What’s my domain?

March 8, 2009 at 11:02 pm | In housekeeping, writing | 6 Comments

I’m very fortunate. Since March/ April 2003 I’ve been able to blog for free, hosted by Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. It’s an option open to anyone with a Harvard email address.

While we all started with Radio Userland, Berkman switched everyone over to WordPress couple of years ago. But presumably because it’s a group-hosted gig, we don’t have the same kind of affordances that free-range WordPress users enjoy (I have a hard time getting hold of a human resource person who can explain the options from Berkman’s end of things – you can see that the How-to guides on Berkman’s website all say “coming soon,” which is what they’ve said for years <sigh>).

Individual (and also free) WordPress accounts allow users to upload videos and to add widgets and things, none of which I can do on my Berkman-hosted blog. I won’t even let myself dream of all the neat things paying /hosted WordPress account holders can do.

For a year or more I’ve felt I have a dilemma. I’m not a famous blogger or anything, but I feel like I have some investment in my “blogs.law.harvard.edu” brand. At the same time, I feel like I should be my own brand, and the “blogs.law.harvard.edu/yulelog” handle keeps me from putting what I want into my domain.

If I now, at this late date, abandon my “blogs.law.harvard.edu/yulelog” handle, however, I risk losing whatever equity I built up over six solid years of non-stop blogging. (Ok, there was a month here, or two weeks there, that I temporarily disappeared – but the emphasis is on “temporarily.”)

If I continue with the “/yulelog” handle, my personal brand plays second fiddle.

Meanwhile, new widgets and add-ons come along, which I’d love to implement …but can’t. Case in point? The Disqus commenting system – you can see my profile page here. (Note that Victoria’s own Black Press had added Disqus to its Business Examiner and its Victoria News sites, but not – yet? – to Monday Magazine, which Black Press also owns.)

Another example: a number of years ago I nuked my Flickr account, but even back then I was annoyed that I couldn’t put a Flickr badge on my blog. Things haven’t improved insofar as I can’t put a Twitter updater on my blog, either. And so on.

What should I do? Abandon the “blogs.law.harvard.edu/yulelog” brand (such as it is) and venture out on my own? Forget about it? Or do both (set up my own site, but double post with some sort of redirect work-around – and to what end?)?


  1. Here’s my opinion for what it’s worth. I think that your name is your longest standing brand for you, before, during and after the web. Aliases are cute but there is a lot to be said for having your own system on your own domain, free from multi-user system limitations, meltdowns or acquisitions. For instance, what happens if Disqus gets bought out? Do they keep your comments under the new ownership? What happens to your comments if the new company decides to nuke the Disqus project? Etc.

     yuleheibel.com is available – I think you should go for it!

    Comment by Davin Greenwell — March 9, 2009 #

  2. By the way, the cost of hosting is so miniscule these days, it’s a fraction of what a cell phone plan costs and delivers a hell of a lot more. If you need any recommendations on any of this stuff I’d be glad to give some advice on hosting / registrars / blogging software installation etc.

    Comment by Davin Greenwell — March 9, 2009 #

  3. You personal brand is sronger than blogs.law.harvard.edu. Set up your own site, import your old posts, and request that they redirect the address.

    If you use Disque (or Intense Debate, which I prefer), it copies comments to their server, but also keeps it in your local database.

    Right now, you’ve built up a lot of equity for Harvard. Very little of it accrues to you. It’s like you’ve been saving money in an account you don’t own.

    The only one alternate idea I have is that you could have some category of posts at Berkman, and the rest at your own domain. But I’ve found that leads to “where should I post?” paralysis unless you have very clear topic splits.

    Comment by Boris Mann — March 9, 2009 #

  4. Yule,

    Beware – rambling ahead.

    I’m the relatively new web guy at the Berkman Center, in charge of our WordPress Mu install (among many other things, of course). WordPress Mu is a tweaked version of wordpress made to handle the centralized hosting and management of wordpress blogs, it differs from WordPress in minor – but key – ways.

    I am in the process of trying to figure out how to develop better Harvard-specific help documentation, whether it’s via an intern or simply writing it myself. Ideally, we’d just glom together the best of all the great documentation that’s already been written and then articulate where it differs for our setup at blogs.law.harvard.edu. I am annoyed and embarrassed by those dead help pages, trust me. I can’t really blame my predecessors, we run this service “for free” and there’s only so many hours in the day.

    We don’t vary that much from a standard wordpress install except:
    * We don’t allow our users access to modify themes. Allowing access to the theme system would allow all bloggers to run arbitrary PHP code. This – unfortunately – is a WordPress limitation we must live with. The theme system has no “run only safe code” limitations.
    * We don’t allow custom plugin installations. Same reason as above.
    * You can only add from an “approved” list of widgets. Ditto.

    The reasons for these restrictions you allude to – we host 800+ blogs, and every change we make has the potential to make a lot of people mad at us.

    There is no way we could manage 800+ individual WordPress installs, so we have to use WordPress Mu.

    Plugins are tough because they have to be written to work in WordPress Mu. . . meaning they must be able to run securely in a multi-user context. Every plugin must be vetted because few are written specifically to work under WordPress Mu.

    We are in the process of standardizing our WordPress Mu hosting infrastructure and implementing processes that’ll make plugin testing easier, I hope to vette and approve more plugins in the near future.

    And a few big reasons to stay with us:

    * Google juice. “harvard.edu” gives you a big boost.
    * We’ve made a long-term commitment to this service. We aren’t going anywhere. As long as the Berkman Center exists, we will keep our blog server alive. I can’t imagine a better place to put your long-term trust, given the volatility of internet companies.

    In the meantime, please email me with your requests/concerns and I’ll be sure to add them to the pile.

    Oh – be sure to check out the “anarchy media player” – it’s the asterisk looking button on the post edit page. It allows you to bring in various rich media.

    Comment by Daniel Collis-Puro — March 9, 2009 #

  5. I think I need to say “wordpress mu” a few more times in my last comment. Just to make it stick.

    Comment by Daniel Collis-Puro — March 9, 2009 #

  6. Might be a good idea to move it in case Harvard goes bankrupt.

    Always good to own your own content.

    Comment by Nolan — March 12, 2009 #

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