriate to have old content in as a reference, but when the main content changes e.g. the syllabus, the activities, do you wipe out what was done before? Create a category structure? Maybe, but I am thinking it makes more sense to think like a network.

This is something that is in dabble mode, so this is not a tutorial. But some tools I can see making use of in this kind of network setup:

  • Create a Network Wide Menu if the theme being used has multiple menus, this would be a nice way to have a consistent network wide menu across sub sites
  • ThreeWP Broadcast looks like a way to have content from subsites be used in say the main site.
  • Blog Copier essentially to clone one subsite to another (but you cannot clone the primary one).

I might be missing some downsides here, and plenty of people have been doing stuff with multisite. And it’s small, but one way to address the technical fatigue is to reduce duplication and tedious tasks.

And because it is new to me, the challenge keeps the mental juices going.

The post "Multisite Thinking" was originally pulled from under moldy cheese at the back of the fridge at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2014/01/multisite-thinking/) on January 21, 2014.

2 Comments

  • Mike Caulfield hapgood.us

    An idea I’ve been playing around with that may be nuts is multisite for different sorts of architectures. So bank.example.com/tl521 has the Assignment Bank themes and newsfeed.example.com has the newsfeed themes, and course.example.com has the coursehub stuff, etc. This keeps the plugin mess rather minimal on each site and makes sure whatever hacks the newsfeed multisite has don’t have to live in harmony with the other hacks. The dream faculty come to you and when you decide hey we need a course hub, newsfeed and assignment bank you set up

    bank.example.com/tl521
    newsfeed.example.com/tl521
    course.example.com/tl521

    Do some linking and you’re done. The user registration across multiple sites is a thing I have not figured out yet, but I don’t think it’s an issue actually.

    Possibly nuts, but it’s where my mind is headed.

  • Sandy Brown Jensen blogs.lanecc.edu/mindonfire

    Your example is classic “cogdog wtf is he talking about?” but, as always, you have threaded through a deeper thought for the Rest Of Us to chew on.

    I read through the Twitter stream you linked. If the diagnosis is “tech fatigue,” then you are right on the money that Curly’s Law is the answer. Actually, it’s the answer, no matter what you call it.

    Student reaction almost inevitably reflects the teacher’s attitude. If the teacher is relieved to have reduced his or her tech requirements, then the students agree. If the teacher is excited about edu-blogging, then the students will catch fire.

    These young teachers need to grow and will be growing into their teacher archetype. All this grumpus fluff will settle around each one, one at a time, as they find and come to understand their center and draw their Cloak of Power invisibly around them. Or quit teaching and find a used car dealership that needs a huckster.

    But the background chatter will still be there as the furthering generations of young teachers ruffle and shift their feathers to find their places in the uncomfortable education nest.

    Learning how what you need to teach and what that One Thing only is for you can be misinterpreted as complacency, but I find usually it is a quality that reveals mastery of two worlds–the inner and the outer.

    It so happens that my One Thing Only policy says No Gifs this time around! No building of multi-sites! But oh. Right. I am not Cog Dog and was not meant to be. :)

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