Blog Server Launched by HLS and Berkman Center Upgraded

From a serialized novel by a member of the class of 1964 to “opinionated commentary” with daily haiku to remarks by Harvard squash team coach, readers can find a variety of blogs on a newly-upgraded server launched last Friday by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Harvard Law School (HLS).

The launch coincided with a all-day conference on blogging called “Bloggership: How Blogs are Transforming Legal Scholarship,” which boasted appearances from well-known names in the blogosphere such as Eugene Volokh of “The Volokh Conspiracy” and Glenn Reynolds of “InstaPundit.”

The blog server, which is open to anyone with a “.harvard.edu” email address is larger and faster than the original server run by the Berkman Center and HLS. That three-year-old server will continue to exist alongside the new one. Neither server is officially supported by the University.

“Our hope is that people will really continue to use blogs in ways that are experimental,” said Berkman Center Executive Director John G. Palfrey VII.

“I personally hope that blogs will allow people from different disciplines who don’t usually sit down together to discuss online,” he added.

The Berkman Center decided to develop its new server because the old one, which hosted over 500 blogs, was very successful, according to Palfrey.

“We were working with what was at the time a very good program. But now that blogging has become much more mainstream, it was time for an upgrade,” he said. The blogs now use Wordpress software, rather than Manila.

“At a technical level, it’s just much easier and a much more robust offering,” he said. “It’s got very good tagging functionality and allows for a number of different things that will make searching a lot easier.”

Hal Roberts, the project manager for the new server, agreed that “performance and stability” were key reasons behind the switch.

“We wanted people to be able to rely on it, for it to be up all the time,” he said. “That’s the first stage and, moving forward from that, we look forward to adding the more exciting features.”

Blogger “j. Baumgart,” a news librarian working in Harvard’s Office of News and Public Affairs, whose blog “j’s scratchpad” started on the old server, said that Wordpress “has a much better reputation in the blogosphere than Manila,” although she has not yet had a chance to play around with the new software herself.

Roberts said that although the Berkman Center is not yet equipped to provide sufficient user support for Wordpress, he expects the bloggers to form their own support system.

He said a group of bloggers already meets outside the cyber world, gathering at the Berkman Center every Thursday. Baumgart, one of the moderators of “Thursday Meetings at Berkman,” the blog that coordinates the meetings, explained that they deal with various issues related to blogs and blogging.

“We’ll be continuing to offer workshops in the future on how to deal with the new software,” she said.

But some students said that they were unlikely to move their blogs over to the new server soon.

The Harvard College Democrats’ official blog, “DemApples,” is independently hosted and probably will be for the foreseeable future, according to Harvard Dems President Eric P. Lesser ’07, although he praised the introduction of the new server as a necessary step.

“Blogs are becoming an increasingly important communication tool on campus, and the servers Harvard was providing before weren’t meeting the need,” he said.

Theodore B. Bressman, author of “Cheddar Ted,” listed as one of the most popular blogs on the blog hosting website campusTap, also said he didn’t plan to move to the Berkman server.

“I would consider it, but I just switched to campusTap a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “The people at campusTap have been very helpful to me.”

But Baumgart said that there were special benefits to blogging on the Harvard server.

“For one thing, the .harvard.edu address gets a lot of weight,” she said. “It gets a better ranking in search engines like Google because of that.”

Roberts agreed that the Berkman server was unique.

“If someone wants to blog with the Harvard name associated with it, this is the only place,” he said. But he added that the server was not trying to “poach” students from sites like campusTap.

“We’re doing this because we think blogging is a really great thing in the world and we really think it’s just worthwhile doing it in itself. We have no hidden agenda,” he said.

“We’re much less interested in making a community [than campusTap]. We’re interested in giving people a place to say what they think, and we think that that will create an interesting, diverse community, but the focus is different.”

—Staff writer Alexandra C. Bell can be reached at acbell@fas.harvard.edu.