02 January 2012

Scholars shouldn't host their professional Web sites on institutional servers

This cover suggests two things:
(1) Why do we think that the death of print media
will lead to dumber media coverage of anything?
(2) Yes, I'm insinuating that this is how
 I think most scholars still see the Internet.
And its battles. On the frontiers. Of cyberspace.
Tomorrow, I'll continue my tour of methodology by giving quantoids the same respectful treatment I gave to quallys on Friday. But in the meantime, I want to raise an issue suitable for a federal holiday:

Why do scholars host their professional Web sites on institutional servers?

To be fair, I can understand why this is the default position for most scholars. First, unless you're a rare scholar--one of the top five in your field, the kind of scholar who has a better name brand than the institution at which you're located--then having myuniversity.edu/myname is more immediately attractive than having myname.com.

Second, as my fictitious Jewish grandfather might say, hosting your own site (even on someone else's server) means you're dealing with the FTPs and the logons and the HTML--who can understand it?

Third, academics are weird about self-promotion. Even though they live in a world entirely determined by reputation (think about it: we have anonymous peer review but we make sure that our names are on our articles and books!), they think that there's something unseemly about trying to ... advertise the work that they've dedicated their lives to. Much better, of course, to hope that someone takes the time to read their work in the Journal of Tiresome Drivel (newly included in SSCI), their monograph with North Kentucky Press, and their, um, anonymous blog.


So anyone who registers myname.com is obviously a self-promoter of the worst kind. Probably votes Republican, too.

But anyone who has bothered to set up a Web site on a university server has already probably overcome objection #2. (If you attend my institution, Prestig* U., you've proven yourself extremely fluent with Web technology ca. 1996 if you've managed to set up your Web site on our server.) And objection #3 is, ahem, pretty transparently dumb, too, since you're thinking about setting up a Web site on the Internet.

So Objection #1 is pretty much the biggest problem. But that's wrong. In fact, having an institutionally-affiliated Web site is probably a bigger problem in the long run. Why? Because your affiliation might change. And if it does, then you probably won't set up your Web site at your new institution as nicely as it had been at your old job. Think of it: after moving cross-country, with all that entails, are you really going to want to spend another evening recoding HTML or even sitting down with iWeb to cleanse all mentions of Former University from your site?

What that implies, in turn, is that you will put up a temporary site with some of the things that used to be on your Web site, with every intention of making it better in "the future," a mysterious time when you have the leisure to take care of such things, or, even worse, that you'll just let your Former University Web site keep going until some tight-fisted administrator kills your site and you have to scramble to upload everything to a hastily-written site on a new server. In either case, you won't get anything like the beneift you imagined when you first decided to host your working papers and (pirated) published articles. This applies most strongly to graduate students, of course, whose institutional affiliations are guaranteed to change and who have the most to gain from as their reputation grows.

*"Prestig" is not a good thing. Prestige is to "prestig" as the Nobel Prize in Physics is to the Bank of Sweden Memorial Prize in Economics.

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