What’s interesting is that my second entry didn’t happen until October 25, almost 3 months later. This was likely because the blogs didn’t have much of an audience in those first months, so blogging wasn’t one of my top priorities. For me blogging was almost an afterthought – I was so busy trying to make MyMIT live up to its promises that I had little time for anything else.
When I was hired, MyMIT had been designed to be more of a magazine/newspaper type of thing, with “official” News-Office-type articles and whatnot. As some of you will remember, the blogs portlet was buried way down in the bottom right-hand corner of the site, and we had only three bloggers (me, Matt, & Mitra).
Here’s an excerpt from the press release I wrote last summer, which was inspired by the original MyMIT mission statement that was crafted before development even began:
In September 2004, the MIT admissions office will launch a web portal designed specifically for high school students who are interested in learning more about MIT.
Called “MyMIT,” the portal serves as a dynamic bridge between the Institute and prospective MIT students. It transcends standard viewbooks and other print material by taking full advantage of the web’s interactivity, allowing the admissions office to connect with users and address their specific questions, preferences, and needs.
Articles and features will be updated weekly to keep the experience fresh and to encourage frequent visits. Content caters in large part to the demands of the audience, who can email staff and students with their content requests and questions.
More than simply another avenue of information, the portal allows prospective students to join the MIT community. Using only their web browsers, students can immerse themselves in MIT culture via a variety of ‘portlets:’ student profiles, MIT facts, latest inventions, campus events, and news features.
Oh, I learned so much in the months that followed.
First, I learned that applicants wanted to read stories from primary voices, not polished (and impersonal) magazine-type articles. Second, I learned that applicants wanted to interact not only with current MIT students and MIT admissions staff, but also with each other. They didn’t just want to join the MIT community; they wanted a community of their own.
How did I know all of this? Because within a few months, those little blogs, buried at the bottom of the page, were getting all of the traffic.
For months I brainstormed on how to take that energy and translate it to the rest of MyMIT, as it had been designed. It couldn’t be done. Meanwhile, the blogs just seemed to get more and more popular.
And then, one day, I stumbled upon the press release you see up there – and realized that the blogs were accomplishing the mission of MyMIT far better than any component of the site’s original vision.
I’m a big believer in finding something that works and going with it, regardless of the details. MyMIT was never designed to be dominated by the blogs, but let’s face it – the blogs are what give the site its power.
So this year, the blogs aren’t tucked away in a hidden corner. Come September, we’ll have twelve student blogs and five staff blogs – seventeen in all – and MyMIT has never been stronger. With tens of thousands of hits each week and requests to speak at national admissions conferences so that other schools can start similar programs – I’d say we’re on the right path. After a year of trying to find that path, I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be where we are.
I recently revised the press release. I think you’ll find that – in spirit – it’s not all that different from last year’s, which tells me that the answer to my “best practices” question was there all along – it just took a little while for me to see it. Here’s the new one:
In September 2004, the MIT admissions office launched an extensive web portal designed specifically for high school students who are interested in learning more about MIT.
Called “MyMIT,” the portal serves as a dynamic bridge between the Institute and prospective MIT students. It transcends standard viewbooks and other print materials by taking full advantage of the web’s interactivity, allowing the admissions office to connect with users and address their specific questions, preferences, and needs.
More than simply another avenue of information, the portal has allowed prospective students to actually join the MIT community. MyMIT plugs applicants into the daily adventures of twelve MIT students and five admissions & financial aid staff members, offering snapshots of student life, discoveries and research, classes, clubs, events, and everything in between. Applicants can get tips and advice on the application process and then apply online and track their applications.
The admissions staff worked hard this year to assemble a team of talented student writers who now serve as the “front line” for MyMIT. This “primary source” approach is a lot more honest, real, and trustworthy than the static communications of the past. The MIT community is built on a culture of openness – it is in this spirit that we, the MyMIT bloggers, seek to honor MIT’s energy and pulse, and demystify its admissions process.
So happy blogiversary to all of us. Thanks to the ’09s for being our guinea pigs; and a hearty welcome to the ’10s. This is going to be a great year.