U provides free blogs for students, staff

A team at the Digital Library Development Lab has developed UThink, a free blogging tool for University students, faculty and staff.

A blog, short for “web log,” is a personal Web site – or online journal – that can include stories, political opinions, pictures or anything else an author decides to post.

“We were looking to improve the experience at the ‘U,’ ” Shane Nackerud, the Web services coordinator for the libraries said.

UThink users will be able to create multiple, completely customized blogs on University servers for free, Nackerud said.

University sophomore Brad Froehle, a math and physics major, has been blogging for almost a year. He said he started his blog as a way to stay up-to-date with friends.

“They did a really good job,” Froehle said of UThink.

He said he thinks the system might be intimidating at first, but will be easier than other blogging tools because of the short set-up time.

“The libraries recognized the potential for this as a medium for scholarly communication,” Eric Celeste, an associate University librarian said. “Your friend might say, ‘God, that’s a rotten idea.’ Or your professor might say, ‘Hmm, that’s an interesting idea. Here are some more resources.’ “

The development team, which also includes Bill Tantzen and John Butler at the development lab, integrated the blogging tool with the University’s current X.500 username and password system.

Popular blogging tools such as LiveJournal and Blogger require multiple-step processes to create a blog. UThink, which is based on the Movable Type blogging system, requires one step to create a blog, after the user logs in to the system.

“It’s just convenient,” Froehle said of the login system.

Celeste said UThink could be used in classrooms to enhance discussion and debate, but it will not replace WebCT, the University’s course management program.

“WebCT will still serve its purpose for classes that want to be private,” he said.

Nackerud said the University administration is interested in UThink because it would allow them to “try to gauge what the ‘U’ thinks,” he said.

“I definitely haven’t heard that they will be monitoring the service like Big Brother,” he later said via e-mail.

Nackerud said he currently has enough server space for 500 to1,000 blogs for one year.

“It’s enough to evaluate and to see where to take the project next,” he said.

Nackerud, who also runs Lumina, the libraries’ Web site, said the only other large university he knows that uses blogs is Harvard Law School. A university in Germany also wrote to express interest in the project, he said.

“Everybody else is watching us,” Nackerud said. “I’m really excited to see what people can do with this.”

UThink is on the Web at blog.lib.umn.edu.

The freelance editor, Shruti Mathur, welcomes comments at [email protected]