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Whither The Viewpoints?

A week ago, Dartmouth web publisher Jay Collier, in conjunction with developer Chris Boone debuted “ViewPoints”, a technologically advanced website that autonomously scoured the internet to find the latest Dartmouth-related blog posts, photos, weather, and news items. Some Dartmouth student bloggers —left and right —welcomed the news.

viewpoints_ss.gifI initially refrained from comment, unsure of how long it would last. My cynicism was justified. The website, previously located at both now.dartmouth.edu and viewpoints.dartmouth.edu, has vanished. Proof of life is the fact that those two sub-level domains now forward to Dartmouth’s homepage. Try entering a random string of characters in front of ‘.dartmouth.edu’ and they won’t resolve anywhere. But just days ago they pointed to Boone and Collier’s slick Web 2.0-based site, where links to blog posts about Dartmouth, including some posts critical of various aspects of the College, were aggregated so that students and faculty could see the goings-on of their peers. No more. I’ve been told that higher-ups 86’d the site, that “it was a demo” and that “the College has decided to bring it down so [they] can take some more time to consider.” Needless to say, it would be speculation to say it happened because its scripts were harvesting critical posts, but no other rational reasons come immediately to mind.

To me, the site represented two things: a willingness on the part of Dartmouth to engage in the active conversation on the internet, through praise and pan. Secondly, with its Web 2.0 aspects, it was a continuation of Dartmouth’s proud tradition of technological leadership. Given my druthers, the site would still be live. I’d be willing to bet other Dartmouth bloggers feel similarly. But it is Dartmouth’s web server, Dartmouth’s prerogative, and no one should expect an organization to present negativity on a website primarily concerned with public relations, as college websites are.

That said, there is a model for blogging in academia. Several, to be sure. But one of the oldest and finest is Harvard Law School, which allows any Harvard student or faculty member to start a blog free of charge on the Harvard.edu server. The latest posts (even if they aren’t exactly brochure-worthy) are aggregated right up front. Something similar could work at Dartmouth. There is far, far more good about Dartmouth than bad. A free and open blogging system would reveal this constantly and brilliantly.

In an interview conducted just before the site was scrapped, Jay Collier put it perfectly: “Simply presenting this information, however, does not imply it is more or less valuable than official sources, any more than including books from multiple publishers on a library shelf means some are better than others. The point here is that the Web offers access to diverse perspectives.”

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