With a push from Jim Groom and a confirmation that the title of this post has the right goofiness, I wanted to share some progress I’m making on the tool integration front. The idea was to have a space, or maybe the term is a platform, to launch an information repository for using “new media” at the University of Mary Washington. Since relocating to duPont 310 here at UMW, we have had accelerated discussions about tools, integration, RSS, screen-scraping, semantic web, etc. I’m more of a tools guy who keeps his ears and eyes open for what is needed in academia. “The Bluehost Experiment” has provided us with some great tools to play (my specialty) with, which include Drupal and WordPress. The recipes, however, are up to us, and when we think the drink is just right, we ask others in our group (DTLT specifically) to taste and see what’s right and where we need improvement. The fear is always that the concoction doesn’t taste the same to others.
Let me get to the specifics. I have taken what almost literally are puzzle pieces and tried to get them to fit together, and I’m somewhat surprised at what I’ve come up with. I’m a BIG fan of WordPress. Almost immediately it was clear that this tool could showcase all the different types of media that I work with – images, audio, video, and Flash. However, a blog is, most of the time, a one-dimensional presentation of information. By that I mean that the posting of information is linear, and it doesn’t lend itself to exploring topics in a non-linear fashion. The most current information/topic is easily accessible, but previously posted topics are somewhat buried (though still available through search). So you may think, well, Drupal is your answer. It’s a content management system. It SHOULD be your answer.
Drupal is powerful, there is no doubt. However, getting it to do what WordPress can do, in terms of media presentation, is a frustration. While Drupal would be ideal in laying out the information in a structured manner, I have concluded that in its present versions (both 4.7.x and 5.x), and with current modules it falls short of the media presentation platform that I envision. The tool that is the surprise is the wiki, specifically the MediaWiki software, which is not a point and click install with Bluehost. Though installing it is one of those procedures that gets easier every time. My great discovery over the last several months has been its extensibility, and for me, one of the “holy grails” was the discovery of the YouTube Extension. The other holy grail is embedding of FLV format videos (watch this space for a future post).
The other surprise about MediaWiki is the user management. While not as granular as Drupal, it does work well enough to give MediaWiki the ability to manage user editing permissions, and still keep the openness of the wiki format. I guess it’s not really a surprise since Wikipedia is a MediaWiki and there are thousands (millions?) of users. Drupal may one day be the glue (Glu?) that holds it all together, but for now it just gets in the way of where I want to go with media presentation.
So what does all this look like? Well it looks like this – The UMW New Media Center. Click on the New Media Wiki tab at the top of the UMWNMC page and see how the wiki is tightly integrated into the design. The early reviews (from my colleagues in duPont 310) on this refreshing beverage have been positive. It is done with a theme/skin called MistyLook. The look is easily customizable by changing the header image, and tweaking the CSS is always an option as well. The WordPress theme is here, and the MediaWiki skin is here.
I have to give a major shout out to Trevor Wennblom for his literally providing THE key piece of the puzzle. Before March 30, 2007, the version of the theme that was available only supported MediaWiki version 1.9.3. A “can’t hurt to ask” email to him looking for assistance in getting a version of the skin that supported 1.6.8, was answered within a couple of hours. “Gotcha covered, Andrew”, and the version I was looking for was available for download.
As an epilogue to this post, I wanted to say that many times I felt that spending so much time on the design and what the site should look like was unwise. However, it appears that it might have been the key to making this concept work. MistyLook may be the “K2” of the Wiki/Blog era that we are moving towards.