Just a Community Organizer: Visualizing Community for Domain of One’s Own

Just a Community Organizer: Visualizing Community for Domain of One’s Own

Georgetown Domains is creating a community site to bring their users together, produce some automated stats, highlight awesome sites, and share tips. This session was about that process.




It’s challenging to make a community space for Domains. That was one of my biggest take-aways from this session—not just from what the speakers talked about, but also from my own experience. People use their domains for a range of purposes, and install an assortment of applications. They have varying levels of privacy & security concerns and needs, and may or may not want to “collaborate” or “share.”

Their sites are constantly changing and evolving.

How do you create a space that is useful, interesting, well-organized, inspiring, easy to maintain, accurate, and always up to date—when it relies on tens or hundreds of inputs from people you don’t control and may not ever physically see or talk to?

This is the puzzle* that Marie Selvanadin, Associate Director for Application Development and Systems Integration, and Yianna Vovides, Ph.D., Director of Learning Design and Research & Professor of Practice at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) at Georgetown University are trying to solve.

The Process

Part of the process involves an iterative, design-thinking approach. You never reach a final solution, but you keep improving on what you came up with before, test it, and then change it some more.

Design-Based Approach Model
From their slides


I think it’s appropriate at this point in my post to share the following:

At the time of this writing, it’s been a month since I attended the Domains 2017 Conference. Immediately after attending, I typed up my hand-written notes so I would have them in a digital form, but I didn’t transcribe them in a meaningful way at the time. As I’ve written my post-conference reflections on each session, I’ve tried to flesh out more details and take-aways.

I hope the presenters from this session will forgive me; my notes were terrible so I’m relying on my memory in order to share something meaningful here.

The above are pictures of my actual notes from the entire session. Embarrassing.

For example, what does this mean?

“Community Sites – API – take screenshots of current sites, look @ data.”

Am I the only one who takes cryptic notes?

I definitely had a personal take-away, * we need a web developer. But that has little to do with the session at hand.

I also let myself get carried away into daydreaming, as evidenced by my redacted notes (not included in the pictures.)

I wasn’t going to call myself out like that, but I want to be real. This entire collection of posts from Domains 2017 is my effort to share a true and complete perspective as a participant.

Anyway, I’ve managed to piece a lot of it together after the fact…

The Process (continued)

The women shared their process of ideating, and showed some screenshots (below) of what their final Domains Community site might look like. You can read a lot more about the process here: http://inspect.georgetown.domains/uncategorized/envisioning-a-community-site-for-gu-domains/

Tom Woodward then shared a working prototype he had created that utilized Google Scripts and the RSS feed for all WordPress instances on their Domains platform. As I understand it, the resulting display was a completely automated process.

There was an automatically generated screenshot of each site, linking to that domain. You could filter the sites based on pre-determined categories. You could also click into two different views of each site that broke down even more data, such as how many words, URLS, and images were used in each blog post, and how many themes and categories were used on the site.

The prototype isn’t beautiful, but Tom did enough work to demonstrate what is possible, and implied that with some CSS work, it could be nicely formatted and displayed.

I reached out to him on Twitter, and he was gracious enough to share the link to the prototype with me: http://bionicteaching.com/gtown/gtown_vue_sites.html

I didn’t fully understand how this was all created, but he made it sound easy.

Conveniently, he just wrote a blog post about Google Scripts, so I’m going to check that out as a starting place for trying to figure out what the heck my notes mean. You can read it, too: http://bionicteaching.com/site-alive/. While I’m there, I will also be able to check another of my notes off my list, “Look at Tom Woodward’s site for examples and inspiration.” {check!}


I think the idea of a community site is cool, and it was fun to imagine the possibilities based off of what Tom demonstrated.

At the same time, I struggle with the idea of a community site.

Maybe it’s because in my experience it hasn’t worked yet.

We kind of tried a half-hearted version for MiddCreate. We took the feed from all the WordPress instances and put them on a page. But ours was ultimately a random feed of WordPress posts with no context. Why would someone go there? Why would they click on a post? What about the users of MiddCreate who didn’t use WordPress? How would they be featured? What about the people who didn’t want to be on display? What about all the “Hello World” posts? What about when a feed stopped working? We hadn’t been thoughtful about the process, and we quickly took it down.

We also kind of did that with the landing page of our institutional WordPress-based mulit-site. We more thoughtfully aggregated several blogs that would be relevant to a general MIIS audience, and we included feeds from our institutional social media channels, as well as links to some important sites people may need to access. It’s completely automated in the way it runs. It looks nice, and maybe people use it, but I never go there—and I helped make the site. Is that “community?” I don’t think so. Maybe if I had to go there, to include content… But that’s one more thing to upkeep, and I don’t have the time…

I went there the other day and realized that half of the sites that were in the RSS feed are no longer active, and a couple have syndication problems. Groan.


I feel like a skeptical Debbie Downer and I really don’t want to be that way.

I want to see a Community Site succeed, and I wish Georgetown the very best. If it does work, and they get a lot of activity, I’d like to hear how they did it. What are the magic nuggets that get people excited to collaborate and share? How is the site useful to a variety of audiences? How easy and fun is it to maintain? How sustainable is that process? Has it taken off well enough that when the main organizers leave, the updates are handed off to someone else—and that person actually does them?

Please let this work. They’ve done a lot more thinking about their site than we did, so I feel like they have a good chance of succeeding.


I enjoyed the presentation. I got a lot of fun ideas of things to try, because Tom demonstrated what is possible with RSS feeds and Google Scripts.

Additionally, as I researched for this post, I came across some potential resources from Georgetown for us to draw from as we talk to our faculty and students about MiddCreate.

I also liked learning more about CNDLS at Georgetown and look forward to checking out what they are up to from time to time. Like the CNDLS Faculty Colloquium, for instance.

Do you have any take-aways, conclusions, or thoughts you’d like to share? Please be in touch; I’d love to hear what you have to say!