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Harvard's OpenScholar Website Creation Software Goes Private


OpenScholar, an open source website-publishing system specifically for higher education, has publicly separated from Harvard University to become a private company. The website creation service is already used by more than 75 institutions, not counting the 9,000 sites within Harvard itself, where it was developed.

As Gary King, director of Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science, told Campus Technology in an interview a year ago, the open source project began when requests to his division to build faculty websites began stacking up. The epiphany: to build one system that had the same set of website functions available to everyone, but allow them to lay over a unique graphic design, "like a 'veneer.'" Eventually, OpenScholar software was made available under an open source license for any university to use.

The website creation software requires no coding, offers a drag-and-drop interface, enables sharing of content to social media and embedding of external media, and allows for administrative role permissions, among other features. Most importantly OpenScholar isn't a passive database. Users can enter content into the program and "it knows what to do with it," said Jess Drislane, former director of strategy for the OpenScholar project within Harvard and CEO of the new business. "That's really unusual. It's the thing that sets us apart from other content management systems. It was designed specifically by academics for academics. It's quite a powerful tool."

She explained that by automatically sending papers and publications to indexing services, OpenScholar enables faculty and student work to be discovered and cited more easily by other academics.

Now that it's a separate entity from Harvard, the company is providing services that it couldn't offer when it was still part of the university. Those include hosting through Amazon Web Services, end user training, custom design for themes and a help desk open during business hours.

The large level of adoption within Harvard itself was due to the fact that users had the hosting, help desk support, training, administration, maintenance and security they needed, Drislane said. "This is really the impetus for spinning out of Harvard. We had so many universities that needed help and had questions and were calling our help desk and our community support forum. We couldn't help them because we were within the confines of Harvard and our core mission was to support Harvard end users. We were precluded from helping other universities to really exact the maximum value and utility from OpenScholar."

The program will always remain "open source and free," Drislane said. "We will continue to develop the software and improve it and innovate on it."

The business model for now is to charge a flat fee for each installation of the services. As Drislane explained, "When you install on our server, you have an unlimited number of sites that can go onto that install. It's highly scalable for a flat rate, and you can grow on it."

Institutions that have multiple schools or colleges may choose to run a separate install for each of those, she added.

"We're trying to make it as affordable as possible to make it an easy buying decision, where you can say, 'OK, I'm going to compare this to hiring an in-house help desk person, and it's a better deal. We get all these services and all this help and all this expertise, plus the founding development team for this price,'" Drislane noted.

Drislane said the company already has a "huge pipeline of universities." The OpenScholar team is encouraging prospective customers to run 30-day free trials, which include a few websites to address various use cases. For example, some universities want all the faculty sites to be on OpenScholar; others want to use it for specific schools. Still others, Drislane added, are using the application as a platform for their graduate students, enabling them to set up their own websites. The appeal is that "it allows them to start early to put content into their sites, so it's more of a dynamic way of capturing their skill stack and their academic achievements, presentations, talks, research. And they can start early and really build on it so it becomes a palimpsest of experience, knowledge accumulated, as a great way to showcase who they are in a more holistic way to the job market when they finally go out there."

The open source version of the software continues to be made accessible through the Harvard OpenScholar website.

The new company's website offers information about its OpenScholar services.
 

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