Let’s start in the beginning.
If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development. – Aristotle
5 years ago I was hired to take care of the MU College of Engineering website. At the time, my domain of responsibility included only the college level website, but it was only natural that I would wish to bring all of our departments into the fold.
I didn’t have a mandate from our Dean, or any campus web policy to back me up. What I did have going for me was:
Departments were not enthusiastically jumping on board. Whenever the subject was broached, the first question was, “Are you a student? Yeah, but how long are you going to be here?” I can’t blame them. The pattern for web design in so much of higher ed is a cycle of:
The other factor was loss of control and being part of a centralized system, which again — I can understand. How many of us are careful to avoid the gaze of any higher powers?
So, I focused on doing things really well at the college level, and over the course of four years, departments all eventually asked to be absorbed. We never forced anyone or even asked, we just left the offer open. They came to us. The reasons were diverse:
This is where we need to understand constraints.
When individuals and whole departments ignore those three constraints, they quickly become the centralized troll service provider everyone hates on campus.
If you work at an institution, you’ve come across this before — the temperamental trolls. You ask for something you know takes 5 minutes (or less), but they take 3 weeks to get around to it. They have information, but they’re not interested in sharing it today. They’re always overworked, underpaid, and frustrated by your question. You walk away from that office say, “Oookay, we will be going around them as often as possible.
If you could go back to the troll’s beginning though, you’d probably find a well meaning person who went above and beyond in their duties. But institutions are not designed to reward those who go above and beyond, in fact, sometimes they are punished.
They are punished in two ways:
In either scenario, there is no motivation for doing a good job, they see that they don’t work in a meritocracy, and that there is no reward for doing anything but the bare minimum.
Don’t become a troll.
In 2011, having absorbed the sixth department website and many research center sites, Engineering.Missouri.edu now consisted of about
My brain has a certain capacity for managing connections between information. These connections were getting to be quite complex. I was beginning to make rookie mistakes — editing content over here and not thinking how that content affected some other content. Making an edit in code that affected all parts of the site in unusual ways.
I had hit the limits of what I could reasonably maintain AND continue to advance the sites forward. I was becoming the crazy cat lady, and on my way to becoming a troll — this time a victim of our own successes.
So, that’s when we were able to bring a content coordinator on board, who could keep all the connections between pieces of content in her brain, allowing me to focus on code and design.
We still have the same constraints: money, time, and happiness. What has changed is that our brain capacity has doubled (actually, more than doubled with Meredith Clark).
By the way — Meredith is leaving for New York in July, so if you're looking for an exceptionally bright, charming and hard working person to edit and manage content, I can do nothing but say glowing things about her.
Part 2: The Wordpress network