The CUNY Academic Commons is proud to announce the establishment of The Commons in a Box, a new open-source project that will help other organizations quickly and easily install and customize their own Commons platforms. With generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the CUNY Academic Commons team will launch the free software project by assembling new and existing WordPress-based community and collaboration tools into a single installation package. The Commons team is delighted that the Modern Language Association will take part in the initial phase of development by using the new platform to create an MLA Commons for its 30,000+ members.
Over the past two years, the CUNY Academic Commons has been lauded for its creation of a robust academic social network that connects faculty members, administrators, and graduate students across the diverse twenty-three colleges in the City University of New York system. Built on the popular open-source platforms WordPress, BuddyPress, and MediaWiki, the network has cultivated a strong sense of community among its members by providing public and private spaces in which they can connect to one another and share their academic and administrative work. As the project has progressed, the development team of the CUNY Academic Commons has regularly shared its own work with the wider WordPress community, releasing highly rated extensions that have been downloaded over 100,000 times.
The CUNY Academic Commons team has consulted regularly with a range of institutions both within and outside of the CUNY system that have expressed interest in creating similar sites for their own communities. The core features of Commons-style networks enjoy broad appeal as institutions look for ways to penetrate institutional silos, to mitigate the effects of geographical distance, and to produce collaborative, public-facing scholarship that can help demonstrate the value of intellectual life at a time when funding for higher education is increasingly being called into question.
In contrast to projects that seek to build online communities through the kinds of proprietary and commercial social-networking platforms that routinely mine user content for advertising and other purposes, the Commons in a Box software will provide a framework for networks that are controlled by institutions and their members, and it will foreground the principles of open access, user privacy, and non-commercial sharing of intellectual work. Educational groups, scholarly associations, and other non-profit organizations will be able to leverage the Commons in a Box to give their members a space in which to present themselves as scholars to the public, to share their work, to locate and communicate with peers, and to engage in collaborative scholarship.
Initial development on the Commons in a Box project is made possible by the generous support of a $107,500 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Josh Greenberg, Director of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Digital Information Technology Program, notes that “CUNY has been a leader in developing an effective, innovative social network that allows scholars to connect, collaborate, and share ideas. I’m excited to see them make this platform available to other institutions in a way that is free, easy to implement, and simple to modify. This project has the potential to bring the benefits CUNY is already experiencing to countless other communities.”
The Commons in a Box team is particularly pleased to announce its partnership with the Modern Language Association, whose MLA Commons will be the pilot installation of the Commons in a Box software. The MLA Commons team is lead by Rosemary Feal, Executive Director of the MLA, and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication at the MLA. Fitzpatrick says that “The MLA is deeply grateful for the generosity and the community spirit of the CUNY Academic Commons team, and we look forward to working with them in developing a vibrant platform to support member communication.”
The Commons in a Box project marks an exciting turning point for the CUNY Academic Commons as we broaden our mission and begin to serve the needs of the wider academic community. We thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for its generous support and we look forward to working with the Modern Language Association in the months ahead.