Hosted VS Self-Hosted Learning Network Solutions
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Free Hosted Solutions for Education (i.e., Grouply)Self-hosted (i.e. BuddyPress)
Example sites (notable users of this platform)
Front End FunctionalityEquivalent in a hosted and non-hosted site. Equivalent in a hosted and non-hosted site.
CustomizationCustomizable to the needs of most users. There is a large educational community on a solution like that has a voice that can inform the direction the site takes. Deeper level of customization then a hosted solution as the administrator has more complex backend skills to support such a solution.
Back End Support Skill RequirmentCan be supported by any instructional tech specialist or those who are tech savvy.Requires a level of tech expertise that schools/systems may not have.
Use by other educational network creatorsMany ed network creators are using a hosted solution providing a community of users and a voice on a common platform.Less ed network creators use a non-hosted solution, but much of the general population uses Wordpress as their platform of choice for web presence including NYTimes, CNN, NASA, Harvard, Rolling Stone, Reuters, Nancy Pelosi, Stephen Colbert, MIT, Xerox,. US Post Office, etc...
Scalability Schools can easily be taught to create their own hosted solution.Not as easily transferable to schools.
Usability enhancements like a blogging apprentice have recently been added to the expansive plug-in directory giving network creators a voice over their shoulder to guide.
Network installation on a web server or providerDoesn't require installation in your own web server or that of a web hosting provider. So you don't have to spend for web hosting to be able to maintain an online community site. We've had issues in the past where we have lost the ability to use a site because billing issues at the NYC DOE didn't allow us to pay the monthly hosting charge and the site is down for all NYC. This is not infrequent with staff changes, reorgs, etc. This is not an issue when using a hosted solution. Additionally, hosting on a web server is not practical for most schools.
Requires installation in your own web server or that of your web hosting provider. So while the software is free, you will still have to spend for web hosting to be able to maintain an online community site. Typical cost is between $4-$7 per month and gives you unlimited storage, bandwidth, emails, and access to simple scripts, a one button tool for installing the latest open source software for everything from project management to wikis to survey/form software and more.
Bandwidth 100GB per monthUnlimited
Network PrivacyYesYes
FeaturesThese Features are Built In:
Blogs, events, photos, videos, groups, forums, wiki, group chat, notifications (as in Facebook), polls, Group photos, Association of account with Facebook, Can add Google gadgets (e.g. weather, text, translator, etc) to profile page, Status message, with Twitter integration, Comment and Like features as in Facebook, Profile question, Export members feature (CSV format), Newsletter, Use of own domain, Language customization (Spanish, French, Greek, Swedish, Japanese, Turkish, Hebrew), Statistics page for admin – bandwidth usage, space usage, Member stats –top contributors, online members, latest members, etc. Search feature (can select section to search)
Buddypress/Wordpress matches the functionality of the hosted solution with ease as features is its strong suit.
Network owners can install any plugin they can imagine which are created by the strong programmers of the community. They just reached the 1 million apps available mark making Wordpress/Buddypress the leader in expandability which means that the cutting edge innovations in web technologies is usually within reach of users choosing this platform. Contrasting this to the hosted solution, your upgrade path is not decided by a private company whose own needs play the leading role in decisions that affect all customers. With open source software, you are the architect of your installation, drawing from features created by a worldwide community of user/developers.
CostStated commitment to remain free for educators. However, companies can go back on their word.Managed hosting costs between $4-$7 a month and comes with value added services like email, domain management, and one-button installation of a range of software solutions like surveys, cmses, invoicing, etc.
Benefits No cost, no server/hosting fees, ease of useExpandability, completely customizable, largest collection of plugins and themes (web conferencing to editorial review routing to integration to LDAP).
RisksYou are beholden to whim of supplier just like the recent Ning problemsRisks are the learning curve which those who feel non-technical are intimidated by.
ReliabilityThis mirrors what is said earlier but bears repeating. The reason why we are here regrouping is because Ning shocked us to the reality that it costs money to run a company. Web2.0 services have been riding a trend of free because that's how they have been introduced. Once any service outgrows the size conducize to free services, they will look for a revenue stream. Even promises are broken by this reality and the next time it might be worse. Why risk putting ourselves there again. We need to embrace the challenge of rising to the challenge and increasing our skillset to provide for ourselves the services that are readily available.Wordpress is open source -- there is no risk that someone will begin requiring us to include advertisements or pay for enhancements or premium features. It survives any crisis because it's just software. By rising to the challenge of learning how to use this software, we are future proofing our web presence and building capacity.