UWT Line versus The Blog

I just wanted to post a follow-up to yesterday’s blog because it seems like several people have questions about what a blog does, how it might enhance communication, and what the point of my post really was (did I want to tear down UWT Line, really???)

Iris raised a very good point yesterday when she worried about how it might work if some communication was put into blog form. Specifically, how do we ensure that people who NEED the information are getting the information? If stuff just willy nilly gets put into myriad blogs then how will I know which blogs to subscribe to? It might turn out that some obscure blog is where a very critical piece of information is disseminated, right? Furthermore, some people find it distasteful to have to go to multiple locations to get the information they need to do their job. Isn’t there ONE place where the end user can get ALL their information?

No. Sorry. Doesn’t work that way.

Up until now, UWT Line has more or less tried to function as that one place. A sort of dumping ground for all campus communications from the mission critical to the mundane. But there were always problems. First, UWT Line never functioned as a place where discussion could take place. At the outset some of us tried to discuss things but that was a pretty untenable situation even though we were very small. If you think it’s bad now, you should have seen some of the more famous discussions that we used to have! There could be dozens of emails on a single topic. Because of the traffic it generated, discussion was necessarily slain.

Second, up until now, UWT Line was pretty much the sole means of communication among staff but it never included students AND (this is important) it’s always been optional whether you want to subscribe or not. I unsubscribed from it several weeks ago and the silence was, frankly, refreshing. So, even as the sole means of communication it’s not very effective. In fact, if you want to send a message to all staff at the UWT I don’t think UWT line is the way to do it! And if you want to reach all staff, faculty, and students I KNOW it’s not the right way to do it.

Further, since UWT Line is the dumping ground for communication it can give senders a false sense that they are communicating properly to all staff. “Whattya mean you didn’t know about the STF Committee meetings, I PUT IT ON UWTLINE!!!” Sure you did, but what subject heading did you use? Did the end user delete it on accident because it was ineffectively titled or poorly worded? On and on and on. And since the rules are very strict about replying to UWT Line, people are conditioned not to ask questions. If people aren’t asking questions, how do we know that we are even being heard? You don’t. You have to assume.

UWT Line is a unidirectional, unreliable, and inextensible form of communication that lacks good rules, a sense of topical cohesion, while being necessarily authoritarian and unfriendly for the end user. UWT Line has merely fostered a false sense of communication while filling up our email inbox with junk because there’s the off chance that one of the 20 or so pieces of mail I get is a piece of information that I might need.

Furthermore, a critical component of communication is strictly forbidden: discussion.

So, UWT Line does not foster communication. UWT Line stultifies communication while simultaneously absolving the communicator of any responsibility.

And I think we all know this.

So, Tim, what do we do?

I think we’re a big enough campus now that we should take a good hard look at modes of communication. And I would suggest the following changes.

First, we need an email list for all staff, students and faculty for things like emergencies. This list is maintained by the Chancellor’s office, all members of UWT are subscribed to it, there’s no means to opt out, and it contains official UWT communications that are signed by the Chancellor. This is a unidirectional form of communication. I imagine that there would be one or two of these announcements per month — tops.

Second, we need a way to make announcements like births, book deals, TV and radio appearances, awards, and all the other personal stuff that people want to know about. It doesn’t have to be a blog: this could be it’s own listserv if people are married to that idea. Discussion here could be optional, just like subscription to this service could be optional.

The above two forms of communication are obvious and I think we could all agree that the two things should never mix (as they currently do now). The next two are the hairy parts that people will point to in order to try to undermine my argument.

Third, we need to have a place where important unit announcements are made, e.g. “The library will be closed for a retreat on the following day” or “The STF Committee is meeting on such and such a day and proposals are due on this day.” You get the idea. But my question is, do I need to get every unit announcement?

Maybe. If that’s something we all decide then maybe there should be official people who are allowed to make official unit communications on UWT Line. If we did this and cleaned up the announcements section, I think we’d greatly increase it’s efficacy. The discussion component of communication would be handled via individual emails to the sender. After all, does there need to be a lot of discussion on when the library is open?

Well… Maybe there does need to be a place where discussion about library hours takes place. That’s where the blog idea comes in. The blogs would be a place where interested people can have cohesive (topical) discussions that doesn’t force those discussions on people who don’t want to have them. I see this as a very granulated form of communication open to the individuals who want to subscribe to it. Yes, I am suggesting that there needs to be a personal responsibility component to some communication. I subscribe to several blogs because I see it as part of my professional responsibility to read what others are writing. I sought them out, subscribed to them, and read them at my leisure.

Yes, I have to take some responsibility but only for things that aren’t mission critical.  The mission critical stuff can be handled at the other two levels.  As for the level where I hear that people got a book deal, got married, divorced, or took a trip to Vietnam, I would opt out unless I knew the person and really cared.  (You know who you are!)

Unlike what some people heard me say: I’m NOT suggesting that UWT Line go away. Quite the opposite. I’m suggesting that UWT Line get a little bit more formal structure and that staff and faculty avail themselves to other forms of communication when they want to share a neat article they just read, or want to announce that they are having a baby, or post a travelogue.

For me, that “other” place is here and NOT on UWT Line.  UWT Line should be used exclusively for mission critical communications.

’til tomorrow.

P.S. My GF and I are having a little baby girl on May 10th (ish). I just thought you’d all like to know!
P.P.S. How many of you have subscribed to my RSS feed?


Filed under Technology Pulse

2 responses to “UWT Line versus The Blog

  1. Jill Carnell Danseco

    Tim, as you know, it’s something we’re looking at in PR as a way to share some campus news to faculty and staff without using uwtline. We could post news more frequently instead of having to wait for our monthly Inside Track deadline, and we could add features like commenting and polls to allow readers to interact more.

    So, a question for the masses: If faculty and staff news was in a blog instead of Inside Track, would you read it? Would you subscribe?

    By the way, Tim, I just subscribed to your blog. And congratulations on the baby girl. Enjoy these last few, precious weeks of sleep.

  2. Tracey Norris

    Thanks Tim for taking time to go into more detail about using a blog. I think I’m getting it now. Your point about what’s missing from a listserv, the two-way dialogue (that not everyone needs to participate in but some may want to), is definitely the advantage of the blog. It’ll take more discussion, but thanks for getting the conversation started and for really talking about the options while simultaneously showing us how to use them.
    p.s. What I noticed too about your blog is that I keep opening the original link to look for responses and new discussion topics. I’d say it’s working on me already. If we make the blog the place to be, maybe people won’t miss the information by neglecting it because they’ll miss it when they don’t get their daily fix?

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