As regular readers know, each month I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.
Today, James Farmer, founder and CEO of Edublogs, has agreed to answer a few questions. This blog (and all my class blogs), along with hundreds of thousands of other education-related blogs, are hosted by Edublogs. As regular readers know, I’m a big fan.
Can you tell us a little about yourself — where you live, how and why did you start Edublogs, and anything else you’d like to share?
I’m based in Melbourne, Australia where I’ve lived since January 2000 having grown up in Birmingham UK, gone to Uni at Hull (also UK) and taught for a year and a half in Tokyo.
We’re now based in Albert Park, Melbourne, where I’m also moving to in about a month with my partner Lol, step-daughter Ibby and my daughter Emi.
Oh, and I’m 35 and a bit too obsessed with football (I’m a goalkeeper).
But enough about me…
I started Edublogs back in 2005 – here’s the earliest archive.org homepage, we’ve come a bit since then
Basically I was setting up and hosting blogs for lots of different educators, as part of my interest in using blogs in education and separately from my work as a lecturer in education design at Deakin University (they not only wouldn’t help, I even got an official warning that I should not be encouraging their use!)
Naturally I was using WordPress – and then this amazing product called WordPress MU (now Multisite) came onto the scene, I’d bought the domain edublogs.org a few months earlier, just as it seemed like a cool domain… so I put them together… and the rest, as they say, is history.
Edublogs is actually the oldest MU site on the web – predating WordPress.com by a few weeks
It’s also the second largest too – along with Edublogs Campus we host well over a million blogs.
What would you say are the three most important things you’ve learned since you’ve begun Edublogs?
It’s been a while
I guess in terms only of Edublogs, they would be, in no necessary order:
– Doing something that you are passionately interested in is a great start for any project, I honestly don’t think I could really have gotten anything done or, in fact, do anything in the future that I didn’t really care about. Of course there comes a point where your interests shift (for example, I’m no longer a teacher) but at that point you better hire some folk who are passionately interested in it! Sue and Ronnie are the backbone of what we do now, they both rock out and I’m very lucky to be able to work with both of them.
– You’ve got to be generous, and you’ll receive what you give back, but you cannot be utopian and there comes a point where you need to recognize the value of what you offer in order to make it sustainable.
I was utterly committed to providing a platform that gave people the world for basically nothing (apart from generous ‘supporter’ donations by committed users, for a very long time – essentially paid for by institutions using Edublogs Campus and my other work at Incsub.
But it became apparent that this just wasn’t manageable $s wise and so I did a bit of a backflip, reducing features and introducing some advertising for non-paying users – albeit at the cost of a coffee p/month for a whole class of blogs – but it was that that’s really made Edublogs what it is today, as it gave us the ongoing financial resources to not just carry on but improve and expand.
It was a bloody hard decision, and I got roundly panned by a lot of folk, but I believe that we offered and have consistently improved upon since then a great product for very little cost that really meets the needs of educators the world over.
Basically, you’ve got to give, give and give again – help people, teach them and care for them… but at the same time recognize your value and and how, without a sustainable financial model, you’re not going to be able to do the good which was you main intention in the first place.
Goodwill and fresh air only goes so far
What’s been your biggest success and your biggest mistake since you began?
I think one of my biggest successes was figuring out how to set up hosting, install WordPress MU and start Edublogs… I hadn’t even touched a server until under a year prior!
But realistically, I think the biggest deal was leaving my day job and then, painful as it was (see above) turning Edublogs into a sustainable and growing business. I want much, much more for it, but fundamentally having started and continue to run the World’s largest education blogging platform is a pretty cool thing to feel like you’ve done.
In terms of mistakes, gah, almost too many to mention.
Probably, on reflection, it was making some v poor decisions regarding hosting – old school edublogs users might remember that we made Twitter look good when it came to downtime :/ Not fun. Essentially what I was doing was tyrying to get a managed hosting company (peer1) to sort out a 7 server cluster – whereas in fact I was much better off with unmanaged (serverbeach, actually owned by peer1) and hiring a great sysadmin.
There are still improvements we can make, and we’re working on them all the time, but I have less sleepless nights about uptime these days!
Could you share some future plans/hopes you might have for Edublogs?
Well, just around the corner we’ve got a massive upgrade, which will bring a whole heap of new features
And then we’re going to really start going for it – you can look forward to integrated wikis, straight from your blog, chatrooms and maybe even some serious online learning environment tools.
Making Edublogs almost a one stop shop for all your online teaching and learning tools… imagine that!
Heck, we’re even considering setting up a system that would allow teachers to use Edublogs to run paid courses or offer paid resources for download – I’d love to know what your readers (and you might think of that.
And that’s just for starters… all in all 2011 and beyond is going to be a very, very exciting time for Edublogs!
Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?
Probably one of the most significant things is that I recently brought Incsub and especially WPMU DEV – The WordPress Experts under the same roof as Edublogs – so the number of dedicated resources for Edublogs just expanded about 300% – this is going to enable us to do some great, great work.