Commons in a box

I’m late posting this development, it happened back in November, 2011 but better late than never…

The City University of New York (CUNY) announced November 22, 2011 that they had received support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Commons in a Box project.

Here is an excerpt from their press release.

The CUNY Academic Commons is proud to announce the establishment of The Commons in a Box, a new open-source project that will help other organizations quickly and easily install and customize their own Commons platforms. With generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the CUNY Academic Commons team will launch the free software project by assembling new and existing WordPress-based community and collaboration tools into a single installation package. The Commons team is delighted that the Modern Language Association will take part in the initial phase of development by using the new platform to create an MLA Commons for its 30,000+ members.

Over the past two years, the CUNY Academic Commons has been lauded for its creation of a robust academic social network that connects faculty members, administrators, and graduate students across the diverse twenty-three colleges in the City University of New York system. Built on the popular open-source platforms WordPress, BuddyPress, and MediaWiki, the network has cultivated a strong sense of community among its members by providing public and private spaces in which they can connect to one another and share their academic and administrative work.

This is exciting news for schools that want to set up a social network that they have control over and that is affordable (free, open source software, just need to cover support costs).

Here is a good article on Inside Higher Ed by Audrey Watters highlighting the importance of this development.

I have been involved with setting up a WordPress and BuddyPress-based social network at BCIT for a pilot project, inspired by the CUNY Academic Commons. Getting the basic network set up wasn’t too difficult but we soon ran into quite a few challenging parts. This Commons in a Box will no doubt be a big help to schools that are looking to set up an open source-based social network.

This should lower the cost to get a decent, social network for learning set up for schools and hopefully will make more schools consider an open source approach. I found that a lot of decision makers are “closed” to open source options for a variety of reasons unfortunately (the “nobody got fired for hiring IBM” slogan I think rings true today with “nobody got fired for hiring Microsoft and implementing SharePoint”). One problem is your local IT department saying it’s too complicated, it’s not a priority for us now or they don’t see the demand, or there could be too much demand that they couldn’t support… and getting someone outside the institution to develop is usually a non-starter.

Hopefully the ease of deployment with projects like Commons in a Box will help decision makers overcome their fears of non-proprietary solutions and highlight they can save a lot of public money and get greater control by creative, open source solutions.

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